By Keith Idec
Otto Wallin and his father often discussed what it would be like for the Swedish southpaw to be involved in a huge heavyweight fight in Las Vegas.
It was a dream they looked forward to experiencing together one day. Now that Wallin has landed a shot at unbeaten lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, the only disappointing part about this career-changing opportunity is that the older Wallin won’t be able to see it.
Carl Wallin died May 22 after suffering a heart attack. The elder Wallin was 68 and reasonably healthy, thus his death was “very unexpected,” according to his son.
“He was a big boxing fan,” Wallin told BoxingScene.com. “He was my biggest fan, too.”
The month before he died, Carl Wallin was able to spend time in New York, where his son lives and trains, and attended the undefeated contender’s fight against Nick Kisner on April 13 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
“He was doing great,” Wallin said. “That was a great trip for him. I’m really happy about that, that he could come over to the States and do that.”
Wallin’s fight with Kisner ended in a no-contest because Kisner suffered a cut in the first round that prevented him from continuing. The 6-feet-5, 230-pound southpaw’s subsequent bout was canceled the morning it was supposed to take place because the Washington Department of Licensing wouldn’t grant 40-year-old BJ Flores medical clearance for his July 12 fight with Wallin due to an undisclosed issue.
After the Kisner mishap, his father’s sudden death and the Flores snafu, Wallin wondered why so many things had gone wrong in such a short span. Then his promoter, Dmitriy Salita, was offered a chance for Wallin to fight Fury on September 14 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“I was supposed to fight for the European title in March,” Wallin said. “But then my trainer, Joey [Gamache], was assaulted in the street and broke his jaw. So, we canceled that fight. Then, I was gonna fight Kisner, and that went one round. Then, in May, I lost my father. He had a heart attack.
“Then the last fight didn’t come off. It’s been very frustrating, but I feel like all these events have led to this moment. It has worked out perfect, except that my father’s gone, and we always planned to be in Vegas together. That part is sad, but I wanna do it for him.”
Carl Wallin turned his son into a boxing fan when he was young. The former amateur fighter and part-time trainer inspired Otto Wallin with his recollections of Ingemar Johansson, the Swedish legend who upset Floyd Patterson by third-round technical knockout to win the heavyweight championship in June 1959 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
“I remember he told me he was up that night, for the Johannsen fight,” Wallin said. “He was 9 years old, I think, because my father was born in 1950. He stayed up and listened to the radio, and listened to when he beat Floyd Patterson. I think all of Sweden was up for that fight. It was very big there.”
Patterson knocked out Johansson in their rematch almost a year later, and again in their third fight in March 1961. A Swedish heavyweight hasn’t captivated that nation since Johansson’s epic upset, but Wallin feels he can accomplish something comparable when he fights Fury, who’s a 25-1 favorite.
“I feel the magnitude of this fight is close to as big as that fight [in Sweden],” Wallin said. “There’s not a world title on the line, but I don’t think that matters too much. I think it would be huge to have a boxer, a heavyweight, born and raised in Sweden, to win a fight like that.
“I started in a small town, in a basement. It’s crazy. I always dreamt of fighting in Las Vegas, and I finally got the shot. So, I think [beating Fury] would mean very much for boxing in Sweden. This is what we need for boxing there.”
Wallin moved to New York two years ago, in large part because it is easier to find sparring in New York than in his homeland. The 28-year-old Wallin grew up in Sundsvall, Sweden, a city of about 100,000 residents, located approximately a four-hour car ride north of Stockholm.
Wallin (20-0, 13 KOs, 1 NC) mostly is unknown in the United States. His ill-fated fight with Kisner was Wallin’s debut on American television, but Showtime’s telecast of that fight didn’t even last one round.
Showtime also was supposed to televise the Wallin-Flores fight from Tacoma, Washington. ESPN+ will stream the Fury-Wallin bout.
Fans’ unfamiliarity with Wallin was among the reasons many of them complained about him fighting Fury (28-0-1, 20 KOs) when their 12-rounder was revealed a week ago.
“I think that helps me, because I don’t have any pressure,” Wallin said. “I can just be myself. I have everything to gain and nothing to lose. And he has everything to lose. I’m very happy about that. I like that thought. With that being said, that I have nothing to lose, that doesn’t make it OK to lose. … I’m ready for this fight. I’ve been waiting for a shot like this.”
According to the odds-makers, Wallin winning this fight would be an even bigger upset than Andy Ruiz Jr. stopping Anthony Joshua in their heavyweight title fight June 1 at Madison Square Garden.
“That would mean everything to me,” Wallin said. “I would be making a ton of money to take care of myself and my family. So, I’d be extremely happy with that. And I would go down in history in Sweden. We haven’t had a heavyweight champion since Ingemar Johansson, and that was 60 years ago. I know there’s not a world title on the line, but I think I’m fighting the best guy [in the heavyweight division]. So, that would put me in that spot. I would beat the best guy. That’s what I always dreamed of. I’ve been waiting for this shot since I was a kid.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.