Why ‘Euphoria’ star ‘Ashtray’ is putting Hollywood on hold for boxing


JAVON ‘WANNA’ WALTON was just 11 years old when he and his family were flown to Los Angeles for an acting audition.

They figured they’d get to L.A., have time to prepare for the audition for this new HBO show called “Euphoria” and maybe even get him an acting coach. There was none of that. Walton got thrown right into the fire.

“The very first scene was with [Hollywood star] Zendaya with no prep, no walk-through, no nothing,” Walton’s father, DJ, told ESPN of the 2017 audition. “And the kid just delivered these lines and did it so matter-of-fact. … [Me and his mom] were just looking at each other, watching him on the monitor like, ‘What the f—? S—, he can act.’ It literally kind of fell in our laps.”

Walton went on to shine as the character Ashtray on “Euphoria,” which became a huge hit and won several Emmy Awards. “Wanna” parlayed that into a lead role in Amazon’s “Utopia” and then a part in Netflix’s popular “The Umbrella Academy.” In 2022, he acted alongside Sylvester Stallone in the superhero film “Samaritan.”

In a short time, Walton became one of Hollywood’s biggest rising stars. But he’s putting that on hold to focus on his first love, the path he was on before getting the big “Euphoria” break: boxing.

None of the above could have been possible if a viral clip of him boxing hadn’t caught the attention of Steve Harvey’s talk show in 2017. During that interview, Walton displayed his uncanny boxing skills, complete with a demonstration of hitting mitts. That led to the call from a casting agent that had seen the baby-faced Walton on the show.

On Saturday, Walton, 17, will make his first major professional boxing appearance on the undercard of an event in San Juan, Puerto Rico, headlined by fights involving women’s boxing star Amanda Serrano and famous YouTuber-turned-prizefighter Jake Paul.

Walton’s immediate goal is to fight multiple times in 2024, gain the necessary experience, and one day compete for a title. After a decorated youth and amateur career, he’s attacking his training with a strictness and attention to detail that one championship-level fighter said was the best he’s seen.

“Hopefully, in the next five years, I’m a world champion,” Walton said.

Walton had his first pro fight in December, a first-round TKO over Moises Guzman Almonte on a small show in the Dominican Republic. On Saturday, Walton will face Joshua Torres (0-1-1), who, at 32 years old, is nearly double Walton’s age. The event will take place live on DAZN at Coliseo de Puerto Rico Jose Miguel Agrelot, which holds more than 18,000 people and should be close to sold out for Serrano’s first fight in her homeland since becoming undisputed featherweight champion.

“I’ve kind of been in front of cameras my whole life, so I don’t really see it as anything different,” Walton said. “I’m just grateful my fight can be on such a big stage right out the gate.”

DJ WALTON AND his wife, Jessica, have always been huge boxing fans. When Javon was growing up, on the outskirts of Atlanta, there were always fights on the television. If no boxing matches were on live, they would watch past fights.

“As a really, really little kid — and it’s kind of hard to believe it — he would sit down and it would be the only thing that he would just sit down on the couch with us or in the bedroom and just watch,” DJ said.

At 4 years old, Javon expressed his desire to start boxing. His father wasn’t against the idea, but he wasn’t about to pull up to a boxing gym with a kid that young. DJ had trained in boxing when he was younger, before transitioning to track and football. So, he started training Javon, little by little, out of their family home.

“I kind of looked at it like a release for him,” DJ said. “He would be blowing snot bubbles punching the bag. It was pretty obvious early on that this was something he was drawn to.”

Things got more serious as Javon got older. When he was 8, he started competing. DJ and Jessica took him to the Ringside World Championships in Kansas City. Javon didn’t perform that well, but afterward, he wanted to get right back to the gym, which DJ saw as a positive sign. Javon then went on a 10-fight winning streak and took silver in the Junior Olympics, which he did twice, according to DJ. During the same time, Javon was also competing in gymnastics at a high level for his age, and DJ started working with USA Boxing.

By age 10, Javon seemed destined for a pro boxing career. The first goal, though, was the Olympics — until “Euphoria” came along. That pushed “Wanna” to pivot to acting because of how good of an opportunity it was.

However, it was not lost on the youngster that the HBO casting director wouldn’t have seen him had it not been for Harvey’s show, which discovered him via viral social media videos of Walton slickly beating up mitts in training. The show’s YouTube page still displays the 2017 clip of Walton, entitled, “You Gotta See The Fast Fists On This Future Floyd [Mayweather].”

