Meet Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton, ‘Utopia’ Actor & Olympic Hopeful

JAVON “WANNA” WALTON rose early to combat his father. It was a couple of week after his 13th birthday, in late July 2019. Because the solar rose over the Chicago skyline, {the teenager} stood exterior on the rooftop of an condominium constructing, his boxing gloves raised, hitting Dad’s mitts.

“Man, raise your elbow up on the hook!” DJ referred to as to his son, as he circled, swinging. “Sit down just a little bit extra in your rear leg! Jab-step tougher in your feint!”

The duo had traveled to Chicago from their house in rural northeastern Georgia, the place they held their typical drills surrounded by 15 acres of farmland with chickens, goats, and canine operating round. Actually, for the final 5 years, DJ and Javon had spent many weekends touring collectively for boxing tournaments in order that Javon might acquire extra observe for the Junior Olympics.

javon “wanna” walton training in the gym with his father

Javon “Wanna” Walton coaching together with his father and coach DJ Walton on the household owned Onward boxing fitness center in Braselton, Georgia on October 26, 2019.

Bryan Meltz

However Javon’s actual dream was a lot larger than that, and extra publicly acknowledged: In October 2017, he’d appeared on The Steve Harvey Present, the place he’d thrown some rapid-fire punches after which carried out a handstand on Harvey’s desk earlier than dismounting with a flip. Harvey gaped. Six months later, Javon gained extra notoriety by showing in an Beneath Armour industrial during which he stood alongside Dwayne Johnson. “Why be one champ after I wanna be two?” he mentioned, earlier than backflipping right into a boxing ring.

For the previous a number of years, Javon has been coaching exhausting in hopes of showing within the Paris Olympics in 2024 in not only one sport however two: each boxing and gymnastics. Then Hollywood casting brokers grew to become conscious of his poise and confidence and commenced suggesting their very own concepts about the place his particular mix of dedication and charisma might take him.


So this journey was totally different. Javon and his entire household—together with his mother, Jessica; older sister Jayla; twin brother Jaden; and youthful brother Daelo—had arrived in Chicago in order that he might movie Utopia, Amazon’s extremely anticipated thriller. He performs Grant, a street-smart child from the initiatives who finds a mysterious graphic novel referred to as Utopia that appears to carry clues about totally different real-life conspiracies.

Utopia is the second main tv challenge for Javon, coming after a supporting position on HBO’s Euphoria, a darker drama sequence that started airing about the identical time he arrived in Chicago. Over a number of weeks, together with his Instagram account including tens of hundreds of followers weekly, the sports activities phenom labored out within the morning, went to his movie set, and have become ever extra well-known as Euphoria gained consideration.

At age 13, Javon now has practically 260,00Zero followers on Instagram, loads of viral stunt clips, his personal IMDb web page, and seemingly extra jobs to juggle than anyone particular person may moderately handle. He’s entered true child-star territory, which brings with it extra questions—about keep your life stability and sense of identification, particularly when it’s unclear the place all of your motivation comes from and simply who’s pushing you to maintain succeeding.

However children don’t essentially suppose like that. Many appear to consider they’ll do all of it with out no less than initially recognizing that there are some necessary losses and features that come together with ambition. Significantly for those who’re pushing exhausting at a younger age. “I’m simply anxious about doing the issues I really like,” Javon added on a current day, by which he meant he was simply staying targeted on his passions moderately than any trade-offs.

“Watch your hand!” DJ referred to as out as Javon by chance lowered his glove, leaving his chin uncovered.

At 6’1″, DJ towered greater than a foot over his son. Javon was simply 4’9″—that’s quick for a seventh grader, particularly one who needed to punch again in any respect the larger children he confronted within the ring. However Javon appeared used to feeling like an underdog, whilst his desires of what he is likely to be when he grew up appeared to develop larger by the day.

FROM THE second he might crawl, Javon propelled himself throughout the ground like a soldier in boot camp. He would thrash his hips and elbows. He attacked the ground. As quickly as he might stand, he tried to run. When his mom tried to choose him up, he squirmed away. “All by self!” he would say. He needed to do all the pieces solo, so at some point DJ checked out his son and mentioned, “Hey, Wanna!” And Javon checked out his dad and tilted his head, approving his new identify. “You wanna be grown already, don’t you?” DJ mentioned, grinning. “Properly, don’t be so fast to develop up.”

javon “wanna” walton

Walton has appeared in an Beneath Armour industrial alongside Dwayne Johnson.

