Finnish heavyweight boxer Robert Helenius gave his former British world champion counterpart a belting that he will remember in front of 20,000 spectators at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night.

Robert Helenius in the ring in Olavinlinna castle in Savonlinna on August 5, 2023. Photograph: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY

Finnish heavyweight boxer Robert Helenius, 39, gave one hell of a fight against former British two-time world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, 33, in the sold-out event in front of 20,000 spectators at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night.

He battered Joshua’s face and body constantly throughout the early rounds.

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Joshua, who is known for his muscles, speed and knockout power, had mostly trouble connecting Helenius with punches who many times just dropped his hands and slipped and evaded what was coming in his direction. That was until the seventh when Helenius began slowing down because of gassing out.

In the world of professional boxing, where invitations to fights can come on short notice for those who are mentally ever-ready, this was understandable. Helenius had initially prepared for a different fight, which he won, but had agreed on this world-class bout just after he had decided right there and then after the fight in Olavinlinna castle in Savonlinna to continue with his boxing career by taking the next bout against Joshua.

“Come on, Eddie, make the deal with my people. Give me the fight. I am ready!” Helenius said in a video revealed by British boxing promoter Eddie Hearn on the DAZN sports streaming service, which had exclusive rights to stream the upcoming bout.

At the O2, during the interval between rounds fifth and sixth, after a round Helenius dominated with hard lefts, rights and hooks, Helenius’ trainer, Johan Lindström, was screaming excitedly to his protege who was taking a breather on the bench:

“You look like a Viking! Is this what you like? Is this what you have dreamt of?”

After another successful round for Helenius, Joshua was complaining to his trainer, Derrick James, that “It’s hard to find the right hand.”

“You have to back him down,” James said. “Sweep the leg.”

I soon realized that due to the bad connection of DAZN, what James actually said was, “Hit the chest.”

The seventh began well for Helenius. While Joshua started aggressively, Helenius, again, counterpunched with hard rights.

This seemed to finally fire up his British counterpart, who had been training for months for a world-class 12-round fight. After chasing Helenius against the ropes by hitting him in the chest while Helenius was defending himself with a left power jab in hopes of keeping his opponent at bay, Joshua slipped the punch instead, squatted with all power in his legs and exploded with a right overhand hook beyond the vision of Helenius, connecting on the chin.

It’s a kind of shot that short-circuits the brain. 

“There’s nothing you can do,” described the current world heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury, in his autobiography.

“Your body loses control and you hit the deck.”

That’s what followed: Helenius hit the canvas.

Robert Helenius hammering Mika Mielonen, who took heavy hits but managed to survive until the third round when he was knocked out in Olavinlinna. Photograph: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY

“When I was told about the opportunity to fight Joshua just after my last fight,” Helenius recalled over the phone to this journalist while he was traveling back after the fight with Joshua to the airport on Sunday, “I went through a wide gamut of emotions from fear to uncertainty. I knew I had the conditioning to face an ordinary boxer for maybe seven rounds with 100% focus. But this one would be a world-class boxer. I also knew that this would be my chance of coming back big time.”

The Viking and The Journalist in the Olavinlinna castle. Self photograph: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY

Nevertheless, Joshua had difficulties with Helenius before entering the ring as well. After the weigh-in where both men weighed around 113 kilos, they locked in an intense staredown.

Helenius was looking deep into Joshua’s soul.

After a while, he couldn’t take it anymore.

“Have you got a problem with me?” Joshua asked.

“I don’t have a problem with you,” Helenius said while keeping close eye contact, not seeming to blink at all.

“Either we’re gonna fight now or we’re gonna fight tomorrow, either way we’re gonna fight,” said Joshua and continued, “Let’s stay calm. Let’s stay cool.”

“I am cool.” Helenius said.

Later it was rumored that the glove check that followed went on like this:

As The Finn was pulling on his gloves … The Briton asked: You got some kind of a problem?

The Finn: No.

The Briton: It’s just you are trying them on like you want to use them in a fight or something.…

Footage that appeared online later revealed that in reality, the glove check included only representatives of both Finnish and British teams. There Helenius’ team discovered that Joshua’s gloves were way thinner than what Helenius was offered. They had inadequate padding.

When comparing their gloves, Helenius said, “Press this, it is not the same. Say what you want but this is fucking bullshit. Disgusting bullshit. The same gloves? My ass! Fucking bullshit. I need exactly the same gloves, those were not the same gloves. Everybody knows what the fuck is going on.”

The problem was resolved by both boxers wearing identical thinner gloves in the ring.

“They felt like fighting with bare knuckles,” Helenius said to me later, calmly.

This picture illustrates a moment when Anthony Joshua lost his world title to the doughy Mexican boxer, Andy Ruiz Jr., who pounded Joshua to the canvas four times during the fight. This was back in the summer of 2019. Here, boxing promoter Eddie Hearn and the boxer are looking for a rematch a month later in July. Photograph: CC BY-SA 4.0

In the ring after the knockout, Joshua took a glance at his unconscious Finnish counterpart, performed a move called the “crotch chop,” then jumped out of the ring to pose in pictures and to have a sip of the controversial UFC fighter Conor McGregor’s beer mug.

In the dim light of the post-fight press conference that began late, Joshua, wearing dark sunglasses, said that even if it wasn’t a “success” for Helenius in the ring, “he’s a massive success in saving this event.” By this, he meant that Helenius didn’t hesitate by taking the main bout against him at a week’s notice after Joshua’s scheduled opponent Dillian Whyte failed a drug test.

He also admitted that “Helenius could cause a lot of people some problems.”

For Joshua, Helenius caused nothing but problems.

“I really feel like that my opponent would haven’t survived the fight as a winner if I had had the time to prepare my conditioning properly,” Helenius said to me.

“During the bout, I had one of the best feelings in boxing in a long time. Despite the result, it lit a torch in my heart. There probably will be another match for me to take.”

The torch has been lit. Photograph: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY

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