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“If anyone hurts my family. They’re . . . ,” Gonzalo Omar Basile, the Argentinian heavyweight boxer, leaves his sentence hanging and performs a throat-cutting gesture with his forefinger. Sounds like a scene from a typical Steven Seagal flick, but you get an impression that this is real talk. The gesture is related to one of his countless tattoos; his body is covered from head to toe with faces, symbols and letters. A talk with a journalist has turned into an exhibition of ink.
It’s Wednesday afternoon at the Helsinki Arena. The press conference of All In Fight Night is almost over and after Basile exchanged piercing looks during the staredown with his Finnish counterpart, Robert Helenius, – his opponent at Helsinki Arena on Saturday evening – Basile, surprisingly, seems relaxed. Helenius steps into the conversation and Basile starts joking with him. Helenius explodes in laughter. Both boxers, indeed, seem loose and calm.
In the boxing world, joking around is also a sign of respect. Basile doesn’t talk trash. He openly admitted earlier that he respects Helenius as a fighter but added that he has fought against “many tough opponents.” “I’m not scared,” he said. Basile, who is 42 years old, knows that he has the advantage of experience. He has 68 wins in his boxing résumé. From his 79 fights, he has lost only 11. His recent five fights are all wins.
In the ring, Basile is calm and aggressive. He seems to fight from almost a standstill position. He doesn’t move much but is surprisingly fast when evading a fast hook. He pushes constantly forward with slow, short steps and because of his fearless attitude it could be hard to keep him in a distance from not smelling the garlic. He also packs some serious punching power: 31 of his fights have ended in a knockout. He’s also only two centimeters shorter than Helenius, who stands two meters tall.”Basile is impressive, and he can surely take punches,” Helenius said at the press conference. “But I will win.”
The fight will surely not be a piece of cake for Basile. Helenius, 32, has been sparring for the fight for five weeks, training with four sparring partners at his home gym in the Åland Islands. “We’ve been improving his stamina and made some changes to his fighting style,” said Johan Lindström, Helenius’ trainer. Lindström has, for example, been constantly improving his protégés footwork.
For endurance, Helenius has been wearing an elevation mask, which basically makes the heart work harder due to restricted breathing. It mimics the effects of training in high altitudes, a famous method for creating increased stamina in a short period of time.
Helenius has also been working hard in shaking the monkey off his back. Last April, he suffered his first knockout during his professional career against the French boxer, Johann Duhaupas, in a WBC Silver Heavyweight Title fight. Helenius described the feeling as “humiliating.” “Once you’re knocked out, you know that the opponent could kill you,” he said in a recent mini-documentary.
However, the fast victory against a German pugilist, Konstantin Airich, in the Åland Islands last September, put Helenius back on the track. In the first round, Helenius belted a fierce right hook to the body of his opponent. The fight lasted only 49 seconds, Helenius scoring his 23rd victory in 24 bouts.
At the weigh-ins on Friday, Helenius weighed his all-time high: 119,7 kilos. Basile pushed the scale to 104,2.
After the media frenzy at the scales, Helenius arrived at his hotel wearing loose sweatpants, his signature hoodie (Nordic Nightmare) and a wooly cap. He walked through the restaurant to the corner table under a flurry of curious and admiring glances from the surrounding tables.
I joined his entourage at the table. Helenius was joking around, there was a lot of laughter and talks of whether there will be a celebration after the fight. He ordered snails and a big plate of pulled elk and washed it all down with water. Then he went up to his room. To catch a good night’s sleep.