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The Apprenticeship of Randall Cobb

Another sure shot from Pete Dexter. From the May 31, 181 issue of Inside Sports.

The Apprenticeship of Randall Cobb: The Late-Booming Karate Fighter From Abilene Wants to Be The Baddest Ass In Boxing

By Pete Dexter

The face suggests more than 21 fights, but that’s how many there have been. Counting the two as an amateur. There is a scar over the left eye, a missing tooth. The nose is flat and soft, without cartilage.

Apart from that, it’s a face that’s been hurt.

On March 22, a 26-year-old fighter named Randall Cobb lost a majority decision on national television to Michael Dokes. Two of the judges gave the fight to Dokes, one called it a draw.

Dokes was supposed to win. He is the fastest fighter in the division, maybe the most talented. He was schooled through a long amateur career and brought carefully through 20 fights as a professional. The only problem Dokes ever had was a lack of size, and in the last year he has grown two inches to 6-2 and filled out to 218 pounds, and there is a feeling among some people that after Larry Holmes retires, Dokes doesn’t have any problems at all.

Given all that, there are people who like the other guy’s chances.

At 22 years old—a long time after most professionals were polished fighters—Randall Cobb had his first amateur fight. He had a second and then turned professional, saying he was going to be the heavyweight champion of the world. Ali was the champion then. Cobb would have had trouble naming five other men in the division.

He spent three years knocking out people like Chebo Hernandez (the former heavyweight champion of Mexico) and then, with 18 lifetime fights and 18 days to get ready, he crawled into the ring with Earnie Shavers and won on a TKO in the eighth.

He lost a split decision to Ken Norton and then dropped the fight to Dokes. In each of the fights he got better, and he is still just learning. He has the best chin in boxing and in the Dokes fight—when he caught much of what Dokes threw on his gloves and arms—the people who have watched Cobb got their first sign that he wasn’t going to be proving it the rest of his life.

After the fight Cobb sat with ABC’s Keith Jackson, who asked if he had been surprised Dokes hadn’t run more. Cobb said, “I don’t know how it looked from here, but to me it looked like I was running my ass all over the ring trying to catch him.”

As he said that Dokes dropped into the chair next to him. Cobb smiled. “We’ll have to do this again, Mike.”

Dokes shook his head. “Oh, no,” he said. “No, I don’t think so.”

“I’m going to go back and start all over,” Cobb said later. “I’ll do whatever I got to do and I’m going to keep doin’ it until it’s right.”

His mother heard that and nodded. “Some day that dog’s going to lie in the sun,” she said.

Randall Cobb is my friend. I know him, he won’t cheat himself. And after it’s over—it doesn’t matter how many times he’s hit in the face—he’ll be able to look in the mirror and not be afraid of what he sees.


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