Danny Flexen speaks to Zachary Levin about going from writing about boxing to managing Otto Wallin, who faces Tyson Fury in September
I cannot speak for now but when I worked for the weekly magazine, Boxing News, it was tough going. Don’t get me wrong, working in boxing as a longtime fan of the sport is truly fulfilling but maintaining a regular print publication alongside a thriving website and social media platforms, not to mention frequent special issues and merchandise, is far from easy, especially with such a small team. In those days, because fight reports and breaking news could not be worked on until Monday (with a Tuesday press day), in-depth feature articles and previews were usually designed and edited before the weekend.
I remember former feature writer Zachary Levin predominantly for two reasons: firstly, he was an excellent writer, capable of remarkable insight into the fight game; unfortunately this was allied to something I chose to view as perfectionism that often resulted in his copy arriving late. He was a constant source of both inspiration and frustration before, gradually, he vanished from my immediate sphere. I missed his engrossing prose for some time after.
Given Zach’s inclination to ruminate on his work, I would never have foreseen a move into the fast-paced world of boxer management. So imagine my surprise when, doing some research on Otto Wallin, the unbeaten Swede who will face Tyson Fury in Las Vegas on September 14, Boxrec informed me that he was managed (or co-managed, as I later ascertained) by one Zach Levin. Based in New York, it simply had to be the same guy, but what drives a former feature writer – a peer of mine – to go from observer to participant?
“I am just a kind of a boxing junkie, I always have been,” Levin laughs. “I love to write and I love reading about boxing, from Jack London and Ernest Hemingway short stories to now. I was just a gym rat, I loved being around the sport; if I’d had more talent I’d have been a fighter.
“During my hiatus, I felt a little burned out from writing, I was kinda plateauing, but I missed the game and frankly, even as a writer I always wished I had more access. I wasn’t a beat writer, a Kevin Iole type, and because I really wasn’t that close with anyone I wrote about I felt I wrote quite freely about them, which was good. But to make a living as a boxing writer, you have to become friends with them, and that will naturally affect how you cover the sport. I always wanted to get closer, to be inside the game.”
Levin has been friends with former two-weight world champion Joey Gamache since around 1995. The latter’s late-career meeting with Julio Cesar Chavez Sr, in 1996, formed the basis of Zach’s first ever boxing article. Gamache retired in 2000 and moved into training fighters, including, for brief period, his old pal, who wanted to give the white-collar scene a try. Having long yearned to get a closer look at the sweet science, Levin later learned at Gamache’s knee, everything from treating cuts to working the corner. When Gamache was employed by the Sauerlands for what became a four-year tenure as house trainer to their Scandinavian arm, the door to a certain Swedish giant opened up.
“Joey told me about some of his better fighters there and of course mentioned Otto,” Levin recalls. “When Joey’s gig ended, Otto followed him back and they began working together. I just started helping them out as a friend, lending whatever talents I have. We teamed up with another close friend of ours, David berlin, who, like me, is the co-manager of Otto. David is a former Executive Director of the New York State Athletic Commission and also did a lot of work with the Teddy Atlas Foundation. [promoter] Dimitry Salita really wanted to work with Otto. David and I started working with Otto and Joey as friends for a long time. We were doing in many ways the work of a manager. We worked the corner when he fought Adrian Granat [in April 2018], David put a lot of work in on that deal. We said, ‘Why don’t we make this official at some point?’”
Outside of the Wallin arrangement, Berlin and Levin also form half of Four Corners, a boxing management company, alongside Keith Sullivan and Nicole Atlas, Teddy’s daughter. Levin remains a real estate broker in New York, not quite yet able to quit the day job, but his first love still holds a place in Zach’s heart.
“It sometimes feels like a full-time job,” the 47-year-old chuckles. “I miss storytelling, I love writing and reading, watching good boxing movies; I pick up a video camera a lot and film Otto. I encourage everyone to film him but then I find myself jostling for position more and more!”