If 2020 isn’t a year which Otto Wallin would love to forget, he certainly needs for it to end far better than what the first few months had to offer.
The aspiring heavyweight contender from Sweden—who trains out of New York City—will end an 11-month ring break following the most notable fight of his career when he makes his way to the ring this weekend. It will come versus Travis Kauffman, who has been out for nearly two years as they meet in a 10-round heavyweight bout as part of a Showtime-televised tripleheader from Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut (Saturday, 9:00pm ET).
For Wallin, it’s a moment that comes on the heels of his lone career defeat to Tyson Fury in their 12-round thriller last September and a run of bad luck ever since then. The 29-year old southpaw suffered an injury earlier this year which forced him to withdraw from a March 28 clash with Lucas Browne, although the show was wiped out altogether due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
It hit Wallin firsthand, or so the heavyweight believes as he committed to self-quarantine for 14 days after losing his sense of taste and smell.
“It’s been a different kind of year for me, for sure,” Wallin noted to BoxingScene.com. “I’ve been in New York since October. I made it work for myself. I had the virus. It’s not as bad now as when the year started. We’ve gone back to training and now we have this fight which I’m looking forward to.”
Saturday will mark a sense of salvation for Wallin given all of the ills that have come of his 2020 journey.
Even after recovering from COVID, from there became the issue of training due to New York being on lockdown in the state’s greatest effort to flatten the curve.
It also meant having to pay his respects from afar when the city lost two local coaching icons—longtime trainer and cutman Nelson Cuevas and Francisco Mendez, owner and head of Mendez Boxing Gym, both of whom passed away less than a month apart.
“It was very strange when all of the gyms closed and we went into a lockdown,” Wallin recalls. “I was trying to keep up with the news each day and saw that New York was doing terrible at one point. We lost two men at the gym. Francisco Mendez, our gym owner passed away. That was sad and then Nelson Cuevas—a big boxing guy here in New York—also passed away.
“It was crazy. I try to stay busy. I borrowed equipment, I built a gym. We were able to get sparring partners and do a full training camp here at home for this fight. That helped me keep happy and stay on track.”
Interestingly, his first fight back comes versus a fellow COVID victim, as Kauffman contracted the infectious disease earlier this spring.
His own battle is part of an awful first half of 2020 that Wallin would love to forever leave in the rearview mirror. Still, with the heartache came growing pains—and a sense of humility.
“If there’s anything I learned from all that… it’s maybe never laugh at people who wear masks,” quips Wallin. “I used to laugh at people who wore masks. Other than that, I always have a good head and am always motivated. I have a good team that keeps me on track.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox