Randall Cobb was born in Bridge City, Texas, to Norma Grace and Williard Cobb, a factory foreman. He was raised in Abilene, Texas, and attended Abilene High School, playing on the football team. Cobb later studied at Abilene Christian University but dropped out at nineteen and began karate training. He lived in the dojo, cleaning the mats to earn his keep. After earning his black belt, he craved full contact competition and thus took up kickboxing, fighting in an era when only full-contact rules were used in the United States. He won his first nine matches, going 9–0 with 9 knockouts.
He TKO’d El Paso Golden Gloves Heavyweight Champion and karate black belt, David Ochoa, in the first-ever professional kickboxing event in El Paso, Texas, in 1975. The promoters were Robert Nava and boxing trainer Tom McKay under boxing guru and matchmaker Paul Clinite. The client signed Randall to a professional boxing contract a few weeks later. He also signed Ochoa, who had fought amateur under the guidance of McKay as his trainer. The client provided films of heavyweight boxers to study to get the huge Cobb a good style. After a few days, it was decided that Randall should work at learning the “Joe Louis shuffle.” Randall, Paul, and Tom spent a few months at El Paso’s San Juan Boxing Gym just doing the simple basics. A few months later, Clinite made arrangements for Randall to be sent to Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia.
After nine straight wins as a kickboxer, Cobb lost his first two amateur bouts. In his professional boxing debut on January 19, 1977, he knocked out Pedro Vega in El Paso, Texas. He went on to win 13 straight fights by 1979, all by knockout. Cobb was a fighter who had some power, as shown by his eighth-round knockout victory over Earnie Shavers in 1980. To be fair, Shavers was past his prime but still very dangerous. The fight was on the undercard of the Welterweight title fight between Pipino Cuevas and Thomas Hearns, so it was really the fight fans first encounter with Cobb, and he made an impression. He lost his two following bouts afterwards to Ken Norton and Michael Dokes; both losses, though, were close disputed decisions that endeared Cobb to fight fans as a tough, rugged contender. Cobb soon bounced back beating Jeff Shelburg in April of 1982 to earn somehow a shot at Larry Holmes’ WBC World Heavyweight Championship. On November 26, 1982, at Houston’s Astrodome, Cobb was defeated in a unanimous decision by Holmes, who won all fifteen rounds on two of three scorecards. The bloody one-sidedness of the fight, which came 13 days after the bout between Ray Mancini and Duk Koo Kim that led to Kim’s death four days later due to brain trauma, so horrified sportscaster Howard Cosell that he vowed never to cover another professional match, which Cobb jokingly referred to as his “gift to the sport of boxing.”When prodded further regarding Cosell’s remarks, Cobb observed, “Hey, if it gets him to stop broadcasting NFL games, I’ll go play football for a week too!” When asked if he would consider a rematch, Cobb replied that he did not think Holmes would agree, as Holmes’s “hands could not take it.” In an interview after the Holmes fight, he was asked how he could fight someone whose arms were a foot longer than he was, to which he replied, “Oh, it seemed that way to you too?”
In fairness to Cobb, if you look at the heavyweight landscape getting a shot at the title was not out of the realm of his talent. He had given Michael Dokes all he could handle and had beaten a faded Shavers and went life and death with Norton. Holmes defended against worst competition than Cobb and Cosell had called a lot of those fights. We never heard Cosell threaten to quit. Holmes used Osvaldo Ocasio as a yo-yo or beat the brakes off the inept Alfredo Evangelista or the rotund Leroy Jones; Cobb was better than all of those guys. It’s absurd to think Cosell quit because of the Holmes/Cobb fight; the truth is that Cosell was burnt out on the boxing and used this fight as an excuse to get out. By the way, Cosell did boxing again as he was behind the mic for the fights during the 1984 Summer Olympics. You could say he was disgusted with the way Pro Boxing was going, but hell, amateur boxing may have been even more corrupt than professional boxing.
He made a brief return to kickboxing on May 5, 1984, to challenge John Jackson for the PKA United States Heavyweight title in Birmingham, Alabama, losing on points; Cobb was popular enough that the fight was shown live on NBC. Between late 1984 and 1985, he lost four straight fights, the last of which was a knockout at the hands of Dee Collier, the only time he was ever KO’d. After a two-year hiatus, he made a return to the ring. He went on a questionable twenty-fight undefeated streak against lightly regarded opponents (including a win over past-his-prime former champ Leon Spinks in 1988) before retiring again rather suddenly in 1993. A 1993 Sports Illustrated article alleged that Cobb had participated in a fixed fight with Sonny Barch and had used cocaine with Barch and promoter Rick “Elvis” Parker before and after the fight. Cobb said the magazine libeled him, and he sued for $150 million. In 1999, a jury awarded Cobb $8.5 million in compensatory damages and $2.2 million in punitive damages. However, the verdict was overturned in 2002 by a federal appeals court, which said that the article wasn’t published with “actual malice.” The magazine did not interview the referee and other ringside officials who were at the match, which tends to show that the magazine “might not have acted as a prudent reporter would have acted,” the ruling stated. “But the actual malice standard requires more than just proof of negligence.”
This may seem hard to believe, but Cobb was more successful as a Hollywood actor. Cobb has played a series of villainous roles in films such as Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol, Raising Arizona, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Liar Liar, The Golden Child, Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult, Fletch Lives, and Ernest Goes to Jail. In addition, he has made some guest appearances on television shows, including Miami Vice, Highlander: The Series, Married…with Children, Moonlighting, Walker, Texas Ranger, MacGyver (in which he played a character named “Earthquake”), and The X-Files. Cobb’s other appearances include the 1983 hit movie Uncommon Valor, which reversed his villainous image; the 1987 movie Critical Condition, in which he plays a character in the psych ward who thinks he’s a “brother” (an African-American); The Champ, which referred to his boxing career by casting Cobb as a boxer that fights the title character, Billy Flynn; and Diggstown, in which he plays a prison inmate who fights at the behest of a con man. He also was in the movie Blind Fury with Rutger Hauer. Also known as a favorite guest of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
In January 2008, at age 57, Cobb graduated magna cum laude from Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in sport and recreation management. He remarked that it was odd to hear the cheers of a packed arena without being in a boxing ring. “It was nice to have that opportunity to wear a robe, to step up there and not have to worry about bleeding,” Cobb said. Cobb has lived an amazing life, what comes next is anybody’s guess, but one thing you can be sure of is it won’t be boring.
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