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Nordic Nightmare: Who is Joshua's new opponent Helenius?

If Anthony Joshua was looking for just the right balance between credibility and caution in a replacement opponent for Dillian Whyte, he may well have found it in Robert Helenius.

The big Finn stands 6'6 ½” tall, generally weighs between 235 and 250 pounds, and sports a record of 32-4, with 21 KOs. He boasts wins over the likes of Derek Chisora, Samuel Peter, and Michael Sprott, but has also come out second best against Whyte, Gerald Washington, and Johann Duhaupas. In his most recent fight but one, he was extinguished inside a round by Deontay Wilder; in the immediate aftermath, he threatened to retire, but returned to stop fellow Finn Mika Mielonen just last week. 

Helenius left Mielonen crumpled in the ropes with a big right hand, but the emphatic nature of the win should be tempered by the fact that his opponent entered the contest just 6-0 and was 41 years old.

There was a time when it seemed “The Nordic Nightmare” was headed for bigger and better things. After turning pro in May 2008, he had run his record to 10-0 when he stepped in against former titlist Lamon Brewster in January 2010. Brewster had seen better days by the time the two men faced off, and would not fight again after Helenius dismantled him, dropping him with a body shot in round 2 and forcing a referee stoppage with a two-fisted barrage in the eighth.

That marked the beginning of Helenius’ best run in the sport, as he racked up wins against the likes of Peter, Sprott, and Chisora, as well as Attila Levin and Siarhei Liakhovich. (The win over Chisora, which gained him the European heavyweight title, was a highly contentious split decision.)

After his March 2013 win over Sprott, however, he was inactive for two years as he sought to escape his promotional contract with Sauerland, and he would never regain the momentum he lost.

After a trio of nondescript wins in 2015, he was outhustled and outfought by Frenchman Johann Duhaupas in 2016, suffering knockdowns in the second and sixth and experiencing defeat for the first time. 

Further losses would follow – by decision to Whyte in 2017 and knockout to Washington two years later – and Helenius’ run for the top appeared over.

He temporarily resurrected his career with back-to-back stoppages of the then-hot Adam Kownacki in 2020 and 2021; Kownacki, who was 20-0 before their first meeting, hasn’t won a fight since, suggesting that the result was as much an illustration of Kownacki’s limitations as a commentary on Helenius’ return to form. 

But then came the wipeout by Wilder, who annihilated him with one trademark right hand. And now the Finn finds himself in the position of last-minute replacement opponent for someone who has reached the summit and is looking for a confidence builder as he sets out for the top again.

No fight is without risk, especially in the heavyweight division; and Helenius can crack with his right hand. But he doesn’t have the speed or skills to trouble the former champ if Joshua is in any kind of shape, and if the man from Watford can’t overwhelm him, it might be time to start thinking about a new career.

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