From bloodying Tyson Fury to fighting COVID-19, Otto Wallin reflects on 11 turbulent months

Boxing

The last time the world saw heavyweight Otto Wallin fight, he was giving lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury all he could handle last September at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. What was meant to be nothing more than a quick tune-up for Fury before his highly anticipated rematch with Deontay Wilder instead became a real struggle for the “Gypsy King.”

Wallin cut Fury in the third round and had him bleeding profusely. For a few rounds there was a palpable nervousness at ringside that the fight could be stopped and that the rematch with Wilder was in jeopardy. Fury eventually rallied in the second half of the fight and won by scores of 116-112, 117-111 and 118-110.

But in defeat, Wallin earned a newfound respect from fans and pundits alike. He hasn’t seen action since that bout with Fury, although that stretch finally ends on Saturday when Wallin steps into the ring against Travis Kauffman at Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.

Even though he hasn’t had a fight in nearly a year, it’s certainly been an eventful stretch of time for the 29-year-old from Sweden, who now resides in New York City.

ESPN recently caught up with Wallin, who shared his thoughts on his fight against Fury and what he has gone through since that moment. Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Facing Fury

My impression was that he was very good. I watched his fights over the years. I watched him beat Wladimir Klitschko very easily, and then fought Deontay Wilder, and did very good against him. But also I felt there were things people haven’t done to him, and I’ve got a good team, a good trainer in Joey Gamache. I’m a good fighter myself, so we knew that there were some things we could take advantage of. We knew what we were getting into. I’ve got good basics, I’ve got good feet, pretty fast hands for a heavyweight. I’m accurate and I’ve got good defense. I think that helped me in the fight.

Pretty much nobody felt that I was going to win or even stand a chance against him. Even my mother had told me after that, “Oh, I just hoped you could finish one round,” and then she saw that as the fight progressed that I was coming on. Fury had just fought Tom Schwarz and he dismantled him, and I think people looked at me, kind of like him. I don’t blame them because I didn’t have any big names on my record, but I was undefeated and up-and-coming. So for me, I was ready for a big shot and I finally got it.

When he got that cut I was happy, of course, and I felt that they could’ve easily stopped that fight. I tried to target it because I was feeling like, “Hey, one more punch and that could be it,” I’d be the champion. So it kind of maybe distracted me a little bit, got me off my game plan. So that’s a good learning experience for me, that you’ve got to stay cool.

I think I fought pretty good, but I could’ve done even better in the second half of the fight.

My athleticism gave him trouble. You see a lot of guys that fight Tyson, they let him dance, they let him have his hands behind his back, stuff like that. Even a thing like grabbing the ropes and punching, we stayed on top of that and talked to the referee before the fight. So we made sure he couldn’t do that. He tried a few times in the fight but the referee told him not to. So we were there to win and give him a hell of a fight.

People ask if that loss felt like a win. Maybe not right after, but it’s been like a win in many ways. I’m walking down the street in Sweden, or even in New York, people stop me, they congratulate me. So it’s been like a win in many ways. I’ve got good offers after the fight, so my stock definitely went up a lot.

I feel more confident now, yes, but you know, I always knew I was good. I was training seriously, and I take the sport seriously. My team knew I was good. I just needed that fight; I wanted to prove myself. I finally got the fight I wanted. I’ve gotten more confidence from knowing that I can go 12 rounds with the heavyweight champion and give him a tough fight. So I know that experience is very important for me, and there’s no better experience for me than going 12 rounds with the champion.

Watching Fury-Wilder 2

Was I surprised by the dominance of Fury? Yes and no. I wasn’t sure that Tyson could do it — be aggressive with Wilder. But I said before the fight in some interviews that are out there that I thought somebody could come in there and run Wilder over — and that’s pretty much what happened. I had been seeing that a little bit with Wilder, he’s been losing in his fights and he managed to knock the guy out later on and win the fight anyways.

So at one point, somebody would come in and just take it to him and take him out. Fury did a great job with that.

Dealing with a long layoff

I was going to fight Lucas Browne on March 28, but that got canceled. I was not very happy, but that’s boxing. I’ve actually had some bad luck over the years. Before the Fury fight I had only fought one round in 18 months. Now, it’s been almost another year.

Finally, there’s a fight coming up. I was sad that the Browne fight didn’t happen, but I stay focused, stayed on course, stay training all this time. Hopefully it’s going to pay off in my next fight.

Contracting the coronavirus

I had symptoms around March 15. My mother was visiting me in New York for two weeks and then she got back to Sweden, and we were both having symptoms. We probably picked it up at the same time. It wasn’t that bad for me; it was worse for them. But they made it through, they’re all good. I’m happy about that.

I never felt I was in danger of losing my life. It was very mild for me, I had a light fever, I had a little cough. I had that for three or four days. I got better, and then all of a sudden I lost all my sense of smell and taste. That was gone for about five days and then I got that back.

I was off for one-and-a-half weeks. Then I started training again, even though I hadn’t gotten my sense of smell and taste back. I started training because I was feeling fine. So we went into easy training and built it up.

Staying in shape during lockdown

I worked out by buying a stationary bike. I borrowed dumbbells and a barbell from my manager, Zach Levin, then my friend brought over a bench press and a squat rack. I was busy doing that, weights, whatever boxing I could here at my apartment. I was hitting my wall, and shadowboxing. I made it work for me. So that was good. I’ve been active all this time.

It’s been crazy in many ways in New York, but I also would say that the training saved me. Because basically I was training, working out two, three times a day. I worked out in the morning, and I ate, slept, had a nap, resting and then working out at night, again. So I would say that training kept me sane and kept me on the right track. Right now, I’m not at my regular gym, but we have a private boxing gym. It has everything we need. We only have, at max, five people in the gym. So that’s me, Joey Gamache, my manager Zach and one of my sparring partners, Cassius Chaney. We also have a Ukrainian guy, his name is Igor Plevako. He came to spar, also. And we’re getting tested a couple times a week.

Back to fighting

It’s crazy that I’m facing someone who also had the coronavirus, but I know it was tougher for him. I’m happy that he’s doing better and we can go out there and fight. That’s a good thing. It’s a serious disease, maybe not so much for people our age, more for people that are at risk. You can have a lot of problems.

It’s awesome to be back. I haven’t fought since September. Finally, some action. I’m just happy I stayed on the course training and I think I’ve improved and I hope to show that in my next fight.

After Travis Kauffman, I don’t know what will be next. The most important thing for me, right now, is to be busy. Like I said, I haven’t been busy in three years, not many fights. So I’m back now, fighting Kauffman, and hopefully I fight again at the end of the year and we’ll take it from there.

Hopefully at this time next year, I’ll be in line for a big shot.

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