WILL OF IRON: The Sport and Times of Randall "Tex" Cobb

Randall Tex Cobb

It's always a great lesson to observe the life and times of people around you

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Tex Cobb leaped into the celebrity spotlight when he fought Larry Holmes for the World Heavyweight boxing title in November 1982. Tex lost the fight decisively, but the world knew that it had watched a feat of human endeavor as Cobb came straight at Holmes for 15 rounds. When he approached Holmes in the ring after the last round and said, "Hey, Larry, that was great! Let's do it again-in a phone booth!," the public wanted to know who this colorful and courageous character was.

Boxing fans remember Tex Cobb as the man who retired Howard Cosell. Declared Tex, "If I had cured cancer or eliminated heart disease, I don't think that I could have given a greater gift to mankind." As for the fight, Cobb said at the time, he didn't consider that he had lost the fight, just "...the first 15 rounds. Another 20 or 30 rounds and I would have had him."

Kickboxers remember Tex for his Professional Kickboxing Association (PKA) matches before he got into boxing, and movie buffs know him today for his roles in such pictures as "The Champ," "The Golden Child" and "Raising Arizona." Few fans realize, however, the amount of training that it took to sharpen the inborn fortitude that underlies his considerable physical strength. Weights have been a major component of Cobb's training throughout his career.

Although he did some weight training in high school, he cut it out during his junior year. Even so, he said, "When I quit...I was the strongest kid in school."

For his chosen sports, he said, "I preferred football grass drills and running to increase fighting ability. I liked to sprint about three miles in 120-yard intervals while throwing 25 punches: so I would throw a total of 1,000 punches. It was specificity of training-punching while trying to regain my breath. Sometimes I would shadowbox and throw 1,200 punches over a half-mile distance. The question is, how many punches can you throw? not [what is] the maximum punch?"

Tex started his career as a kickboxer, then at the age of 22 moved into pro boxing-without ever having been an amateur. "I had to avail myself of scientific advances," he explained. "I felt that progressive-resistance exercise had been neglected. I used weights to help overcome my lack of experience. Nobody has ever fought for the Heavyweight title with less experience than myself...My first 50 rounds in boxing included Norton, Shavers and Dokes."

Cobb, who was training at Joe Fraiser's Gym in Philadelphia, consulted kinesiologist and exercise physiologist John Troop at nearby Temple University. Troop "structured a circuit-training routine for me, in which I used 60 percent to 80 percent of my maximum for 10 reps...[training] 36 minutes without a break, and I mean no rest, period." As a result, his strength and cardiovascular conditioning improved.

"I hated to run," he said, "so my new cardiovascular conditioning was built around 15 minutes on an Armagon machine, 15 minutes on a stationary bike, 15 minutes on a rowing machine and 15 minutes on another machine they had available." This was 60 minutes of nonstop aerobic exercise.

"Most boxers just perform their boxing training, which takes about 2 1/2 hours per day," he continued. "I worked out four to six hours per day because I had to do their training and the supplemental training too....I could do 10 rounds of squat thrusts, and I felt great. In the morning I threw punches."

Tex explained how developing strength benefited his boxing: "It's how long you can punch, which is a local muscular contraction. Strength is not the ability to punch harder, it's the ability to keep your opponent from hitting you. You must pull and push at your best. The punch comes from weight shift. I was the strongest guy in the ring that I knew of....I wanted the last word in how to train your body. I wasn't anybody's first choice in a phone booth."

His trainers over the years confirm that Cobb is one tough character. Take, for example the way he did hack squats. This movement is often performed on a piece of equipment that has an apparatus that slides up and down at a 45-to-60-degree angle. Although bodybuilders do the exercise faceup on this equipment, the original use was by football players to increase the overall power of their legs and hips. These were performed facedown-and facedown was how Tex performed them. He would do four sets consisting of 100 reps each, progressing from 300 pounds to 400 pounds to 500 and, finally, 600 pounds! His maximum performance on this equipment was 20 reps of 900 pounds, followed by 60 minutes on a Lifecycle at level 9 on a random setting.

For abdominal training Tex did four sets of 50 to 100 reps, starting with five pounds on the first set, 10 pounds on the second set and 25 pounds on the last two sets. His personal best in the 40-yard dash-achieved while he was a 265-pound defensive tackle for the Abilene (Texas) Christian University football team-was 4.8 seconds.

"I always wanted to know how the body performs at maximum output," he said. "What can you do when you're scared, bleeding, cut, winded, throwing up and your back is against the wall?

"I didn't like sets under 25 reps. I wanted the progressive idea, not just a maximum weight." Again, he stated, "It's how much, how often, how many times....I didn't get paid for looking good, I got paid for physical performance."

Toughness has applied to all aspects of Tex Cobb's life. He studied martial arts under Fred Absher in New Mexico, where, he related, "I used to sleep in the karate studio. I trained in the morning and again in the afternoon or evening. I used to clean the mats and bathrooms to help earn my keep. I also shoveled cement." Joked Cobb, "I guess that was my first progressive-resistance exercise."

Tex had a kickboxing record of five wins, no losses and five knockouts when he fought Big John Jackson for the PKA Heavyweight title and lost. Many fans felt that the decision for Jackson was controversial. In 1988 Cobb staged a 10-match comeback in boxing (10 wins, no losses), during which he had the opportunity to avenge his PKA title loss to Jackson with a rematch in the prizefighting arena. He knocked out Big John in the seventh round.

As Jackson, who is 6'5" and 245 pounds, told People magazine after that bout, "I hit that man harder than I've ever hit any person or thing in my life...his head went back, but he didn't blink. I hit him so hard, it feels like my elbows were crushed."

Not surprisingly, Tex has always been known for his ability to withstand punishment. His heavy neck development, he said, "absolutely helped to withstand the impact [of boxing]. The head doesn't move as fast when you get hit if the neck is strong. During my boxing career I used the various towel exercises to strengthen my neck."

In boxing, he explained, strength "is the ability to intercept and interact with concussion...the ability to offset your opponent's ability to initiate a valid technique. That's why I used the total-body conditioning approach. It employs the concept of strength and the concept of motion. I always balanced the motion with an opposite motion; for example, when I would perform presses behind the neck, I would also perform pullups."

With respect to training, Cobb said, "The fight game is catching up with other sports. It lasted [this long] without progressive-resistance exercise because heart is such a big factor. You can't teach heart. The [advent of] weight training is evidenced by Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Michael Spinks."

Although his film career was growing, Tex initiated that comeback in 1988 because he wasn't satisfied with how his boxing career had ended. True to his desire for the best training data available, Cobb, who resides in Nashville with his wife, Sharon, contacted Doc Kries,Ph.D., the strength coach at neighboring Middle Texas State University. Kries felt that Tex needed to work on his hip muscles and developing more strength in the shoulder area. Since Tex has a history of rodeo, kickboxing, boxing, football and weight-lifting, he also has a history of injuries, and he needed to build up stability in those areas.

"I wanted Cobb to do the movements with the least amount of wasted time," Kries related. "Explosive and speed strength are important for what he needed to do.

"Consistency would be the most difficult problem due to Tex's movie schedule," the coach continued. "I structured a three-day heavier-volume schedule, with one day light to allow for recovery and to maintain the necessary flexibility program. We concentrated on the glute and leg area with dumbbell lunges, the glute/hamstring machine, leg extensions, leg curls and, for general shoulder conditioning, on overhead presses. And, of course, Cobb ran his usual 120-to- 180-yard intervals."

Tex Cobb's boxing comeback reflected the way he wanted to end his career. The finale was a trip down memory lane with Leon Spinks. Tex won the decision, seven rounds to three.

Cobb's tough outlook on life, which is really his martial spirit, is apparent in any discussion with him. "Motion applies, emotion interferes," he explained. "You must empty yourself of emotion, and you become motion. Fear and confidence get in the way; the total elimination of self lets you become an unarmed combat technician. In the locker room you put away your wants and needs. You must survive. You must be efficient and do what is needed at the time...do what works....Peak experience, point of eureka is the issue. Nothing reached it for me like combat."

For all his love of combat, though, there's nothing personal in Cobb's approach to his sports. "Do you think that if this was personal, there would be any witnesses?" he roared with a laugh. "None of my opponents ever had anything bad to say about me. We always had fun and laughed at the weigh-ins."

Combat, he said, "isn't real. Only God is real. I want to reach further inside. Otherwise you're wasting your time."

Now that he's rewritten the history books on his boxing career, Tex has decided to make a kickboxing comeback as well. He'll be coached by his old karate instructor, Fred Absher, and by his Nashville trainer, Brent Vandiver, who has extended the weight-training aspect of Cobb's program.

"My principles are old IRONMAN principles," Vandiver said. "I want Tex to get away from the circuit training now. Circuit training is fine, and it has its place, but I think we really need Tex to increase his power by pushing and pulling heavy weights. He is currently on two heavy days and two light days per week....The light days have Tex performing inclines and benches with dumbbells. The back workout centers around pulldowns barbell rows and seated cable rows. The leg routine includes squats, leg extensions, leg curls and one-legged squats. I want to raise Tex Cobb's power. I want to increase the impact at the end of his hand. I think we've done that."

The martial arts, boxing, weight training and cardiovascular training have all been tools to express and sharpen Cobb's inner being as opposed to being ends in themselves. I treated him after he experienced a complete shoulder separation while filming "Raising Arizona." The in-jury required a surgically placed pin to stabilize the shoulder, and I can attest to the pain he was in weeks after the injury occurred, as well as to the lack of stability in his shoulder. Fifty hours after the surgery, however, he lifted a 55-gallon drum full of trash during the filming of "The Golden Child." He called that action a "testament to concentration."

This concentration is part of his character, especially in the gym. Jim Ridarsic, his weight trainer in Los Angeles, said, "Nothing interferes with Tex's workouts unless he sees someone that needs help." Now that's character.

His depth of character, humor and reputation have served Tex well in the motion picture business as well. In addition to the previously mentioned films, he has appeared in "Uncommon Valor," "Fletch Lives" and "The Dirty Dozen 4," among others, as well as on "Miami Vice," Moonlighting" and "MacGyver." According to Cobb, the biggest comparison of boxing to Hollywood is that "if everything in the world goes wrong, hell, it's just take two!"

Hollywood has been sorely lacking an ail-American John Wayne-type character of late. With his growing popularity, colorful humor, "real deal" reputation, size and Texas drawl, Tex Cobb may well be the man who will fill the Duke's shoes.

"Nobody can ever stack a deck against me that can keep me from firing 100 percent," he said. "I don't cry. It don't matter. I don't complain. It don't matter. What matters is what you do. I took the worst ass-kicking in the history of sports, but I never took a step back. It doesn't matter where the chips fall. Winning is in firing full speed, living and laughing and learning.

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