Anthony Joshua-Deontay Wilder could be agreed 'within days'

Anthony Joshua embraced the prospect of fighting Deontay Wilder after recording his first knockout in almost three years.

The former IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight champion stopped Robert Helenius in seven rounds at the O2 Arena in London to rediscover some of the momentum he had lacked since losing for the first time in June 2019, to Andy Ruiz.

Dillian Whyte had been selected as his opponent in an attempt to achieve that same outcome but was ruled out at a week’s notice having “returned adverse analytical findings as part of a random anti-doping protocol” overseen by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association. Helenius, 39 and once one of Joshua’s sparring partners, was confirmed as his replacement three days later, and was twice hurt by Joshua before an explosive right hand left him unable to fight on beyond the seventh round.

Wilder had stopped Helenius in one last October, on the occasion of his first fight since Tyson Fury inflicted on him successive, devastating defeats, but unlike Wilder, Joshua, who responded to twice losing to Oleksandr Usyk by recruiting Derrick James as his new trainer, is attempting to change his style.

Against Helenius he again showed little of the combination punching that had once made him the world’s leading heavyweights, but having not stopped an opponent since an unconvincing performance against Kubrat Pulev in December 2020, and at 17st 12lbs weighing 5lbs lighter than he had when being even more unconvincing when outpointing Jermaine Franklin in April, he demonstrated that he retains the power he will need to keep Wilder at bay.

His promoter Eddie Hearn said in the days before the fight with Helenius that there are plans for Joshua and Wilder to finally fight in January – over six years after it was perhaps the most appealing fight that could be made – and after an improved performance in his second fight under James, asked of his long-term rival, Joshua said: “Roll on. There’s no worry to me when it is. I’m just happy we can get the fight going and I think people appreciate that.

“I’m doing my best to keep heavyweight boxing on the map.

“Wilder’s got a good right hand, I’ve got a good right hand but [we’re] both completely separate fighters [when our performances against Helenius are being compared. [There was] a switch of opponent. Switch of game plan, I just followed it as best I could and got the victory in the seventh round.

“His reputation was damaged due to the fact that he was knocked out in a round but he’s a very good operator minus that. We’re trying to shut each other’s advances down. It’s a game of chess. When you’re playing it’s interesting. It’s a thinking man’s sport.

“Why am I going to go in there and trade from round one? Break him down.

“Knockouts are good of course. It’s not so much the knockout; it’s just the ring activity which gives me confidence; that’s what’s important.

“We’ve just got to hope the other team play ball as well. I’m just focused on smashing his head in now. And that’s it.”

The 33-year-old’s promoter – Finland's Helenius is 39 – also said that those attempting to host Wilder-Joshua in Saudi Arabia were in London and that an agreement, after months of tedious and inconsequential soundbites, is therefore potentially imminent.

“We believe he can go and beat Deontay Wilder,” Hearn said. “Prince Khalid and Skills Challenge are here; we 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.”