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Cruising with Beau Williford

Daniel Herbert's enthralling Louisiana diary (March 10-14 2011)

Monday, 30 May 2011 | 0 comments
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WHEN Beau Williford invited me to visit him in Lafayette, I didn't expect I'd end up walking around the Louisiana town's Home Depot looking for a toilet with former women's world champion Deirdre Gogarty.


But then perhaps I shouldn't have been too surprised, for during four days being chauffeured around Lafayette by Beau – the best taxi driver in the town, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise – I'd experienced just about everything.
Beau, 61, is a renowned trainer, having worked with not only many locals but also Brits like Glenn McCrory and Colin McMillan.


“Lafayette is a real boxing hotbed – always has been,” says Beau, who is originally from Fayetteville in North Carolina, arriving in Lafayette in the late 1970s to work in the oil business.


He started the Ragin' Cajun Boxing Club and has kept it going for 29 years, even letting boxers train in his garage when a fire destroyed the gym a few years back.
He's also a gentleman, a perfect host and a fabulous story-teller. He also knows just about every man, woman and child in Lafayette, which helps when his guest is writing a story on boxing in the town.


DAY ONE: Beau's waiting for me at the airport, where we get into a car plastered with the colourful logo of the Ragin' Cajun club.


“I get only one perk from running the club and that's this car,” he explains. “Deirdre designed the logo.”


After briefly calling at my hotel to check in, it's straight on to the Ragin' Cajun gym. It's based in a stand-alone building made of metal and plaster, looking like a smaller version of an aircraft hanger. The club has been here since 2006 and along with one big ring, there are offices/changing facilities at one end.


Gogarty, whose journey from Drogheda in Ireland to Lafayette (where she now lives) is the subject of a to-be-published book, is in the ring taking a youngster on the pads. The previous month Mario Cardenas, 13 years old and 103lbs (7st 5lbs), had made a winning debut in nearby Crowley, stopping his opponent in just 33 seconds.


As is customary in the USA, the club accommodates both amateurs and professionals (ABAE and AIBA, take note).
The office walls are papered with reports from newspapers and magazines, even a letter from then-US President George W. Bush congratulating Beau and the club on their good work providing an outlet for youngsters who might otherwise fall into crime.


Yet for all his geniality, Beau is no pushover. He insists on good behaviour from his boxers.


A club rule states boldly: “School-age members must maintain no less than a ‘C' average in academics and a ‘B' in conduct in order to compete. We expect our athletes to dress neatly and set the hallmark in sportsmanship, respect, and overall behavior.” Beau makes sure this rule is enforced.


On this night, pro super-middleweight Chad Trahan works out and spars with Blake Prevost (subject of an article on the BN website earlier this year).


Chad served in the US military for several years, which is why he's only 3-0 as a pro at the advanced age of 31. He has no time to waste.


An impressed Prevot says of Chad: “Wow! He's like Joe Calzaghe, he throws lots of punches!”


Also here tonight is Cody Richard, a 5-0 pro lightweight who's studying at university in Beaumont, Texas, some 130 miles to the West.


DAY TWO: I'm beginning to realise that this jaunt is as big a deal for Beau as it is for me. Beau has worked his local contacts and arranged for me to appear on local radio show Sports Radio ESPN 1420, on a sports talk show hosted by Kevin Foote, the Sports Editor of local Daily Advertiser newspaper.


I assume it's just for a few minutes but it turns out to a 30-minute grilling (in a nice way) from 10.30am to just before the show's end at 11am.


Lunch comes at hotspot Rivals with Glen Armentor, a local man who rose from abject poverty to become a hugely successful lawyer and also a generous benefactor to the Ragin' Cajuns club; Kerry Daigle, an entrepreneur whose various businesses include promoting boxing (next show in Laredo, Texas on April 8); Gogarty; and one of Beau's finest products in Kenny Vice.


Before the meal is complete, I do an interview with George Faust, the sports reporter from local TV station Channel 10 (CBS).


Chalk this interview up to the visibility of Beau's vehicle. The previous evening we were driving past the Blackham Coliseum, which used to host boxing but now accommodates rodeos, when we stop at traffic lights. A man pulls up in the next lane and honks; it turns out to be Mike Barnes, who runs the local TV station. Beau tells him who I am and when the lights change and we set off, I think no more about it. But two minutes later the sports reporter from the TV station rings with instructions from boss Barnes to arrange an interview for the next day (Friday).


Said interview lasts a couple of minutes and goes well enough. By now I'm thinking of retiring to Lafayette and basking in my growing fame.


Back at the gym that evening, we settle back in the office in the company of Anthony Russell, a 15-2-1 (5) light-heavyweight who returns from a four-year layoff on the April 1 show in Chalmette (a suburb of New Orleans).


“I'm from Canada and used to be team-mates with Troy Amos Ross,” he says. “I was based in Boston and moved from the North East to Houston, then to Louisiana.” His wife is local.
Dinner is with Beau, Deirdre and Kerry Daigle. As at dinner the night before, and at lunch, the Irishwoman eats light (soup and salad) because a comeback is on the cards.


“I'll come out of retirement to fight Christy Martin again,” she asserts. “No one else. I'm down to about 142 pounds, but after that the weight just won't come off.”


Deirdre's fight with Martin on the Mike Tyson-Frank Bruno II undercard in Las Vegas in March 1996 put women's boxing on the map. The Irishwoman, who gave a big chunk of weight, lost on points but won hearts for her gutsy stand.


