The address has changed, way too often to suit Beau Williford.
What hasn’t changed is the sights and sounds, and the smell of the thickly padded leather gloves and the even thicker-padded heavy bags that hang chained from the ceiling of wherever the Ragin’ Cajun Amateur Boxing Club calls home.
“Tell him to turn that hook over, Smoky!” Williford yells in abruptly breaking away from a normal-voice-level conversation. “Make him turn it over! Land it with the knuckles, that’s where the snap comes into it!”
Williford spends a lot of time these days yelling instructions to a handful of volunteer assistant coaches while they work with the dozens of youth boxers who make up the bulk of the Ragin’ Cajun Club’s membership. His eyes are constantly watching the hand mitts his volunteer staff wear as targets for their student’s rapid-fire punching.
Williford would be inside the ropes of his club’s well-worn canvas ring himself, but a recent 37-day hospital bout with gallbladder complications has him chair-bound. He also fell and badly injured his left shoulder during that hospital stay, stubbornly deciding to make his own way to his bathroom and IV’s and wires were not going to stop him.
It’s that kind of determination that eventually results in landmarks, such as the one Matt Kligerman provided for the club last Saturday at an amateur show at the Rayne Civic Center. Kligerman, a 22-year-old sophomore at Tulane, took a 3-0 unanimous decision over Brock Camden of New Orleans in a 165-pound middleweight fight.
That Saturday three-rounder wasn’t any form of a title fight and wasn’t part of one of the national tournaments that the Ragin’ Cajun Club has been a regular participant. It was a community bout night, one of the dozens that the club and other similar groups stage on an annual basis.
Only Williford and a few others realized the significance. Kligerman’s win was the 1,000th victory since Williford established the Ragin’ Cajun Club locally in 1982.
“That’s against 322 losses,” Williford says proudly.
He should know. Williford has been there for the great majority of those wins and losses, working the corners of amateurs who have ranged from age 8 to 75. As he pulls out an overstuffed drawer from a file cabinet that has seen better days, the official “USA Boxing” record books on each of his club’s participants nearly topple out.
“USA Boxing doesn’t let you register until you’re 8,” Williford said. “It was 6 when I started. But everyone in here has to have that book. You’ve got to be registered with USA Boxing or you don’t even come into the gym.”
The amazing thing is that Williford still has documentation on those 1,322 bouts. The Ragin’ Cajun Amateur Boxing Club has bounced to several locations since its founding in a building on Fortune Road, its move to LaPromenade Mall, a facility on Cameron Street and a converted garage on Macon Road. That doesn’t include two stops at Williford’s Arnould Boulevard house when other facilities became unavailable, or the club’s current location on Luke Street after owners sold their previous home.
The worst of those forced moves came Sept. 30, 2001, when a fire at the LaPromenade Mall destroyed much of that Johnston Street building, including the club’s ring and all of its equipment and records. The only positive from that fire was that Williford had gone through and compiled all-time records only two weeks before the fire.
“When we first started, we’d have a competition every single week somewhere,” Williford said, “sometimes two or three a weekend. For years and years, you could fight somewhere on Friday night, and if there wasn’t another show in the state you could go to Mississippi or in the Florida panhandle, or to Houston, Beaumont or Katy in Texas, and there would be a show on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.”
Those amateur opportunities aren’t as prevalent now, but there are still enough to keep the gym hopping for much of the year as fighters of all ages and weight classes prepare for bouts. Many are novices, relative newcomers to the sport, but some club members have gained their share of notoriety.
Fourteen-year-old Jesse Fletcher III is the reigning World Ringside 138-pound champion and has won four TITLE National Boxing Championships, and is currently ranked fifth nationally by USA Boxing in the 145-pound, age 14-15 category. Fletcher, also an accomplished wrestler as a Lafayette High freshman, is one of the fighters going through a grueling set of exercises on the ring apron while many-time state Golden Gloves champion Chad Trahan pounds the mitts inside the red, white and blue ropes.
Also getting in a spirited workout is nearly 6-foot Paris product Bilo Dia, who had more than 60 women’s amateur fights in her native France. Dia recently relocated to Acadiana where she’s teaching third-grade French immersion classes.
The evening workout group continues a long legacy. The list of various regional, state and national amateur titles won by club members over 33 years is a lengthy one.
The group can also claim professional success, most notably the crowns won by world women’s featherweight champion Deirdre Gogarty Morrison — one of the club’s assistants for more than a decade since she retired from competition.
Gogarty Morrison, now a published author who married husband and former amateur boxer Vic Morrison inside the club’s ring, recently gave birth to a baby boy Nov. 2 and is not a constant gym presence as before.
But it’s the amateurs that are the stars here. And Williford’s eyes light up the most when his adolescent fighters climb into the ring.
“I love working with the youngest ones,” he said. “It’s even more fun when you’ve taught them something and they decide to stick with it. It’s hard. Jesse’s first fight, he got his ass handed to him. Look where he is now.”
Fletcher has his share of those thousand wins. So does Trahan, and so many others. Ron Guidry, who won a series of Ringside titles in the masters divisions, turned 77 recently and won a world title only two years ago.
Kligerman has his name in those books now, and earned it. On his way to providing that club milestone, he drives in from New Orleans and his Tulane studies every Friday evening and either works out in the gym or boxes in amateur shows the entire weekend before returning to the Crescent City on Sunday evenings.
None receive compensation for their workouts or bouts. In fact, they pay a club membership fee for the privilege. Some of those fees are helping make the new Luke Street location usable, but it’s a work in progress. Bags, desks and other equipment surround the room’s ring centerpiece, weight machines are in disarray and wall-mount speed bags await installation.
Williford’s not flustered by the haphazard room, the whirlwind of activity or the incessant “DING, DING!” chimes that sound every three minutes, and then again after a one-minute break. While he talks, his eyes are riveted on the ring, and his voice still carries when conversations are suddenly interrupted.
“Make him work!” he shouts. “Make that hook mean something! Don’t let him get lazy! Make him work!”
After all, there’s another show Feb. 21, in Houma. No need to stop at 1,000 wins.