The must-see boxing matches that aired on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” primarily during the 1970s and 1980s eventually migrated to cable networks HBO and Showtime. For a young Nick Kisner growing up in Brooklyn Park and lacing up the gloves as an amateur, that’s where he watched and hungrily followed star pugilists Roy Jones Jr., Bernard Hopkins, Manny Pacquiao and — his all-time favorite — Joe Calzaghe.
“If you made it to HBO or Showtime, you made it,” Kisner said this week. “As a kid, I remember watching these guys on Showtime, and these guys were like heroes in my eyes. They were where I wanted to be one day at the end of it all.”
Kisner, 28, will get his wish Saturday. His 10-round heavyweight bout with 28-year-old Otto Wallin of Sweden at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City will be broadcast by Showtime as part of a card headlined by Claressa Shields challenging Christina Hammer for the undisputed women’s middleweight championship.
The 5-foot-11, 222-pound Kisner, an Old Mill graduate, is 21-4-1 and the reigning World Boxing Association United States and North American Boxing Partners cruiserweight champion. But he is considered the underdog by bettors against the 6-5, 231-pound Wallin, who is 20-0, won the European heavyweight title last year, and is ranked No. 5 by both the International Boxing Federation and the World Boxing Association.
“To me, it really makes no difference,” Kisner said of the long odds stacked against him. “Whether you’re the favorite or the underdog, you’re still in the squared ring, and you’ve still got to fight it out. I guess in a way, it kind of puts a little chip on your shoulder, but I’ve never really tried to pay too much attention to it. Regardless of who the favorite is, the favorite still has to go into the ring and work for it. It’s not going to be given to him, and on any night, anybody can beat anybody.”
Kisner’s father, Danny, who is training his son at the Baltimore Boxing Club in Fells Point and American Muay Thai in Parkville, is optimistic about his son’s chances.
“He’s in great shape, and we’re a big underdog on paper, but we’re going to win it,” he said. “We’re going to upset the world on Saturday night.”
Moving up from cruiserweight to heavyweight is not an unfamiliar proposition for Kisner, who has won 11 previous bouts at the highest weight level. And it is a more natural fit for Kisner, who no longer has to drop his love for fast food to make the 200-pound limit for cruiserweight.
“That’s a big stress reliever,” he said with a laugh. “Everybody just thinks that you go into a fight, and you fight, and that’s all that boxers have to do. People don’t realize how much you have to do leading up to the fight. So not having to lose weight adds a lot to it, and being able to eat is a huge stress reliever.”
With a reach of about 69 inches, Kisner is giving up about 10 inches in that department to Wallin. But Kisner said he relishes the idea of fighting a larger opponent.
“They’re just bigger, they’re easier to hit, they’re slower,” he said. “I can honestly say that even though a lot of people are intimidated by bigger guys, I never have been. I don’t know why that is. I’m just not scared of bigger guys. I’m like, ‘OK, you’re a human just like everybody else. Let’s see what you can do when I punch you in the face.’ They’ve never scared me.”
Wallin is a southpaw with 13 knockouts, but Danny Kisner pointed out that his son was 32-1 as an amateur against left-handed boxers. Nick Kisner, who is ambidextrous, said he understands the fighting style southpaws employ.
“I guess since I was a natural southpaw and I know the things that they do, I’ve always lined up with them very well,” he said. “I just feel very comfortable against southpaws.”
Danny Kisner noted that defeating Wallin “is not going to be easy” for his son.
“He’s going to have to box at times, and he’s going to have to back him up,” the elder Kisner said. “Nick is more of a counterpuncher, a mover, and Nick’s going to have to come out of his comfort zone and back this guy up some and get aggressive if he wants a win. I feel like it’s probably going to go 10 rounds, and I think we’re going to win on points.”
Nick Kisner said he has been impressed by what he has seen from Wallin’s previous fights.
“He’s slick. He’s pretty nimble for a big guy,” Kisner said. “He’s good, but I just feel that European fighters usually have a hard time with us slick Americans. We’re just a little craftier in the game than they are. … I just feel like my style is going to match up well with him. I could be wrong, and I’m a huge underdog, but I’m confident, and it’s a huge opportunity, and what have I got to lose? I’m confident, and we’ll see what happens.”
Wallin, who is now based in New York, is seeking to become Sweden’s first heavyweight champion since Ingemar Johansson defeated American Floyd Patterson on June 26, 1959.
“My ultimate goal is to become world champion and I believe right now I’m on the right path,” Wallin told boxing website 15Rounds.com. “I had good years fighting in Europe, but now is the time for me to go to the next level. I can’t wait to show everyone what I’m all about and give the fans great fights.”
Kisner said his intent is to introduce himself to the boxing world.
“I really want to show everybody that I’m capable of being one of the best,” he said. “Obviously, I’m focused on the fight, and I believe I am going to win. But fights happen sometimes where you don’t walk out as the winner. Most of the time, I do walk out as the winner, but a few times, I haven’t.
“But the main goal for me is to really show that I belong up here. Sometimes even if you lose a fight, you can still show that you belong up there. I just need to show everybody that I belong up here on the top stage, and to keep winning the best way to do that. So I’m going in there trying to show people the talent that I have.”