Heavyweight Robert Helenius looked more like a cross between a WWE wrestler and a guitarist from a heavy metal band.
Known as the “Nordic Nightmare” in boxing circles, Helenius walked into the ring last night as a 10-to-1 underdog in his WBA title eliminator against Adam Kownacki in Brooklyn. And just like that there was another upset in the heavyweight division. Helenius stopped Kownacki via a fourth-round technical knockout in the PBC [Premier Boxing Champions] main event at Barclays Center.
Obviously, the crowd of 8,811 that was in attendance decked in their red Polish ensemble, did not fear the coronavirus. The Polish constituency, cheering wildly when the fight began, had their night ruined when Helenius had his hand raised in victory.
“I want to thank everyone who gave me this opportunity,” Helenius said, 36, of Finland. “Kownacki is a tough fighter. I worked hard in training camp and it paid off.”
With the victory, Helenius improved to 30-3, (19) and is now the mandatory opponent [in the WBA] for Anthony Joshua. Time will tell how soon Helenius will square off with the unified British champion. Joshua has mandatories against Kubrat Pulev in June and Oleksandr Usyk most likely at the end of the year.
At the time of the stoppage, Kownacki was up on all three scorecards by scores of 30-27 and 29-28 twice.
“It wasn’t my night. It’s boxing,” Kownacki said after suffering his first loss. “It’s a tough sport and things just didn’t go my way tonight. It was a learning experience and I’m going to go back to the drawing board and get back to work.”
Both fighters traded heavy leather throughout the scrap. For the most part it appeared that Kownacki was getting the better of the exchanges, as he rocked Helenius a few times. Kownacki, now 20-1, (15) looked as if he was cruising towards a stoppage win.
“He just kept coming and coming. He’s a good fighter. I have to give it to him,” Helenius said. “My strength is to punch back when people come at me. It was a good fight and a tremendous opportunity for me to be here.”
There were instances throughout the contest in which Helenius looked gassed, stunned and hurt. But whatever adversity he seemed to be dealing with, Helenius did a great job of putting it behind him. The big Fin took a page out of the Taylor Swift playbook and just “shook it off.”
He dropped Kownacki to one knee in a corner from a right hand, however, referee David Fields ruled it a slip. Helenius, kept applying pressure, fighting with the type of urgency with knowledge that your opponent is buzzed.
“I knew that I hit him hard and I knew I just had to continue,” Helenius said. “I knew he was still hurt after that punch.”
Helenius connected with a right hand to the head which was then followed by a left hook that dropped Kownacki again. Kownacki rose to his feet, but was visibly hurt. Helenius continued the offensive onslaught. He rocked the wobbly Kownacki to the ropes with combinations. Helenius landed a few more shots, prompting Fields to call the bout to a halt at the 1:08 mark of the fourth.
“He hit me with a good shot,” Kownacki said. “I knew what was going on, but I’m just upset with myself. It is what it is.”
Helenius career has officially been resurrected from the dead. Four years ago, he was knocked out by Johann Duhaupas. A year later he dropped a decision to Dillian Whyte and then he was knocked out last summer by Gerald Washington. Does Helenius have another upset in him? We we’ll have to wait and see.
In the co-feature bout of the evening, Efe Ajagba (13-0, 10 KOs) stopped Razvan Cojanu in round nine. The time was 2:46 seconds. Ajagba of Nigeria dropped Cojanu (17-7, 9 KOs) twice en route to the knockout win.
Ajaba, 25, trained by Ronnie Shields, was pleased with the win.
“Cojanu has a lot of experience. When I threw my jab, he used his right hand to block my vision, so I couldn’t throw as many combinations as I wanted. It was a good challenge,” Ajagba said. “Ronnie told me to attack the body behind the jab. It was very effective, and it started to slow him down. When he got close to me, I knew to throw more and punish him.”
So, what’s next for the blue-chip prospect?
“It’s up to my team who we fight next, but I want hard fights. My team has a plan, and we’ll keep following it,” he said.
In the opening bout of the evening, Cuban amateur standout Frankie Sanchez won a unanimous decision over Joey Dawejko by scores of 100-90 twice and 98-92.
“I was well prepared and I thought I fought very well tonight,” Sanchez said now 15-0 with 10 KOs. “I dominated the fight. I showed good footwork and movement and did exactly what we worked on. I’m going to continue to advance in my career and hopefully we get an even bigger fight next. I expected a lot of pressure, but with my boxing ability, there was no way he was going to catch me.”