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Robert Helenius, 31, won the European heavyweight championship title at Helsinki Arena on Saturday night in a cat-and-mouse game with a unanimous decision by points.
In the first round, Helenius sent his German opponent, Franz Rill, 28, to the floor in only 20 seconds. Rill got up, though, pretty fast and kept going.
The knockdown made Helenius to want more. He wanted a final knockout, so he started chasing Rill. Helenius dominated the centre of the ring and the pugilists moved in a big circle, Helenius belting, pushing and pressuring his opponent.
In the fourth round Helenius sent Rill rolling on the floor with a beautiful combo: a left jab in the face and right hook on the chin. Another eight-count.
Rill didn’t give up easily. He was strongest during the in-fighting; he blasted Helenius with fast hooks from the ribs to the face. This was clearly the tactic he had trained for. The tactic he thought he could beat Helenius with.
Helenius kept chasing. He landed a few of his trademark body punches with his right, hoping for another and final knockout. This punch, after all, knocked down his Georgian opponent Beka Lobjanidze in Vaasa in June.
Helenius kept pushing, he was continuously on Rill’s face, connecting with a fast lead hand jab. The improved jab had become Helenius’ weapon of choice while looking for the big right hand that would send Rill sleeping.
Rill remained standing, though.
Both fighters were in good condition and there was no apparent loss of stamina.
In November, Helenius gassed out in round six in a public sparring match in Tallinn but for the last three weeks he had been focusing on this weakness and thanks to his innovative boxing trainer and conditioning-expert, Johan Lindström, he looked better than ever.
The fighters went all 12 rounds. The audience of over 11,000 cheered and clapped, and Helenius hugged his team in the ring.
“It was really important for Robert to get his title back, which he had in 2010 before he got injured. He wanted to prove that he can do this on his own,” said Lindström.
Helenius indeed proved that he didn’t need any help from his previous team, the big German boxing promotional group, Sauerland.
After the thrilling fight me and my assistant stepped outside from the bright lights of the arena and into the darkness and rain. In the taxi queue people were cheering Helenius and talking about “a good fight”. The taxi driver was complaining about the bad weather but we couldn’t stop smiling. It was a good fight.
I suddenly remembered the phrase one fan shouted at the weigh-in, “Rill is to become grill food, which sounds funnier in Finnish dialect: ‘Rillistä tehdään rilliruokaa.’”
So, we stopped by the grill kiosk at five in the morning.
“What would you recommend to us?” my assistant asked from the wise old lady behind the counter of the cubicle.
“I recommend that you go home and sleep.”
She was right.
It was a good fight.