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"It was Randall's birthday," she says, "and he was celebrating with some of his friends at home. They went to a bar in downtown Philly where these Irish kids were hanging out...."
Words were exchanged, as they say, and, seeing nothing but trouble ahead, Cobb got his friends out the door. About 35 boys followed them out into the street. His pal Pete Dexter, a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, was hit over the head with a bat. "Pete was down and they were working him over—chains, bats, a crowbar," Cobb says. "I waded in and stood over him. That cost me my mobility." One of the invaders swung with a crowbar and Cobb caught it on his left elbow. The blow broke his left forearm, but he extricated Dexter, who suffered a broken hip, from danger. Cobb was out of action for three months.
To prepare for Holmes, Cobb and his entourage set up camp last month on the Mescalero Apache reservation in the mountains of south-central New Mexico. The Inn of the Mountain Gods, a sprawling luxury resort owned by the Apaches, sounds pretentious until you see it. In the shadow of 12,000-foot Sierra Blanca, a mountain sacred to the Indians, it overlooks a huge mountain lake. Elk and mule deer abound in the piñon hills all around it. To the north is Billy the Kid country and the locale of the bloody Lincoln County cattle war. "You expect to see John Wayne or Randolph Scott gallop over the horizon any minute," Cobb remarked. Appropriately, he was staying in the Cochise Suite.
Training at 7,000 feet has improved Cobb's wind. He runs three to four miles a day, works 45 minutes a day on rowing and cycling machines, which push his heartbeat to 176 beats per minute, and spars eight rounds daily. His sparring partners—George Chaplin, a tricky Baltimore heavyweight, and light heavyweight Charlie Singleton of Philadelphia—were chosen for speed and shiftiness, traits that Holmes possesses. "Actually, they're both better boxers than Larry," Benton says. "All Holmes got is that left jab. That's his whole defense and most of his offense."
Cobb's strategy for Holmes is the same as it would have been for Weaver: to overwhelm his opponent with so many punches that the other man can't hit back. Crude but possibly effective. "I'm still too new to this game," Cobb admits, "to do anything but attack him with all I've got. The more I punch, the less he can hit. Sure, in Holmes's case I've got to watch for his counters, especially the left hook. But nobody's put me down yet. Not Norton, not even Shavers. It's hazardous to take a purely offensive strategy into a heavyweight title fight, but really, Darlin', what else can I do?"
Cobb had gotten up to 175 punches a round in training for Weaver; as of last week he was throwing 240 in preparation for Holmes. Holmes only averaged 40 to 50 punches a round in his last bout, with Gerry Cooney. In 13 rounds—39 minutes of combat—he threw only 45 combinations, and 25 of those were just doubled-up jabs. "I'm throwing real combinations, five to nine punches at a time," says Cobb.
The Cochise Suite reeks of sweat. Crumpled clothing litters the floor. A Bible and a stack of paperbacks adorn the coffee table. Cobb slips a cassette into the VCR. Holmes is staving off Cooney's clumsy attack with that daylong left jab. "Look at that!" Cobb exults. "Lordy, I hope he sticks that left out at me that way—I'll take his ribs out."
Between tapes and training sessions Cobb has little to do but roam the countryside. Since the Weaver cancellations, he has ended a previous association with Tapco Promotions of El Paso. His new promoter is Bobby Turnbeaugh, 28, a close friend from El Paso and an Abilene Christian teammate. Sometimes when things are slow in camp the two drive north to White Oaks, a thriving gold-mining town at the turn of the century but today just a collection of adobes and bricks sinking back into the piñon country. They stop at a combination museum-bar for a game of hearts with Bud Crenshaw, 67, a leathery cowpoke whose family homesteaded the region nearly a century ago. Relics of the Old West hang on the walls—a .36-caliber Navy Colt, spools of "bob" wire, a long-barreled Sharpes buffalo gun, a collapsible, easily hidden "running iron," the tool rustlers used to alter cattle brands. "Great country," Cobb says on the drive back to Apache territory. "You can bet if I beat Holmes, I'll be out of Philly and heading thisaway, pardner."
A mighty big if, Darlin'. That afternoon, during a sparring session, the great imponderable of this fight becomes apparent. Cobb has worked three hard, fast rounds with Chaplin, throwing 161 punches in one of them. Then he switches to Singleton. The speedy light heavyweight can't keep away from Cobb's attack and twice is cornered. Then Singleton throws a hook and an uppercut.
"Time!" yells Benton, who is watching closely. "You're bleedin', Tex."