'If you can make it there...': Otto Wallin interview
Photo: Stephanie Trapp/SHOWTIME
Unbeaten Swedish heavyweight hope Otto Wallin speaks to Shaun Brown about relocating to New York and his hopes for his first fight in the United States, this Saturday night in Atlantic City...
There can be few better places in the world to enhance your boxing career by relocating than New York.
It's a city steeped in boxing's illustrious history, from Dempsey vs Firpo in the Polo Grounds to Ali vs Frazier 1 at Madison Square Garden, and many other glorious fight nights besides.
The Big Apple, the concrete jungle will make or break you.
Swedish heavyweight hope Otto Wallin (20-0, 13 KOs) will be hoping for the former tomorrow night, a few hours away from his new home in the Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City against Nick Kisner (24-4-1) on a show headlined by the Claressa Shields-Christina Hammer women’s middleweight unification title fight.
“It’s my first fight in the States and I’ve only been here in New York in the US so I’m looking forward to travelling to Atlantic City, it’s not too far but I’m looking forward now, having signed with [promoter Dmitriy] Salita, to moving around and seeing more of the States,” Wallin told Boxing Monthly over the phone with New York’s hustle and bustle carrying on around him.
The Swede will make his debut for Salita Promotions having signed with them last month, believing that to take himself to the level of a championship fighter he needed to sign with an American promoter, having previously plied his trade in Europe with Sauerland.
Wallin has, in fact, spent the last two years based in New York with his trainer Joey Gamache and expects to see the fruits of his labour when his American dream begins this weekend.
“I think it’s a great move,” said Wallin when asked about signing with Salita and the importance of trying to crack the American market. “I was going to fight for the European title against [Agit] Kabayel. That was supposed to be first, we had talks that it was going to be in October, but it kept being pushed back then we ended up in March and then a few weeks out Joey was attacked in the street and hurt, and we had to cancel the fight.
"Then this opportunity came around and we met with Dmitry Salita. We had a great meeting, and I am convinced they are the right people to move me in the right direction and that’s what we’re going to start doing now.”
His trainer, a former two-weight world champion, had his jaw broken in three places having been attacked from behind while on his way to the Manhattan Gym where he works.
“I’m an easy-going guy. I don’t have enemies,” Gamache told the Sun Journal back in January a week after the attack.
Gamache and Wallin have struck up a respectful and loyal trainer-fighter bond and friendship since linking up in Denmark nearly six years ago. The events of January, and the injuries caused to Gamache, affected Wallin profoundly, particularly when he saw his trainer in hospital.
“It affected me because Joey is my friend,” Wallin recalled, “and it was hard seeing him in the hospital hurt and he looked terrible after what happened. That wasn’t very nice, and it was a bad experience but I’m happy Joey’s doing better and he’s pretty much back to normal so I’m happy. I still hope they can catch the guy that did it, they haven’t been able to do that yet. Hopefully they will.”
With that episode behind them, for the time being, all efforts are now turned to getting Wallin a crack at the world heavyweight title. Something that could be possible in 2020 for the number five ranked WBA and IBF contender. Having such a lofty position with those two governing bodies means all roads lead to its champion Anthony Joshua. A man who Wallin has sparred in the past and one who faces another Salita Promotions heavyweight – Jarrell Miller – on 1 June at Madison Square Garden.
“I want the big fights,” said Wallin. “First I want a quick comeback and do well and stay busy this year and hopefully this year or next year we’ll get a big shot at something. I’m just trying to work hard every day to climb and get better so I’m going to be ready when the big fights come and yeah, Joshua is one of the fights that I want.”
Discussing Joshua-Miller with Boxing Monthly, Wallin stressed the importance for Miller that the fight is in New York.
“Seeing both press conferences you could tell Jarrell was a lot more confident over here than when he went to London and I think that’s going to play a part in the fight, it’s going to bring out the best in Jarrell and he’s a big guy. What is he? 300-plus pounds?
"He’s a big guy and he can fight, and he has experience from the big stage in the K1 Kickboxing, so I don’t see it as an easy fight for Joshua. Of course, Joshua is the favourite, but Jarrell can fight too, and anything can happen in heavyweight boxing.”
Fighting at home was something that benefited Wallin last April when decisioning fellow Swedish prospect Adrian Granat in a grudge match held at the Gaerdehov Icehockey Arena in Sundsvall, the city where Wallin is from. It was a fight that had been built since 2013 when both men turned professional. The wide points win was the perfect send-off for Wallin as he closed one chapter of his career with a new one about to begin in another country.
“That was very nice,” was how Wallin described that night and that win over Granat. “He’d always been talking a lot so we’ve been on a collision course for a long time, so it was nice to finally get that over with and to do it in my home town in front of my people. That was very nice and I’m happy that we could bring it over there, to bring it to my people. And I think we left a lot of good memories and I have a lot of good memories from that night.
“I’m not forgetting about my home but right now I’m here,” he added. “Hopefully one day in the future I can have another fight there, but at least I’ve had two fights over there in my home and I think that’s the only professional fights that’s been in my home town and I’m happy I could do that, now I’m here and looking to make a name here too.”
Having lived in Sweden and Denmark, Wallin describes New York as “something special”. The size, the bright lights, the people and the energy of the city appeal greatly to Wallin despite it being a far cry from what he’s used to in Scandinavia.
“I like that there is a lot of opportunities in this city but it’s hard work,” he commented. “It’s not like you come here and you be taken care of. You’ve got to go out and work for it. That’s what I’m trying to do. Boxing wise it’s great, a lot of people in the gym that are always training.
"A lot of energy and people are very friendly. That’s one of the things that got me right away. I think people are very friendly and helpful if you ask for help and it’s never any problem. People will go out their way to show you around. I’m very happy to be here and I’m liking it more and more.”
Wallin’s journey to become Sweden’s first heavyweight champion since Ingemar Johansson began with him being bettered by his big brothers in play fights growing up – “When they got pissed off, they would just beat me up”.
By the time he reached 15, with help from his father, a former amateur, his parents let him go and make the decision for himself to try boxing. Wallin fell in love, like most do. It was something for him, something he was good at and unlike team sports – having dabbled in football and ice hockey – everything was up to him and how good he wanted to become.
“I would say it’s a big inspiration that he [Johansson] came to New York [in 1959] and beat Floyd Patterson,” said Wallin. “He showed that it can be done if you’re from Sweden. That was 60 years ago so now I’m in New York trying to do the same thing. It’s a big inspiration. He showed that it was possible, and we need a new champion, and that’s what I’m going for.”