Daigle, who has published self-help and lifestyle books, is seriously impressed by a copy of Boxing News. “Wow,” he says. “This is much better than The Ring, which is always out of date.”


DAY THREE: Beau drives me down the main drag, Johnstone Street, and points out a prime location: “We used to have a gym there, in the Promenade Mall. It drew lots of people because of its handy location. Burned down in 2006, even trained in my garage until the move to the new gym.”


In the new development of River Ranch, we call in at the house of Danny Saloom, whose son Jesse used to box for the Ragin' Cajuns. Jesse is now studying at the London School of Economics, just over a mile up the road from Boxing News' Cannon Street offices. Did somebody say it was a small world?


Next it's off to the neighbouring town of Breaux Bridge to see Johnny Diamond at his pizza place. A former US Special Forces soldier, Johnny is 84 years old but as sharp as a tack – he started his restaurant only 10 months ago. He sits on the Louisiana state commission and in that capacity will attend the pro show tonight at the Lafayette Hilton.


We head back to Lafayette, where Ron Guidry and Crowe Peele have arrived after the two-hour drive from Baton Rouge.
A good boxer back in the late 1950s, Ron came back a couple of years ago at the age of 75! He competed in the Masters division of the Louisiana Golden Gloves. “They don't take head shots at that age,” he explains, to my relief.


Peele boxed Floyd Patterson in the 1952 US Olympic Trials before a good pro career as a heavyweight. You wouldn't think that, to look at him.


After dinner at Guidry's Oyster Place we cross the road to the Lafayette Hilton, where the ballroom hosting the show is rammed.


Promoting is Chad Broussard, one of Beau's former boxers who had a couple of fights in the UK back in the nineties.
Along with the national anthem – always a big deal at shows in the USA – a preacher is invited into ring to lead the crowd prayer. I've never seen that before.


The action that unfolds is about the same standard as a small-hall bill in the UK. In the 10-round main event local lightweight Mason Menard shows a high workrate but no power in widely outpointing US-based Kenyan Anthony Napunyi.


Menard, 22, is now 15-1 with 12 early wins, but given the lack of pop he shows on this night, one wonders about the quality of his previous opponents.


Beau isn't impressed by the switch-hitting Kenyan. “He has no technique – he's just awkward.”


Best action comes in the light-heavyweight six-rounder that sees crude but strong Omid Bahreini of Arkansas catch up with, and flatten, taller Bailey Bobbit just one second from the fight's end.


But there are also some terrible mismatches.


Local light-middle Jarred LeBlanc pleases his noisy fans by stopping Starr Johnson in a scheduled six-rounder.
Johnson is from Houston, Texas and brother of one-time quality welter Golden Johnson. Leblanc is 11-1 and the slim, frail-looking Johnson 3-18-1 (2), so a crystal ball isn't needed to know what will happen.


Johnson duly goes down several times before being rescued in round three, prompting me to ask how he managed to secure three wins.


Beau is so tickled by this line he repeats it to several people over the next couple of days.


Like Menard, Leblanc was at one time under Beau's wing.
“But he wanted to go pro and I said, ‘You're not ready',” explains Beau. “So he went elsewhere. Okay, no problem. His last fight was a year ago, in this same ballroom. His achilles tendon snapped, and it was so loud you could hear it at ringside.”


That was against Juliano Ramos in April 2010 and Jarred lost on a first-round stoppage.


Another mismatch sees Bobby Bryant, an 18-year-old light-middleweight from Florida, improve to 10-0 (8) when Columbus, Ohio's hapless William Armstead folds in just 49 seconds.


The day before, Bryant and his father-manager John had come to Beau's gym after the weigh-in, hanging out and shooting the breeze. Just as he was about to leave, Bobby, a nice kid, rolled up a jeans leg to reveal a chunk missing from his lower calf.


“I had an accident with lawnmower when I was a kid,” he explained matter-of-factly.


Just before the show started, I had nipped to the “restroom” (American for toilets) and found myself at the urinal next to a black boxer trying to use his gloved hands to lower his shorts/cup and relieve himself.


I didn't hang around long enough to learn if he succeeded, but a couple of hours later there is Julius Fogle in the ring, ready to box Russian Sergey Kovalev.


Kovalev, 27, demolishes the North Carolina man in two rounds of a scheduled eight and at 14-0 (12) is one to watch.
It's been a long day, but it's not over yet. We head to Daigle's house to watch a recording of the Cotto-Mayorga bill on Kerry's big-screen TV. The crazy Nicaraguan offers surprisingly stiff resistance until the Puerto Rican's left hook finishes him, and the night, in conclusive fashion.


DAY FOUR: After the excitements of Saturday, it's a day for recovering. We catch up with Deirdre and collect her toilet (already ordered) from Home Depot.


After lunch at Beau's, Darrilyn Saloom drops by for coffee and a chat. She's the mother of Jesse and a professional author, who co-wrote Deirdre's book (and did a fine job, judging by the proofs I've read).


Later we have coffee with Greg Landry, father of one of Beau's young amateurs and a keen fan. He thinks Amir Khan will beat Timothy Bradley, although since then their July showdown has been scrapped.


As the day winds down, there's still time for Beau to tell me some stories about his life and career, plus some of the boxers he's worked with. But for those, you'll have to wait for a story that will appear soon in our print paper.

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