New York native Marcus Beckford’s boxing career taking off as he trains under Beau Williford in Lafayette _lowres

Alexander Williford, Beau Williford

LAFAYETTE — Since he relocated to Lafayette and began training with Beau Williford at the Ragin’ Cajun Boxing Club, things have changed quite a bit for Marcus Beckford.

The native of Uniondale, Long Island, New York, came to Acadiana in June sporting a 1-1 professional boxing record with three draws, and the welterweight (147-pound) hadn’t fought in almost a year after losing a unanimous decision to ranked middleweight Delen Parsley.

“They kept throwing him in with middleweights (maximum 160-pound),” Williford said. ‘He’s a welterweight. When he’d go to weigh in for one of those fights, he’d get on the scales with all his clothes on, his pockets full and after eating a heavy breakfast. Then he’d go out and fight draws with those middleweights.”

His two fights since coming south have both been against fighters closer to his natural weight, and the difference has been night and day — as in a knockout win and a unanimous decision over two previously unbeaten fighters.

“I do feel a lot stronger, mentally and physically,” Beckford said. “Coach Beau has been pushing me and I’m pushing myself to the limit and doing a lot more conditioning.”

Beckford will face his stiffest test when he meets Jonathan “The Man Of” Steele of Dallas, in the six-round main event of a six-bout card next Jan. 30 at Cypress Bayou Casino in Charenton.

Steele is unbeaten at 6-0, and only one of his opponents has managed to last until the final bell of his four-round bouts.

“It’s going to be a heck of a fight,” said Williford, who has tutored the slender 6-foot-1 Beckford since he arrived in Lafayette. “Steele is solid and a big puncher, but a lot of people are going to be surprised to see how hard Marcus can hit. He can crack. ... He hits like a light-heavyweight.”

Beckford relocated to Acadiana when his New York handlers used local family contacts to hook him up with Williford, who has tutored several pro fighters, along with his duties as the coach of the local youth amateur club.

Less than three months after relocating, Beckford knocked out previously unbeaten Josh Joseph (5-0) of Breaux Bridge at 2:28 in the second round of a scheduled four-rounder at Evangeline Downs Casino in Opelousas. Three months later in early November, Beckford returned to Evangeline Downs and took a six-round unanimous decision win over also-unbeaten Edward Williams (10-0-1) of Detroit.

“Coming off two major wins, I feel really confident,” Beckford said. “All the pushing here has shown me a side of myself I’d never seen, something I’d never seen in myself. I’m working out daily much differently, and not changing a lot of things just when it’s time to fight.”

The win over Williams, who is from the heralded Kronk Boxing Club and held a top-75 national ranking entering the bout, was the first six-round outing for the 22-year-old Beckford.

“I think he gets better every time he gets in the ring, whether it’s in the gym or in a bout,” Williford said. “The great thing, I tell him to do something and he never questions it, never asks why, he just says OK and does it.”

With Williford recovering from shoulder surgery, much of Beckford’s in-ring work has included sparring with Ragin’ Cajun Club alumni Blake Prevost and Jared Hidalgo. But his speed work on the mitts has mostly been with former women’s world featherweight champion Deirdre Gogarty, also a coach at the Ragin’ Cajun Club.

Williford said those sessions have helped improve Beckford’s hand speed, something that Williford couldn’t simulate. “He loves doing the mitts with Deirdre,” Williford said.

“Working with all of them has improved my focus,” Beckford said. “That’s pretty much all new for me. My intensity has increased from working with all of them.”

Beckford will have a reach advantage over the 5-foot-8 Steele, who pounded Tamorris Carter of Gulfport, Mississippi, to the point that Carter did not answer the bell for the third round on Nov. 19 in Gretna.

“He’s got a much longer reach than the average welterweight,” Williford said. “We’re working with him to take advantage of that. But he punches hard, and he likes to stand there and bang.”