At 11 years of age and already a three-time state wrestling champion, Slayden Graham of Luling was looking for a new challenge and found it about a year ago, stepping into the boxing ring.
Fast forward to today and you might call him a quick study of the Sweet Science: he’s a perfect 3-0, and already a state champion.
After winning his first fight in the ring just a week prior, Graham fought in Louisiana’s Golden Gloves championship tournament last month and captured state gold in the 95 pound weight class, earning wins in two fights, besting Akeem Starr of West Monroe in the championship bout.
Graham, who trains at and competes with Elite Boxing Team Gym in Luling, said he was both shocked and happy with his quick success.
“It was a very close match (in the final),” Graham said. “I knew I took some punches and it could have gone either way.”
Elite Boxing coach Farrell Boudreaux said Graham is the first state champion under his tutelage at the gym, which opened three years ago and now has 12 fighters competing.
“You know, when you go in with a green (inexperienced) team to one of these tournaments, your chances of winning are very slim,” Boudreaux said. “Most competitions you’re matched by weight, experience level … here, you have eight kids and put ‘em in a hat, and it can be someone with 25 fights or two fights.”
In this case, Graham had four fighters competing in his weight class’ tournament. The first night, he won via TKO. In the championship, he won via decision after an exciting back-and-forth matchup.
“You can see how much more confident he gets after each fight,” said Chad Graham, Slayden’s father. “(The championship) was such a good fight that I couldn’t call it. I knew I was proud of him and his effort regardless of whether the ref raised his hand.”
But the result certainly was welcome, he admitted.
“Yeah, the victory was a bonus, but it was a nice bonus,” Chad said.
Slayden said he felt things start to click particularly after the TKO win, which he noted by echoing his father in that it was a major boost to his confidence.
It’s also clear that his early success hasn’t gone to his head: he admits he has a ton left to learn, though his instincts are developing as he goes.
“When I first started, I felt like I had bricks on my feet,” Slayden said. “But I guess my instincts started developing naturally as I went.”
Added Boudreaux, “You know, we slipped a lot of punches, some unnecessary stuff, but he was never hurt or in trouble. The guy he fought had some juice. Fortunately, he’s been wrestling for years so he’s got a lot of endurance already at this stage.”
Chad said he could tell how much pride his son had in the win by his postfight reaction. Usually, he said, Slayden is matter of fact about his big wins – after winning his wrestling titles, for example, Slayden was business-like and didn’t show much emotion at all.
But after his boxing championship win, that all changed.
“With wrestling, the ref raises his hand and it’s just another day. He’s very humble. But after this one, when the referee raised his hand, for the first time he showed that expression. He was happy,” Chad said.
He decided to try his hand at boxing after meeting Boudreaux and after competing in wrestling and jujitsu over the past few years.
“I wanted to try something new, and when I found out (Boudreaux) had a boxing gym, I decided to try it out,” Slayden said.
Boudreaux said Slayden spent a few months in development, learning combinations and doing drills to progress. He began sparring with other members of the Elite team after his development began to accelerate.
At first it was frustrating, as he would spar with partners older than he, but Boudreaux knew from experience that it was what was best for Slayden to learn.
“I told him that I used to be the littlest one on my team, always,” Boudreaux said. “You might get frustrated, we’re all competitive. But once you get in your own division, you’ll be that much more ready. And once you get into competition, everyone you’ve been sparring with is cheering you on. They want it for you as bad as you do.”
Chad said Slayden is something of a gamer. His best work always seems to come in live competition.
“You know, since he was little, he doesn’t turn on the turbos until it counts,” Chad said. “I love that about him, but I also try to get him to practice that way. He’s 11, and I have to remind myself of that. I see he’s got natural ability, but I don’t want to push him so hard that he doesn’t want to do it anymore.”
So far, those turbos have been quite effective. He’ll get to test his newfound skills this week, as he and six of his teammates will be competing in the State Junior Olympic tournament in Shreveport, which will be contested Friday through Sunday.
But no matter what happens there, it’s been quite a memorable start for Slayden Graham.
“I’m so proud of him,” said Boudreaux. “He fought hard. Nothing was given to him.”