Heavyweight contender Otto Wallin, 30, hails from Sundsvall, Sweden, a city of 100,000 people located 234 miles north of Stockholm. He is currently 22-1 (14 KOs). Otto is the youngest of three brothers. All are fine athletes in their own right with a penchant for combat sports. Otto’s oldest brother Petter was a decorated Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter and his middle brother Marten is a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. While the brothers were all close, Otto needed a thick skin (sometimes literally) growing up in his household. He says that this may be a reason for his toughness in the ring.
Otto played ice hockey and other sports but found his true calling in boxing. His late father Carl was a local boxing coach and used to show Otto the basics as a kid. Otto began training in earnest at 15. He describes his first day in the gym as like falling in love: “This is for me,” he told himself. Otto didn’t have a long amateur career—46 fights—but he gained good international experience along the way, including two nip-and-tuck battles against Anthony Joshua, the current WBA, IBF and WBO world champion and gold medalist in the super heavyweight division at the 2012 London Olympics. (Later, Otto was Joshua’s chief sparring partner before Joshua’s IBF fight title fight against Charles Martin and the two sparred over 150 rounds. Otto recalls the sparring being competitive and is eager to fight him again.)
If Otto credits his brothers for his toughness, his discipline comes from his parents. He watched them put in a hard day’s work no matter how they felt, and never complained. Witnessing this had a profound effect on him. As a prizefighter, he goes about his work in the same fashion, and draws upon his parents for inspiration. He manages his sleep, eating habits, personal life, and all other obligations in such a way that nothing gets in the way of his top priority: his physical and mental preparation for his next fight.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, Otto’s life would be forever changed in 2013. He had only two professional bouts, was training in Germany, and looking for a better situation. He had heard about an American trainer in Denmark, who was supposed to be good. Joey Gamache and Otto hit it off right away, personally and professionally, and the two have been inseparable ever since. Over the next seven years, they’ve reeled off win after win. Gamache was a busy trainer with a lot of good pros in Denmark at that time, but he saw something different in Otto. Beyond talent and skills that were rare for a heavyweight, what struck Gamache was Otto’s discipline, his habits, his drive, his attention to detail. He was mature beyond his years and bright. Gamache told those who would listen that Otto had what it took to go to the top. When Gamache’s tenure in Denmark was done and he was ready to go back to his home in New York City, it was a natural decision that Otto would come with him. In some ways, nothing ever changed. They meet at the gym 5-6 days a week, they train very hard, and they get better.
While Joey has had a major influence on Otto’s life, no one has had a greater impact on Otto than his father. The two were very close. Carl was Otto’s biggest fan. Carl came to the United States for the first time in April 2019 to see his son fight in Atlantic City, NJ; a Showtime broadcast versus opponent Nick Kisner. As Otto had signed with Salita Promotions and would be pursuing his career primarily in the United States, Carl expected to be making this trip often. It was not to be. Carl died from a sudden heart attack in Sweden not long after returning from his trip. Shortly before Carl died—while seemingly in good health—he told his son, “Should anything ever happen to me, you must go on…” He urged Otto to pursue his dreams, to go forward, and fulfill his destiny. Otto carries these words and the memory of his father into the ring each day.
At then 20-0 with 13 KO’s and ranked in the top among several sanctioning bodies, Otto was still unknown in 2019. Even most hardcore boxing fans were only vaguely aware of the big Swede. That all changed when he was chosen as an opponent for Tyson Fury at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena on September 14, 2019. Otto was as much as a 30-1 underdog. He was viewed as a stepping-stone, a “stay busy” fight, as Fury readied himself for his pay-per-view rematch with Deontay Wilder. But when the dust settled that night, Fury had cuts on his right eye (due to legal punches) that took 50 stitches to close and Otto landed more punches on Fury than Deontay Wilder and Wladimir Klitschko combined. Fury was awarded a unanimous decision, but the scores did not do justice to Otto’s remarkable, odds-defying performance.