Rare are the times that the majority of boxing fans come together in unison.
A fan base that thrives on taking sides is not known for finding common ground.
Until early August when the oft coined “Lineal Champion” announced his next opponent on one of the sports’ most hallowed weekends.
The position is taken, almost universally. A “guy named Otto” can’t face the fists of Fury. At face value, perhaps a valid suggestion. Recent times have seen fight cards littered with mismatches and record padding by the promoters. The fans who haven’t heard of him quick to write him off. The media not bothering to write about him. That is outside of the scant smatterings of ink to besmirch the man willing to accept a dream proposition.
Instead, the commentary would be left to those that find their musings best muttered in limited characters on social media. Without seeing him fight, concluding that he couldn’t. Never seeing him land a punch but punting that he wouldn’t. It only took one quick look at his BoxRec to see that he hadn’t even fought this year outside a 1 round no contest. Not much to see here.
No, where boxing has usually found value in the story of a fighter, this time the readers have become the authors of a postscript preemptively. The man named Wallin will not win.
In July, I made a trek from my home in eastern Washington to Tacoma. It was a 3-hour drive that quickly doubled down by delays and detours through the tall trees. Emerging from a sea of greenery onto the Emerald Casino for a Saturday night card littered with Heavyweights. A co-feature of a more recognizable BJ Flores against a six-five southpaw.
The traffic had provided me ample opportunity to break the law-watching videos on my cell phone and researching the fighters on the card, including this lefty that would be facing Flores.
Interestingly enough the first article that popped up in the search results was that of Anthony Joshua. This “guy named Otto” had sparred for 6 weeks with Anthony. And reports were that he did well. As were the same when you found him sparring against the likes of Adam Kownacki, Jarrell Miller, Kubrat Pulev.
My intrigue piqued in what the opponents had seen while facing him.
What had he gained?
And then, I read what Otto had lost.
It had been an awful year. In line to fight for the European title at the beginning of the year, his trainer had his jaw broken in a random street attack. The fight was canceled.
A couple of months later, a bout put him in New Jersey on the undercard of the Shields vs. Hammer title fight. One that his father would make the trip out for him to see. An accidental head butt would end the fight in the 1st round. Leaving Wallin with yet another disappointment.
Sadly, one month after his trip stateside to see his son, Carl Wallin suddenly died of a heart attack.
And here I was one month later complaining about the traffic to cover a fight.
As I navigated through the casino, past those beset on turning their money over to the tables in the name of bad luck, I found myself anxious to see if the southpaw could change his. Like many of those that I would stride by, there is a belief that after a string of losses, you are due for a win. This is a thought process that has fueled a brightly lit strip in the sands of Nevada for years.
And drained many who banked on the good things that deserved to come.
As I went backstage, I looked for Otto before I grabbed a seat. Despite my desires, respect was due. I wouldn’t bother him before a fight.
As the first fisticuffs of the night were underway, an email popped up.
Silently my heart sank. BJ Flores had not passed his medical. The fight was canceled.
Missed fights, bad medicals, wasted camps and heartbreak. For Otto, the story continued to write itself. Snake Eyes. Craps. Bust.
One could almost make an appeal that Otto had something good coming to him. But in boxing, merit is found while in the ring. The outside of it is littered with stories of broken dreams and busted faces, neither of which means you have earned something from the squared circle.
Frustratingly for Otto, despite being undefeated, the focus is turned to his inactivity. The names that few know on his record receiving attention despite his history of training with the best.
In talking with Wallin, he is quick to note that he has sparred with the likes of Pulev, Kownacki, Miller, and Joshua. “That’s the thing, I haven’t fought in fights at this level before. But I do well against these guys. I feel I belong at this level.”
So when he received the call that the ever vociferous and talented Tyson Fury needed an opponent, Wallin couldn’t help but oblige. “Of course! That’s the kind of opportunity you work for.”
Not lacking confidence, Otto speaks of his foot speed and movement as being troublesome for taller opponents. Not wanting to waste a moment, explaining his vigorous training camp and desire to differentiate himself from what his opponent has faced. “I'm facing three different guys a day in sparring. We are bringing different styles to match the different looks of Fury.” It's obvious he doesn’t want to leave anything to chance.
Hearing him speak, one would not know about what he has gone through to be here. Just that he understands it’s been a tough road that has ultimately lead him to the biggest opportunity of his life. Perhaps there was no better road outside of the ring that could have lead him to what is ahead of him inside of it on Sept 14th from Las Vegas.
A city built off of those down on their luck. Where the belief is that one is due for a win after a string of losses. Where the collective gather to accept the long odds offered by an elite few simply because there is a chance to alter their fortune. A place, I'm sure, where Otto Wallin will feel right at home.
“I’m happy about this,” Wallin said. “I’m going in this with no pressure on me. It’s why I’m in boxing. This is a great feeling. I’m ready for it.”
In a year where upsets rewrite the script, and fortune has favored the longshot, perhaps fans should be ready for it too.