Bryan Meltz

When Javon was two, he watched Manny Pacquiao dance throughout the ring in a televised boxing match. Nobody remembers the opponent. However Javon turned to his dad and mentioned, “I wanna do this.” So DJ—a boxing coach who served as vp of USA Boxing for 5 years and now owns his personal fitness center, referred to as Onward, in Braselton, Georgia—began coaching him.

They’d watch Olympic fights huddled across the family pc, and Javon informed his dad in regards to the Dream—to be on that TV, to compete within the Olympics. At first, he dreamed this above all issues.

In kindergarten at some point, when Javon was 5, his trainer requested the scholars every to attract an image: “What do you need to be once you develop up?” Mrs. Jackson informed the category it could possibly be something. Later, she referred to as in DJ and Jessica for a convention. She confirmed them the drawing. “In 35 years, I’ve by no means had a toddler draw what he drew,” Mrs. Jackson informed them.

Javon had drawn himself on a podium sporting Olympic gold medals for boxing—and a brand new sport. After watching his older sister, Jayla, excel at gymnastics, he’d determined to strive that, too. He grew to become the primary kindergartner within the historical past of the college to make the gymnastics workforce. However Javon wasn’t happy with simply taking part: He had added gymnastics to the rising Dream. He now needed Olympic golds in each.


Walton (proper within the black) trains together with his brother Jaden (foreground) on the Excessive Tumbling Coaching Middle in Winder, Georgia on October 26, 2019.

Bryan Meltz

“And I wouldn’t usually say this,” Mrs. Jackson informed DJ and Jessica that day. “However I believe he’ll really do it.”

BY AGE eight, Javon had certified for the Junior Olympics in boxing. At 11, he grew to become the one child in Georgia to carry state championship titles in each boxing and gymnastics.

Then the information cameras got here, and talk-show hosts began calling, and invites arrived about varied sponsorship offers. By the point he was 12, Javon had competed in nationwide tournaments, dancing throughout the ring in his crimson sneakers like a miniature Pacquiao. He’d develop into certainly one of solely 4 American children his age to be ranked “elite” in trampoline and tumbling by USA Gymnastics. He’d set himself the goal date of 2024 for the Olympics, as a result of he’d be 18 by then, the youngest age that boxers are allowed to compete.

After seeing Javon on Steve Harvey, a casting director named Jennifer Venditti reached out to DJ and requested if Javon would take into account auditioning for a brand new HBO present referred to as Euphoria, about suburban teenagers who face drug abuse, cyberbullying, and sexual stress. Javon gained the position of Ashtray, the tattooed youngster assistant to a drug seller. (His first line, spoken to Zendaya, who performs the substance-abusing essential character: “I assumed your ass was lifeless.”)


Walton in a scene from Euphoria.

Courtesy of HBO

The Euphoria expertise was alleged to be a one-off. However for Javon, it appears to have triggered one other impulse to compete and conquer. Euphoria led to his subsequent position, in Utopia, as a lead this time, and finally what regarded like a tough alternative: His summer time performing schedule would battle with the boxing nationals that June. For the final 5 years, he’d at all times certified for nationals, though he’d but to win a title there. Now he’d should miss the competitors utterly. He merely couldn’t do each.


Javon was prepared to overlook it so long as he and DJ might preserve coaching throughout filming, so he could possibly be prepared for the 2020 qualifier this summer time. Earlier than the taking pictures of Utopia began, they’d visited the Olympic Coaching Middle in Colorado Springs, the place he watched the nationwide workforce prepare and hit the saunas sporting hoodies. He tried to think about that at some point he’d be that robust. Seeing the Dream up shut solely made him need the Olympics extra. “I can’t wait till that point comes,” he mentioned with certainty on a current day. “Paris. It’s gonna be lit.

“GOOD JOB in the present day; you labored exhausting,” DJ mentioned after they put their gloves down, the remainder of Chicago seemingly nonetheless asleep. “Let’s be sure to’re retaining your lead hand just a little bit tighter once you’re taking your countersteps. And spring again ahead with aggressive punches.”

