Wednesday, October 04, 2023  |


Anthony Joshua stops Robert Helenius in seven, stays on course for Deontay Wilder superfight

Anthony Joshua bombs Robert Helenius. Photo from @MatchroomBoxing
Fighters Network

Anthony Joshua produced an explosive finish to stop Robert Helenius in seven rounds on Saturday at London’s O2 Arena to remain on course for a super fight with Deontay Wilder early next year.

The former heavyweight champion, who looked quicker for being over 5 pounds lighter than in his previous fight, had struggled to dominate Helenius as had been hoped but he demonstrated that he retains the potential to return to competing with the elite.

Until little over a week ago he had been preparing for a rematch with Dillian Whyte – a fighter at his most dangerous throwing the left hook. Similarly Helenius, who favours his right hand, had fought even more recently than Whyte had been ruled out, when in Finland last Saturday stopping the little-known Mika Mielonen in three rounds.

If at the very least Joshua had had another near-full training camp with Derrick James, the trainer he fought under for the first time as recently as April, then for a fighter so obviously lacking in confidence throughout that victory – a unanimous decision over Jermaine Franklin – and so short of momentum since losing, for the first time, to Andy Ruiz in June 2019, even requiring seven rounds to defeat Helenius represented a significant positive.

Anthony Joshua exchanges jabs with Robert Helenius during their careful early rounds. Photo from @Matchroom Boxing

The Finn had lost inside a round to Wilder – a former sparring partner – as recently as October but from the opening bell Joshua boxed with considerably more patience. Joshua had also previously sparred him, in 2017 – since when he is a significantly different fighter – but after two competitive rounds in which his was the superior jab the crowd at The O2 started to boo.

Whether he was responding to their impatience or boxing to James’ instructions Joshua quickly landed a powerful right hand to his opponent’s chin. That Helenius was hurt was not in question; the more relevant question surrounded why Joshua seemed intent on landing single shots at the expense of the combination punching with which his reputation was built.

A further hurtful right followed in the fifth; Helenius responded by landing a left hook and then a jab to attempt to keep Joshua – often seeking to take the centre of the ring – at bay and was punished when taking a left. That Joshua had by then also swung and fallen short with both left and right hands perhaps discouraged him from fighting with greater intensity; perhaps he even already believed that the finish that soon followed was near.

His jab had meant Helenius had started to bleed from his nose in the seventh but there was little predicting the finish that then came. With Helenius open – and having no doubt been subtly worn down by the punishment he had so far taken – he threw and cleanly landed a powerful right hand that dropped his opponent so heavily it was immediately obvious the fight was over. Joshua responded by celebrating even before the referee Victor Loughlin had signaled the finish after 87 seconds; in an apparent cathartic release he then left the ring and made his way around it to interact with countless members of the crowd.

“Any time’s a good time to fight [Wilder]” the 33-year-old former IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight champion then said, post-fight. “It’s only a fight. It don’t matter who it is. It could’ve been Wilder eight years ago or Wilder now. It is what it is at the end of the day.

“There’s no worry to me when it is. I’m just happy that we can get the fight going, and I think people appreciate that. I’m doing my best to keep heavyweight boxing on the map.”

“We believe he can go and beat Deontay Wilder,” added his promoter Eddie Hearn. “Prince Khalid and Skills Challenge are here tonight. We’ll look to try and close that deal over the next couple of days. Josh is ready for that fight.

“That’s the ambition of the team. Whether you back Josh, whether you think he can do it or he can’t, things have changed. He’s now a mature heavyweight. I know everyone wants to see first-, second-, third-round KOs, but against Helenius he took his time and delivered one of the knockouts of the year.”

Filip Hrgovic had earlier laboured to victory over Demsey McKean when he inflicted the Australian’s first defeat, in the 12th round. He had consistently looked little more than a one-dimensional heavyweight with unremarkable power until eventually hurting McKean with a big right hand, after which he was fortunate not to be disqualified for repeatedly punching him behind the head. The referee Marcus McDonnell was right to wave the fight over – the stoppage was timed at 61 seconds – but instead of doing so because of the extent to which the previously undefeated McKean was hurt he perhaps ought to have punished Hrgovic for breaking the rules. The Croatian therefore remains on course to challenge for the IBF title; his performance regardless demonstrated very little that will trouble either the champion Oleksandr Usyk or his challenger on August 26, Daniel Dubois.

Derek Chisora had looked more of a danger to himself than ever throughout his 10 rounds with Gerald Washington, despite being awarded a unanimous decision via scores of 98-93, 97-94 and 96-94. Whether he had been hurt by one of the punches Washington threw in the opening rounds or he was off-balance, he appeared fortunate the referee Lee Every didn’t rule him to have been legitimately knocked down. As a consequence of December’s beating by Tyson Fury, the once-resilient Chisora looked worse than ever – his latest fight was confirmed at late notice but his deteriorating balance and punch resistance, at the age of 39 and therefore two years younger than Washington, are a reflection of his permanent decline.

There was also a 13th victory for Campbell Hatton, on the occasion of his 13th fight, when he defeated Tom Ansell over eight rounds via a single score of 78-74.


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