While growing up in his native North Carolina, Beau Williford was a maniacal boxing fan. In 1968, at the age of 18, he wrote to the late manager and trainer Al Braverman in New York and told him he wanted to be a professional fighter.
At the time Williford had a year of college, as well as a North Carolina state Golden Gloves title on his resume. Braverman offered to send him a bus ticket to the Big Apple, but the ruggedly individualistic Williford opted to hitchhike instead.
“I really liked Al,” he said. “I know that a lot of people didn’t because he was very crude and very rude, but he was a freaking genius who always treated me nice.”
Williford took up residence in Jersey City and sparred daily with the likes of such popular local pros as Chuck Wepner, Randy Neumann, Bill Sharkey, Brian O’Melia, Wendell Newton, Al Brooks, Jimmy Dupree and Frankie DePaula.
He turned pro in 1968 and, according him and others, had about 40 fights. Box.rec.com lists his record as 1-3 (1 KO), which includes a third round knockout loss to Ron Stander in Oklahoma City in June 1976.
“Beau was fighting down south a lot in those days,” said longtime matchmaker Johnny Bos. “I remember seeing at least five or six times New Jersey, and none of those fights are on his record.”
Whether he’s regaling you with tales of the ring or the gym, Williford tells a good story. While he still speaks fondly of nearly all of his sparring partners, no one, it seems, is closer to his heart than Wepner.
“I really looked up to Chuck, still do today,” said the now 56-year-old Williford, who lives and trains fighters in Lafayette, Louisiana. “He was an ex-Marine, a real tough guy. And you couldn’t ask for a better friend.”
“Beau is my dear friend,” added Wepner. “He’s a real happy-go-lucky guy, a big galoot, about 6’3” and 250 pounds. He’s a sweetheart.”
With the exception of DePaula, Williford speaks glowingly about all of his colleagues from that era.
He called O’Melia, who was a school teacher, “a beautiful guy who always had a smile on his face. He was a good fighter and a tough guy. He just couldn’t punch. If you didn’t like Brian O’Melia, you wouldn’t like Jesus Christ.”
On Dupree, he said, “He was a good guy and, like me, a Carolina boy so we had a little in common. The first time we sparred, Al Braverman told him to let me have it. He hit me with a right hand on the chin, his best shot. He told Al I guess he’s got a good chin, he’s still standing.”
Williford sparred with Newton, who was truly one of boxing’s nice guys, more than anyone else.
“He was the greatest guy in the world,” said Williford. “He never took advantage when it got to the point where I could hold my own. And he was never jealous of anyone else’s success.”
Brooks, said Williford, “Never trained a day in his life, but could knock a building down. We’d go running together and after a quarter mile or so, he’d say I’m finished. I’d get back after four miles and he’d say how far did we run today?”
Williford is not prone to speaking ill of the dead, but says that DePaula was a bully who lacked heart.
“He could hit like a freaking mule, but he wasn’t the bravest guy,” said Williford. “One time down south we had a confrontation and he said he’d whip my ass (in a street fight). I said, if you could you would. He had been in reform school so he knew a lot more about street fighting than me. He knew about knives and guns, but I wasn’t afraid of him.”
Williford, who is still good friends with Stander, jokes that the man known as the Council Bluffs Butcher because he hailed from Council Bluffs, Iowa, “hit like a sissy.” In actuality, Williford says, nothing could be further from the truth.
Still, he says that he had Stander’s face cut in two places and might have been en route to winning a decision. Instead, Stander landed one of his vaunted left hooks and Williford went down. He says he was up at the count of two when the fight was stopped.
He explains that promoter Pat O'Grady, who was known for his shenanigans, later told him, “We had to get you out of there” in order to salvage Stander’s upcoming bout with South African Gerrie Coetzee.
Williford wound up staying in New York for about eight years. In addition to boxing, he studied business at the College of New Rochelle and worked as a bartender at several popular nightspots.
“He’d ask what you were drinking and then say, ‘I’ll have one too,’” laughed Wepner. “Then you’d have to force him to take your money.”
One of those places, the Bells of Hell on West 13th Street in Greenwich Village, was frequented by writers and newspaper guys. In a 1995 article in the New York Daily News, longtime columnist Vic Ziegel recalled some wild nights, including one that landed Williford in the lockup.
At the time of the article, Williford was training Peter McNeeley for his fight against Mike Tyson. Ziegel recounted telling the former owner of Bells of Hell that Williford was by then a respected member of his community as a trainer, matchmaker, promoter, husband of a bank vice president, and father of four (now five) boys.
“Well, it took him bloody long enough,” snorted the recipient of the news.
The fact is that Williford has an awful lot to be proud of. His last fight was in 1979 and he began training boxers in 1982. His first pupil was a rough New York heavyweight named Bill Sharkey, an ex-convict who was later found murdered in Pennsylvania.
Sharkey, who fought both Mike Weaver and Kallie Knoetzee, had a fearsome reputation.
“I didn’t know anything about training fighters, but I learned a lot with him,” said Williford. “He was a bit of a nut case who would ignore you if you were afraid of him. He had to have physical respect for you. I was able to get that from him.”
Williford moved to Louisiana for a job opportunity, never expecting to stay long. Instead, he met his wife Teri when she was a college senior and they have never left.
Their five sons who range in age from 22 to 8. The two oldest, twins Leslie and Wesley, both won state Golden Gloves titles.
Last year Christian, 17, won the State and Mid-South regional titles. Having just turned 16, he was the youngest entrant at the national tournament in Omaha.
Although he didn’t win there, his father’s old friend Stander was in attendance. Omaha is just across the bridge from Council Bluffs.
“That kid can fight,” said the Butcher.
Williford now runs the Ragin’ Cajun boxing club in Lafayette. One of his head coaches, Deirdre Gogarty, is the former undisputed women’s featherweight world titlist. She is best known for her epic battle with Christy Martin on the undercard of the second Mike Tyson-Frank Bruno fight in 1996.
In December, Williford took the relatively inexperienced Kasha Chamblin, an eight year veteran of the United States Marine Corps, to Germany to fight Ina Menzer for the Women’s International Boxing Federation featherweight title.
Although Chamblin lost the battle after being stopped in the eighth round, she won the war and Williford couldn’t have been prouder of her.
“She’s as pretty as any movie star, and she really can fight,” said Williford. “The fight in Germany was, realistically, the first real fight she ever had. Ina was the first real fighter she ever faced and she did well. I told her the pros and cons of taking that fight, and she said we can’t pass up this opportunity. That’s a fighter for you.”
Williford, who also works for the Beacon Financial Corporation, is living large. He’s doing what he loves, has a family that he adores, and looks forward to each and every day with the enthusiasm of a novice Golden Glover.
“Beau is good for the boxing business,” said Wepner. “He’s just a good, good guy with a great personality. And he developed a hell of a program in Louisiana. They don’t make them much better than him.”
Check out Williford on the web at: ragincajunboxing.com