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Original Issue

He Took It All And Would Not Fall

Bent but unbroken, Tex Cobb stood up to Larry Holmes's hardest shots

Right state, wrong site. If ever a fight belonged in the Alamo, it was last Friday night's battle between WBC heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and Randall (Tex) Cobb in Houston's Astrodome. Like the Alamo, this was a mismatch involving a great measure of courage—if it can be said that jumping in front of a locomotive is courageous.

At the end, Cobb indeed looked as if he'd been hit by a fast freight. But he was undaunted and grinning—and looking for an immediate rematch. "Like tomorrow night," he said. "And then the night after that, and then the night after that. The s.o.b. has to get tired sometime."

The only thing Holmes got tired of was hitting Cobb. Against the WBC's fifth-ranked contender, Holmes was at his best, which is close to perfection. That he was in with a fighter who often punches like a kick boxer (which Cobb was) should take nothing away from Holmes's 41st straight win and his 13th successful title defense. It's the curse of the 33-year-old, unbeaten Holmes that he reduces opponents to mediocrity, and then he's measured not by his own performance but by that of his opponent.

Cobb's record was fair enough: 20-2, with victories over Earnie Shavers and Bernardo Mercado and a very questionable loss to Kenny Norton. And while he dropped a 10-round decision to Michael Dokes, now the No. 1 contender, he had Dokes in big trouble.

Yet, Holmes deftly turned Cobb into a ponderous dart board who could win but one round on only one official's card. "And I only gave him that one, the seventh," Judge Larry Hassad said, "because Holmes took the round off."

Holmes found that amusing. "It had to be the seventh," he said. "I'm superstitious about that round. That's the round Shavers knocked me down. And when [Renaldo] Snipes knocked me down. I get a little cautious in the seventh now."

Cobb's plan was to jab powerfully to the body, over and under the heart, which is what fighters do when their jabs are too slow to go to the head. "But you know all that brilliant prefight strategy is only good until the first time you get hit in the mouth," Cobb said. "After that, all you are doing is trying to keep your butt off the floor."

Another concern in Cobb's camp was cuts. "If Larry doesn't bust him open in the first six rounds, we're in good shape," Trainer Georgie Benton said.

Cobb took his first cut the day before the fight, when, as he describes it, promoter Don King told him, "According to your contract you were supposed to be in here two weeks early to help promote the fight and you just got here. [In fact, he'd arrived four days before, on Nov. 21.] As a penalty I'm cutting your purse $200,000, to $500,000. And you can take it or leave it."

After injuries and red tape cost him a shot at WBA champ Mike Weaver, Cobb wasn't about to let $200,000 stand between him and Holmes. "I'll just have to leave the bar sooner," he said.

The fight opened as expected, with Holmes moving and jabbing. "He's going to go after your body," Trainer Eddie Futch had warned Holmes. "Stay off the ropes and out of the corners. Give him a quick left jab and get out of there. He has to set up to punch. When he's set up, you be gone."

Another Cobb stratagem was to counter whatever Holmes threw. It was the same mistake most fighters made against Muhammad Ali. It's awfully hard to counter-punch effectively against a good left hand and movement. By the time you slip or parry a jab and get set to counter, your target is gone.

In Round 1 Holmes introduced Cobb to the snake jab. In the second he took the wraps off his right and a left hook he'd rarely used before. After that it was all downhill for the challenger, who doggedly shuffled after his swifter tormentor. Cobb has only one gear: forward, and only one speed: slow. Through the first eight rounds Holmes paced himself, as he ducked Cobb's heavy but ponderous punches, jabbing on the run, only occasionally boring in for a quick burst before moving on.

Then in the eighth Holmes hurt Cobb with twin sets of double hooks, and Referee Steve Crosson asked Cobb if he could see all right.

"Sure," Cobb said. "I can see you. You're white."

After the ninth, in which Holmes battered Cobb from bell to bell, Futch said, "Larry, what are you doing? Shavers hit this guy and couldn't put him down. Norton hit him and couldn't put him down. Mercado hit him with everything but the referee and couldn't hurt him. Cut it out. Just jab and pick your spots."

After the 12th, Holmes wearily concurred, saying, "Eddie, I think this guy is going to stay here all night."

But the shelling continued. And now Holmes's hands were hurting. As he went to his corner after the 14th he watched Cobb stagger around the ring looking for his own corner. "Enough of this," Holmes thought. "I'm not going to hit him this round if I don't have to."

For the first 90 seconds of the 15th Holmes tried to stay away from the still-charging Cobb. Finally, in self-defense, he was forced to fight back. "I didn't want any knockout in the 15th because that's when guys get killed," he said later. "I could hear the crowd booing when I didn't hit him. They wanted me to kill him and then say how bad it was. He's a good man with a lot of courage. I just didn't want to hit him anymore."

At the end, Cobb clasped Holmes and said, "Hey, next time let's fight in a telephone booth."

Holmes grinned. "Tell you what," he said. "I'll just give you my home phone number and you call me the fight."

A few hours later Holmes went to a victory party at his hotel. He had hardly arrived when King cornered him and said, "Larry, I lost $700,000 on this fight. I'm going to have to cut your purse another $200,000."

"Like hell you are," snarled Holmes, whose original $2.1 million purse had already been reduced to $1.6 million because of a fall-off in TV revenues when the fight was switched from Monday to Friday. "Remember at the Salvador San-chez-Azumah Nelson fight in July you said you'd just lost $300,000 and then you laughed? Well, you just take your $700,000 loss and laugh now. You aren't going to cut me another dime."

Enraged, Holmes stalked from the party. The following morning, after only three hours of restless sleep, he went downstairs for breakfast. "King belittled me," he said as he ate. "He embarrassed me. He always wants to reduce my pay. I'm just going to look for another fight with another promoter. I'm going to call Bob Arum. Look at me. My hands are killing me. My eyes are bloodshot. My body is aching. And he wants to cut me. He couldn't even wait until today."

King, who also functions as Holmes's manager and has promoted his fights since 1973, said he didn't remember asking Holmes to take another pay cut: "I must have been drunk. I don't remember. Now he has fortified all this with the press before we could rap."

Cobb had taken his $500,000 and headed for a saloon. The only people who are going to cut that half-million are bartenders. But he'll be back. Just give him time to get rid of his thirst.