40 Years On: The Tex Cobb – Earnie Shavers War Remembered

“Nobody hits like Shavers. If anybody hit harder than Shavers, I’d shoot him,” Randy “Tex” Cobb.

There have been legendary heavyweight slugfests and then there is the Tex Cobb Vs. Earnie Shavers punch-a-thon. Two tough men, one with a granite chin the other with pulverizing punching power, which would prevail? Neither Cobb nor Shavers could ever be described as slick, or even skilled, yet heart, guts and a willingness to go into the deepest of trenches was never lacking from either man – especially when they met each other in a fight that took place 40 years ago today.

The 1980 war between Cobb and Shavers serves as a graphic illustration of just how hard a sport boxing can be. The fight took place on the under-card of the Thomas Hearns v Pipino Cuevas welterweight title fight and seldom has a supporting bout been so special.

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Shavers, who was on the downside of a memorable career, was to have fought Gerry Cooney. But due to a torn muscle suffered by Cooney, Cobb stepped in to face the shaven-headed slugger. In contrast to the 35 year old Shavers, 26 year old Cobb was an up and coming fighter, one with a 16-0 record. Both men met at ring centre and got to work straight away. Shavers started more slowly than Cobb, however, his hands noticeably sluggish. Cobb was doing his level best to box, pumping out his decent jab. Then, shockingly, Shavers looked to be tired, this as early as round-two.

On top of this bad news was the fact that Shavers had recently undergone retinal surgery on his left eye, his vision at risk in each fight from there on in. And in this same round, a bad cut opened up over Shavers’ eye. Cobb just kept chopping away. Shavers came out for the third-round and at last got something going. He connected with a couple of hard rights to the head. Yet despite this, Cobb was unhurt. Both men looked very sluggish now, on their feet in particular, and this gave Shavers a chance. more chances to land with his slow but powerful fists. Shavers was unloading well at the end of the session.

In the fourth, Cobb’s left hand was starting to get lower and lower and both guys took turns in backing each other up. Shaver’s cut was worse now, the blood running into his eye. But Cobb was also cut, over his right eye. These two tiring, bloodied heavyweights were hammering out punches in a fight that was impossible to avert one’s eyes from.

After they were patched up to the best of their corner-men’s abilities between rounds, the action resumed in the fifth. A big right crashed into Cobb’s head yet he appeared unfazed. Shavers turned it on, unleashing a barrage of punches, practically all of which landed on Cobb; flush on his chin. Cobb would not budge and fans were on their feet in the Joe Louis Arena. This was a slow-motion slugfest, yes, but it was thoroughly engrossing.

By the sixth-round, the two were simply knocking chunks out of each other. There really have not been too many fights quite like this one. As the bell sounded, both fighters staggered back to their stools, sucking up what reserves they had so as to come out for more flat-footed warfare in round-seven seventh. It was far from pretty, but this was a FIGHT. The two warriors traded, before Cobb got on top and began slamming Shavers all over the ring. Shavers was taking a real pasting and he had nothing left but his heart. In a state of near exhaustion at the end of the brutal round, Shavers heard (perhaps) calls to stop the fight.

It was evident the end was not far away, and Shavers had no balance at all in the eighth-round; driven across the ring as he was yet again. It was a sight to see: Shavers, stuck in a corner taking shots, doubled over yet refusing to fall. Cobb was simply pounding away at a frighteningly game, yet defenceless target and finally the ref dived in and stopped the beating.

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The saying we often hear in boxing is how two men, after going through an especially rough and tough fight, “leave a piece of themselves in the ring.” This was the case 40 years ago.