“I wanna do that subsequent,” Javon mentioned, displaying DJ his cellphone and boxer Canelo Álvarez’s Instagram story. Álvarez was working counterstep drills, focusing on his lead hand, and ending with a hook to the physique. “Man, I wanna do it precisely like him!”

DJ sat with Javon now, watching Álvarez’s Instagram. “You already know, that comes from years of expertise,” DJ mentioned, earlier than agreeing to strive the brand new drill.

javon walton training with his father

Walton hopes to field (and flip) on the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Bryan Meltz

Javon knew he needed to preserve coaching and successful, irrespective of his different pursuits. That’s as a result of as he grows, he’ll compete in a brand new weight class every year. Yearly, he has to advance by way of state competitions and qualify for regionals. If he can win nationals, he might make Staff USA and journey internationally, growing his possibilities of being chosen for the Olympics.

Later that day, the Walton household left the town for the Nice Wolf Lodge, a resort an hour’s drive from downtown Chicago. The lodge had a pool and an arcade and a water park. It was a belated birthday celebration for Javon and Jaden and a weekend escape for the entire household. DJ had referred to as the household “Tribe” when the children had been younger. He and Jessica thought “household” wasn’t a powerful sufficient phrase.

The Tribe hit the arcade, a sprawling school-gym-sized room with a Ferris wheel and carnival video games. Javon shortly discovered a whacking machine with foam hammers. He regarded to his dad, and with out saying a phrase, DJ picked up each hammers, treating them like boxing mitts. Javon punched the hammers as in the event that they had been mitts, and the display flashed the rating: 1,000—the best.

Nonetheless, on the trail to Staff USA, losses might be inevitable, particularly on the junior degree. Fights final for 3 one-and-a-half-minute rounds—simply 270 seconds. With so little time and with factors awarded for touchdown punches, most junior fighters targeted on offense and simply got here out swinging. That fashion had been Javon’s weak spot. It was the explanation he and DJ targeted a lot on mitt drills: Javon wanted to punch extra.

Earlier than heading to Chicago, Javon had misplaced a regional match in Dallas towards a brawler from San Antonio. “Shorten up! Shorten your overhand!” DJ had yelled from the nook. Javon was swinging too broad and lacking, his elbow too open. And San Antonio simply saved pounding with numerous inside punches and fixed advances. DJ had by no means seen Javon return to the nook so flushed. After his loss, Javon was stoic. Somebody had been recording the bout, so all he needed to do was go house and watch the tape.

javon walton tying his shoes

Walton prepares for extra coaching at his father’s boxing fitness center.

Bryan Meltz

Javon’s fashion is deliberately extra grown-up. He and DJ typically work on misdirection and feints. They deal with his footwork. DJ has coached him to not brawl. Javon could undergo occasional defeats now, however he’ll have the instruments to peak in these years that basically matter—14, 15, 16—the ages when the rounds go longer and children acquire muscle and develop into stronger. The ages when nationwide coaches start figuring out and investing in youth expertise. The ages when Olympians are actually born.


Javon already sees DJ as extra than simply his dad. He hopes to go professional at some point and have him there in his nook, even when different coaches should step in at totally different factors alongside the best way. “Your coach is, like, all the pieces to you,” Javon says later. “The bond is unbreakable.”

After the arcade, the Tribe went again to the rooms, and Javon climbed into the underside bunk. The beds had mini blankets, so there Javon lay, 4’9″, and someway too large for his environment.

A WEEK after the household journey, Javon returned to the condominium late at some point after filming. His mom was within the kitchen. She had simply gotten off the cellphone with Javon’s kindergarten gymnastics coach. She mentioned she had some unhealthy information.

When Javon was eight, his kindergarten trainer, Mrs. Jackson, for whom he’d drawn the Olympic image, was identified with most cancers. She’d come to his fights and his coaching, even throughout chemotherapy. Javon wrote on his crimson boxing sneakers then, “Combating for Mrs. Jackson.” Mrs. Jackson battled most cancers for 5 years, holding on to see her daughter marry and her son graduate from school. However she was bedridden by that summer time.

