Joshua stops Whyte's replacement Helenius in the seventh round

Anthony Joshua remains on course for a super fight with Deontay Wilder after explosively stopping Robert Helenius in seven rounds at the O2 Arena in London.

Quicker for being over 5lbs lighter than in his previous fight, Joshua 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 Joshua had at the very least 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 then lacking in confidence – he earned a unanimous decision over Jermaine Franklin – and so short of momentum since losing to Andy Ruiz in June 2019, even requiring seven rounds to defeat Helenius represented significant progress.  

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 less intent. Joshua had also previously sparred him – he has since become a significantly different fighter – but after two competitive rounds in which his was the superior jab his home crowd started to boo.

Whether Joshua was responding to their impatience or boxing to James’ instructions he quickly landed a powerful right hand to Helenius’ chin. That Helenius was hurt was not in question; more relevant was why Joshua was prioritising single shots at the expense of the combination punching that inspired so many of his previous 25 wins.

A further hurtful right followed in the fifth; Helenius responded by landing a left hook and then a jab to attempt to keep Joshua – so often occupying the centre of the ring – at bay and was then 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; the finish that transformed the perception of his performance regardless swiftly arrived.

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 he threw and cleanly landed a powerful right hand that dropped his opponent so heavily it was immediately obvious the fight was over. 

Joshua – at 33 six years younger than his opponent – responded by celebrating even before the referee Victor Loughlin had signalled the finished after 87 seconds. In an apparent emotional release he then left the ring and made his way around it to interact with numerous members of the crowd.

Filip Hrgovic had earlier laboured to victory over Demsey McKean when he inflicted the Australian’s first defeat, in the 12th round. He had looked one-dimensional and little like a once-fine amateur 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 the Croatian for breaking the rules. Hrgovic remains on course to challenge for the IBF title but little about his performance 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 more hurt by one of the punches Washington threw in the opening rounds or off-balance when it landed, he was 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 he unquestionably looked worse than ever. The fight with Washington 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.