You can call Aaron “Kiael” Waldon a jack of all trades.
But he is, however, a master of one: “The Sweet Science.”
Waldon is making history with his fists. The Louisville-based boxer, who trains in Southern Indiana, recently became just the third fighter representing Indiana to win a national Golden Gloves title, as well as the first Kentucky boxer in nearly 40 years to qualify for the Olympic trials.
The left-handed Waldon is one of 16 boxers who will compete in the December Olympic trials in Lafayette, La., in the 156-pound (middleweight) weight class. The winners will represent the United States at the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.
“It started off just as a little sparring session back home in Paducah,” the 22-year-old Waldon said of his boxing beginnings. He was a two-sport star at McCracken County High School, excelling in both baseball and football, but thinks he has now discovered his actual purpose. “So, it’s 2 1/2 years ago … for the first time ever, I am really fighting someone. … Whatever it was, something clicked that day. I knew I needed to do it.”
The 2024 Olympic Trials will feature a larger field of 16 boxers per weight category competing in a single elimination tournament as opposed to earlier iterations of the brackets featuring eight competitors and a double elimination tournament, according to Brian Taylor, USA Boxing’s communications and digital media manager.
Waldon, now a Louisville resident, trains at the Jeff City Boxing & MMA gym in Jeffersonville, Ind. Known as “Kiael” to his coaches and peers, Waldon won five bouts in six days to take gold at the National Golden Gloves Boxing Championships in Chester, Pa., beating Jirair Thompson, 5-0, in the finals.
“Now that I got this opportunity, I 100% want to make that Olympic team,” Waldon said. “The big thing is, I have to take it one fight at a time. I won’t try to get too far ahead of myself.”
The National Golden Gloves isn’t a competition that counts toward USA Boxing Rankings. As it stands, Waldon hasn’t participated in any ranking events. Taylor said that Waldon would qualify to receive ranking points if he finishes in the top eight of its competitions.
Waldon’s coach, Jeremy Voyles, says Waldon’s perseverance and work ethic are a testament to the fighter’s character and helps explain how he reeled off 25 amateur victories and established a high ranking in a relatively short time.
“What we did from our eating, from our training, from our running — everything was based around that,” Voyles said. “He pretty much put everything else in his life on hold: his family, his friends, his girlfriend. And I think that’s what really made him excel.”
Nick Bareis, who trains Louisville professional Demontaze “Juicy” Duncan, says it is special to have a fighter from Kentucky — let alone Louisville — win the National Golden Gloves. James Pritchard, he said, was the last local fighter to do so back in 1984.
Bareis has worked Waldon’s corner as the primary second, and points to the boxer’s resolve as a key attribute for the upcoming trials.
“Kiael went into this tournament with less than 20 fights,” Bareis told LEO Weekly. “Some of the things I thought (were) very impressive for a fighter with the lack of experience was to be able to go there and win. He showed a lot of grit. He showed a lot of will. He got down (losing on the scorecards) in two separate fights. He was down in the fight going into the last round, but the kid is a winner. He was able to find a way to win. He pressed the action, picked up his punch volume and he closed out almost every fight in great fashion.”
In addition to his trainers, Waldon has impressed some of the other fighters using his home gym, including pros like Duncan.
“He’s a hell of a fighter,” said Duncan, now 8-1 as a professional. “He sees everything, so you gotta be cautious (with) what you do. He’s very strong. He made me do different things in there (in the ring). He sees points, he could see punches (coming), he can see openings.”
Seventeen-year-old Joel Evans of Jeffersonville has a similar view of his gym partner. Evans has developed a bond with Waldon, both inside and outside of the ring and says the two fighters have helped bring out the best in each other.
“We probably have sparred hundreds of rounds,” Evans said. “We just bring each other up and then over time he just really started picking it up on me. … He would throw a ton of punches. He’d push the pace, he’d wear me out, and he just really got me in good shape.”
Waldon’s winning streak also drew praise from Indiana Golden Gloves delegate and board chairman Keith Boggs.
“I enjoyed Kiael’s run in the Golden Gloves,” he said. “I thought he had the toughest test in the state tournament. He won easy. In the national tournament I thought he looked good and clearly won each of his fights. That is not easy to do.”
Boggs wishes that Waldon had more experience entering the trials, but is encouraged by his rapid progress.
He anticipates Waldon facing an uphill battle, though.
“He really does get better with each fight,” Boggs said. “He has a great attitude and this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. He can most definitely rise to the challenge.”
If you’re keeping track, Waldon’s mentors and contemporaries have been impressed by his character, discipline, ring I.Q., and his cerebral and physical qualities. But if Waldon intends to represent the U.S. in Paris, he may be required to unveil another skill, not yet seen in his repertoire.
Voyles doesn’t think that will be the case. He’s extremely confident about his fighter’s chance of competing in the Olympics. He believes Waldon can make the necessary adjustments to succeed.
“He’s just got that kind of momentum right now,” Voyles said. “His drive, his focus, and his will to do it. These other guys (opponents) that are playing video games and not showing up to the gym and not having the right nutrition — these guys are going to be in bad shape.”