Javon would textual content and ship her video messages whereas filming. “I’m not supposed to do that, Mrs. Jackson, however that is me on set!” he would say. A month earlier, she had stopped responding.

“They introduced hospice in, Wanna,” Jessica mentioned. “She wasn’t actually capable of do a lot. In order that’s why she wasn’t responding to your texts. There have been folks taking good care of her across the clock. She simply closed her eyes and went to sleep. She did not undergo. She’s in a greater place.” Marie Mauldin Jackson was 62.

Javon’s face flushed and his eyes started to water, however he simply nodded and mentioned, “Okay.” After which he went again into his room.

He at all times felt that Mrs. Jackson was the primary particular person exterior the household to consider in him, to consider within the Dream. “She got here to the fitness center and watched me prepare, which I actually appreciated,” he says. Now she was gone. However not precisely: When Jessica handed her son’s room later that night time, she noticed him in mattress on his cellphone, studying by way of his trainer’s texts.

AFTER PRODUCTION wrapped on Utopia, the Tribe moved again house to Georgia. It was early fall. The leaves had browned and Javon appeared glad to go to corn mazes and see his buddies once more. To journey filth bikes with Jaden, play Fortnite, and hit Walmart for sweet. He went again to highschool, too, however otherwise than most children.

Javon takes most of his courses on-line to find time for extra coaching. He considers {that a} win-win. “Being round folks and with the ability to hang around with them—that little facet I like, but it surely’s not likely price it for a way lengthy they’re in class,” he says. “It’s extra price it to have the ability to get my work accomplished on my time.”

javon walton playing video games

Walton (left) and his twin brother Jaden “Jdub” Walton play video video games in Wanna’s room at their house in Winder, Georgia.

Bryan Meltz

On many days, Javon would decide up his gloves and observe DJ as soon as once more into the yard or the ring at Onward. Again at his household’s fitness center, he was surrounded by the massive storage doorways with GO HARDER! written throughout the entrance, searching onto a row of bushes and a highway.

On a current day a number of months in the past, earlier than the coronavirus pressured Onward to quickly shut, Javon discovered himself going through DJ and as soon as once more hitting the mitts. On the time, he was desirous about his subsequent Junior Olympic Nationals and an upcoming state competitors. Nobody realized that these would all be canceled as a consequence of well being considerations over the pandemic.

As a substitute, Javon was targeted on doing morning cardio periods within the pool, courses, then boxing at night time. He’d work together with his dad 5 days per week, with sparring on Saturdays.

DJ circled him. POP! POP! POPOPOP!

DJ remembered when Javon was 5 and he had taken him to the fitness center. There have been no stairs for him to climb into the ring, and so one other coach had picked him up and put him inside. Javon cried as a result of but once more he needed to do issues all by himself.

“Don’t be so fast to develop up. Be a child,” DJ remembered telling him.

javon walton with his father

Walton and his father as they continued to coach in October 2019.

Bryan Meltz

Javon circled his dad now, ready, reacting. POP! POP! POPOPOP! on the mitts.

As DJ noticed it, the coaching session mimicked certainly one of Javon’s closing fights earlier than he began filming in Chicago, with DJ shouting fewer of his traditional instructions—Reduce the ring off!… Cease chasing!… Work behind your jab!—and Javon now anticipating them. He seen that Javon’s hooks had been hitting, his elbows tight.

Javon appeared keen to choose up the tempo within the second spherical, even throwing extra. He wasn’t gassed when he got here again to the nook. “I might do that all day!” he informed his dad throughout that current combat.


When Nationals had been postponed till 2021, Javon knew it could be a protracted highway forward. There could be extra fights and classes. And probably extra trade-offs as extra Hollywood alternatives arose.


However on the cusp of his 14th birthday, there aren’t any extra matches or meets, and no motion pictures in manufacturing to complicate issues, so he and his dad nonetheless prepare virtually day-after-day. That persevering with observe appears to make his uncommon life, for him no less than, really feel considerably regular. “I simply get to be a child proper now,” he says.

Typically the desires of boys develop too giant and appear unrealistic. Or maybe it’s the different approach round, and the boy merely outgrows his desires. For Wanna, each appear unimaginable. He’s realized to remain affected person, and he’s grown an inch since final summer time. He’s punching tougher now, and with extra attain.

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