By Arne K. Lang
Beau Williford, an icon of boxing in Louisiana’s Cajun Country, died Wednesday, July 31, at the age of 69 (some sources say 72). Williford, who spent his final few days in hospice care, had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer and renal disease.
Beau Williford, born Mabon Leslie Williford Jr in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was a jack of all trades; a trainer, a cut man, a gym operator, a matchmaker, a manager, a promoter – you name it. He was a throwback to the days when there were low-budget shows across a wide swath of the country and grassroots promoters were identified by their territory.
Williford’s territory was Acadiana, the name given to that part of Louisiana (comprising roughly a third of the state’s 66 parishes) where many of the residents are descendants of French-speaking exiles from Canada’s Maritime Provinces. From his base in Lafayette, the unofficial capital of Acadiana, Williford promoted shows up and down the Gulf Coast.
In 1979, Williford moved to Lafayette to work in the oil industry. Three years later, he opened the Ragin’ Cajun Boxing Club. Before that, he was a boxer, a good amateur who once sparred with Muhammad Ali and a professional opponent for the likes of former world title challenger Ron Stander and Olympic silver medalist Mircea Simon. He was 4-4 in documented fights as a pro and likely engaged in several more.
Promoters operating in the boondocks find it useful to festoon their top fighters with manufactured titles and Williford wasn’t immune to this practice. Randy Williams, a fighter he co-promoted, was garbed as the Universal Boxing Association Pan American 154-pound title.
For a time, Williford trained and managed perennial heavyweight contender James “Quick” Tillis. In May of 1986, Williford brought Tillis to Glens Falls, New York, to fight Mike Tyson who had knocked out all 18 of his previous opponents. Tillis lost a unanimous decision but achieved a moral victory by lasting the full 10-round distance. In fact, take away the knockdown that Tyson scored in round four (Tillis was winning the round) and Tillis may have gotten a draw. Two judges had it 6-4 (the bout was scored on rounds, not points); the other 8-2.
Tillis was from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but most of the fighters that Williford nurtured were found in his own backyard. Three in particular warrant mention.
Jason Papillion won several regional titles, went 12 rounds with tough Paul Vaden, and later fought Winky Wright for a version of the world super welterweight title. Chad Broussard finished his career with a record of 56-5 with 40 knockouts.
In truth, Broussard was nowhere near as good as his record but the opposite was true for Deirdre Gogarty (pictured on the right with Williford in a 2015 Advocate file photo) whose final pro mark of 16-5-2 vastly underestimates her level of skill.
Born and raised in Ireland, Gogarty had two pro fights under her belt when Ireland passed a law, since rescinded, which prohibited women from engaging in prize fights. Although she had a good career going as a commercial artist, she was smitten with boxing and moved to the United States in hopes of continuing her career. She turned up in Lafayette where she induced Beau Williford to take her under his wing.
Gogarty came up short in her signature fight, a robust 6-round affair with Christy Martin that was on the undercard of a show at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas headlined by the rematch between Mike Tyson and Frank Bruno. Gogarty vs. Martin was included as part of the PPV telecast, the second-most-watched card in pay-per-view history up to that time.
It would be no exaggeration to say that Gogarty’s fight with Christy Martin stole the show. “Not only was the fight more than the typical prelim,” said Richard Hoffer in Sports Illustrated, "but it also had more action and better boxing than the main event…and there was gore to boot, all of it Martin’s.”
Gogarty, now Deirdre Gogarty-Morrison, now works as a boxing coach at the Ragin’ Cajun Boxing Club. She reflected on her late mentor in an interview with Kevin Foote of the Advocate, Louisiana’s leading newspaper: “He was one of those people that if he liked you, he’d do anything in the world for you. But if he loved you, he’d die for you. And he loved a lot of people.”
Beau Williford and his wife Teri had five sons, each of whom became a state Golden Gloves champion. Speaking to a reporter from KATC, Lafayette’s ABC affiliate, Beau’s son Christian ruminated on life in the Williford household. “He took [people in and cared for them,” he said. “We had more house guests than anybody could ever imagine.
It had been Beau’s dream to bring the National Golden Gloves Tournament to Lafayette and he lived to see his dream fulfilled. He spearheaded the effort that brought the 2017 edition to the CajunDome, the first visit to Louisiana for a tournament that has been around for 94 years.
Services for Beau Williford are scheduled for this Saturday at Lafayette’s First Baptist Church. Visitation is from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. with the memorial service starting at 11.
It cost money to rent a locker at the Ragin’ Cajun Boxing Club but Williford wouldn’t charge a kid if he knew the kid had no money. Some of those “kids” will undoubtedly be at the service and I’m guessing that many now have kids of their own. If I were going, I would get there early to be assured of finding a seat.
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