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Maurice Hooker and Blair Cobbs are fighting to stay relevant in potential weekend show-stealer

Maurice Hooker and Blair Cobbs both need a win on Saturday, and their styles and personalities make for a possible thriller.

Maurice Hooker and Blair Cobbs are fighting to stay relevant on Saturday
Maurice Hooker and Blair Cobbs are fighting to stay relevant on Saturday
Golden Boy

Blair Cobbs throws open the front door of the Irving Police Athletic League and shouts: “WOO! The champ has arrived!”

On the other side of the gym, Maurice Hooker glances over briefly, but doesn’t pause or stumble while telling the fifth or sixth interviewer of the day that, Yes, He Is Glad To Be Fighting In Front Of His Hometown Fans, and, No, All The Talk From Blair Cobbs Does Not Bother Him.

Hooker (27-2-3, 18 KO) and Cobbs (15-1-1, 10 KO) don’t share many similarities in style or persona. But the oddsmakers see them closer together than any other matchup this weekend, and boxing fans are excited for a potential show-stealing, action-packed showdown in a critically important fight for both men.

Cobbs loves the spotlight, and it shone brightly when he and Alexis Rocha stepped up and headlined a Golden Boy show on DAZN back in March. He’s back on the undercard here, but says he feels the anticipation for the Hooker fight.

“You’ve got Vergil Ortiz versus Michael McKinson. But you know what the show is really about? Blair the Flair versus Hooker. That’s what people really want to see. They want to see drama. And if [Ortiz-McKinson] falls through again? Blair the Flair is once again ready to be the main attraction.”

The boisterous Cobbs is a contentious figure among boxing fans. Detractors say his fighting talents don’t measure up to his brash talk and outsized personality. They may be right, but I’ve already confessed that I find his “Blair the Flair” character charming and fun. He’s a true showman, and an all-too-rare entertainer in a sport where far too many of his peers try to present themselves as businessmen instead.

Maurice Hooker’s appeal is much more workmanlike, but no less compelling. He’s a former 140 lb titleholder, picking up a belt in a tough overseas fight, successfully defending it twice, then losing for the first time as a pro in a unification thriller against Jose Ramirez.

Hooker bounced back with a first round knockout at a 144 lb catchweight, and moved all the way up to the full 147 lb welterweight limit to challenge Vergil Ortiz Jr in 2021. Ortiz won by sixth round KO, closing out a high intensity fight that ended with a mutual show of respect.

Hooker said afterwards that Ortiz was a future champion, and since then he’s become even more convinced Ortiz is a worthy challenger or successor to current welterweight champions Errol Spence and Terence Crawford.

“Watching him, I can tell he’s something special. I think that when Bud and EJ have fought, whenever they do what they do, move up, stay down, or whatever, I think he’s next.”

Cobbs is also coming off a stoppage loss, as his last minute main event with Alexis Rocha ended in a ninth round TKO. Some fighters struggle with their first professional defeat, but Cobbs says he’s not troubled by the setback, and is just happy to be back in the ring again.

“I already knew that God had plans for me greater than that fight. I’ve already been through more than enough struggles, and that fight did not hurt me at all, mentally, physically, or spiritually.

“What I’d gone through before that fight, with depression and suicidal thoughts, the uncertainty of whether I’d ever fight again? That was stuff that plagued me before. With COVID, going from having four fights in a year to one or no fights in a year? Sometimes, you need the consistency of fighting, too.”

Cobbs has certainly overcome greater challenges in his life than his only loss as a pro boxer. He was briefly homeless as an adult. Cobbs also spent part of his youth living in Mexico under a series of assumed identities, hiding out with a father who was on the run from the FBI.

Danny Garcia wrapped up a victory last weekend with an emotional interview about his own mental health challenges. And high profile stars like Tyson Fury and Ryan Garcia have also spoken candidly about their mental health struggles in recent years. But when I asked Cobbs whether the current environment was a more welcoming place for discussing mental health, he was emphatic in his response.

“No, it’s never easy to be up front about what you’re dealing with. Never. It’s never easy.

“There are a ton of men out there dealing with problems that go under the radar and aren’t talked about. Because we’re supposed to be manly, macho. And even other men won’t pay attention to men’s problems. Men go through a lot, fighters go through a lot. I commend Danny Garcia for opening his heart to let the world know that he’s human.”

Cobbs has spent most of his career at welterweight, a size that Hooker admits still doesn’t feel totally natural to him.

“Maybe after this fight [it will feel natural]. I’ve been fighting at 140 my whole life. Amateurs, as a pro, I’ve been 140. This weight class is a little different, but I’m getting used to it. And I’ll go in there on Saturday and do the best I can.”

But even as he adjusts to the weight class, Hooker is confident in himself, and his ability to avoid the distractions of the Blair the Flair Show.

“I think he’s seeking attention. He wants attention. The act he puts on, I think it’s not him. Maybe I’m wrong. We’re gonna see. I think he can’t stand my pressure. When I hit him in the mouth, will he say, ‘Woo?’ What’s he going to do?

“I just think it’s all a front, to be honest. He hasn’t been in there with somebody who has power. Rocha, I think he smothered him. But he didn’t have my power.”

Hooker and Cobbs are both past 30, both fighting to recover from losses and stay in the mix in a very top-heavy welterweight division. Both men have delivered action and entertainment in victory and defeat. On Saturday night in Fort Worth and on DAZN, only one of them can earn a victory. But fans and viewers are likely winners no matter who ends up with his hand raised.

Cobbs is uncharacteristically elusive when asked about the challenge of facing Mo Hooker, saying, “We put on big shows, and we’re all about giving the crowd something to be happy about.”

Hooker, however, is much more direct.

“I’m always ready to go toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow. That’s what I want to do. And if Blair Cobbs wants to do that, let’s do it. If he wants to run around the ring and try to look cute with it, I’m OK with that. I’m OK with anything he brings. It’s up to him. However he wants to go down.”