Walton did two seasons of “Euphoria” and won critical acclaim for his role as Ashtray, the kid brother of drug dealer Fezco, played by the late Angus Cloud. Walton said he’s unsure what the future holds for “Euphoria.”

“As of right now, it’s really just boxing,” Walton said. “So, I don’t know if I’d come back for another season of that.”

His older sister, Jayla, is an actress on the AMC show “Fear the Walking Dead,” and his twin brother, Jaden, is a baseball prospect.

Regarding Javon, DJ said the philosophy he and his wife have now is that their son has a small window to succeed in boxing during his athletic prime and “you can act until you’re 80.” The goal is for him to get active with boxing, with multiple fights per year, contend for a championship down the line and get out of the dangerous sport healthy “with all of his faculties.”

There is one role, though, that could bring Javon back to Hollywood earlier than expected: Batman’s sidekick.

“I think the only thing that I’d really consider would be a role like Robin,” said Walton. “That could be kind of cool, because they’re talking about getting in the writer room for that and hopefully shooting that by 2025. So, [a] big role like that I would definitely consider, but really my eyes are just locked on boxing.”

LOUIS TAYLOR WON a $1 million championship in the PFL and has coached elite MMA fighters such as UFC welterweight Belal Muhammad. He’s also been in camps with the likes of UFC all-time great Khabib Nurmagomedov. But Taylor said he’s never seen the level of detail that DJ and Javon put into Javon’s boxing training. He is homeschooled and has his schedule for training camp mapped out to the hour in the months leading up to fights.

“This kid’s schedule and training regimen is probably, I’m going to say, the best training regimen I’ve ever seen on paper,” said Taylor, who was part of Walton’s camp and will be in his corner in Puerto Rico. … “The schedule is very meticulous. It’s very structured. They give him room to do his thing, but they keep him a professional, and a professional all the way out. I’m talking the schedule has been solid for two-and-a-half, three months.

“And I was even telling Belal, ‘Belal, we don’t do this type of schedule until fight week.’ We’re not locking down on the level that ‘Wanna’ is until fight week.”

Walton was signed by Paul’s Most Valuable Promotions last summer, but he’s on a very different journey compared to Paul. Walton was a boxer first who gained fame from the entertainment world, almost by accident. Paul was in entertainment and became a famous social media influencer before ever starting to train in boxing, where he has afforded himself well.

Taylor said Walton will have a lot to prove, especially to the people who know him only as an actor on TV and in movies.

“I don’t really think the world has yet been put on notice, and until he goes out there and puts some people in their place and makes that big wave in the sport of boxing, then the targets will really be on his back. And that’s when you’ll really see where his level is,” Taylor said. “But I think that he has all the potential in the world to tell a story that’s never been told and to potentially have a career that’s unlike any that we’ve ever seen.”

From a business perspective, Walton has amassed an enormous following, especially among the younger demographic that watched “Euphoria.” He has over 5 million followers on Instagram and more than 13 million across social media platforms. In 2022, Walton became the youngest athlete to ever sign a sponsorship deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand.

“‘Wanna’ Walton is perfectly positioned to become the face of combat sports over the next decade,” Paul told ESPN. “He possesses a rare combination of attributes as he embarks on his professional boxing career — in the boxing ring from the time he was 4, Hollywood fame, a large and highly engaged fanbase and, above all, a relentless pursuit of progress. Greatness is not given, it is earned. I have no doubt ‘Wanna’ Walton is going to achieve it and become one of the most successful boxers of all time.”

But can Walton box? And how good can he be? Hall of Fame boxer and ESPN analyst Timothy Bradley watched film of Walton fighting as an amateur and said he has “natural talent” despite being green. Walton, a southpaw, will face Torres at 126 pounds on Saturday in a bout contracted for four rounds. Bradley said Walton “embodies the nature of a fleet-footed boxer-puncher with a flair for showmanship.”

“His instincts are sharp and creative, but deep inside, he cultivates a slugger’s heart,” Bradley said. “He can get aggressive, ready to unleash combinations to win rounds, even while putting himself at risk. He holds a powerful back hand [the straight left]. That could be his eraser, but we will not honestly know if he can punch or take a punch until it happens.”

And that’s the beauty of combat sports. There’s no script to follow, and Walton will be in the ring alone Saturday in front of a raucous crowd. The feeling, one could say, might be euphoric.

“I think what attracts me to boxing is the way you have to earn every single victory,” Walton said. “It’s like every single fight you take is a steppingstone, as well. And I love that, to show how much I can grow in this sport, that this is only the beginning for me. I’m gonna have even bigger fights than this in the future. And I’m really excited about that, and really just the journey of boxing, in general.”

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