ANTHONY JOSHUA is set for a January showdown with Deontay Wilder after scoring a seventh-round knockout over Robert Helenius inside the O2 Arena on Saturday night. It was a patient and hesitant display that culminated with one booming right hand. It reminded us that Joshua is one of the most dangerous heavyweights in the world. It reminded us, too, that he’s not the seek-and-destroy fighter of old.
Helenius first heard of the chance to fight Joshua shortly after he beat an outclassed Mika Mielonen as recently as last Saturday. It followed VADA informing relevant parties that original opponent, Dillian Whyte, had failed a drug test.
The 39-year-old, blown out in a round by Wilder last year, seemed to enjoy his ring-walk in his first appearance in the UK since losing a lopsided 12-round decision to Whyte in 2017. The ‘Nordic Nightmare’ confidently strutted to the battlefield, largely belying what followed, before his opponent, a huge 1/20 favourite and in his second bout under the stewardship of Derrick James, made his way there.The Godfather theme and then Faithless’ Insomnia provided the soundtrack.
The first two rounds, however, were sleep-inducing. A loser in three of his previous six and wearing a bruise under his left eye before the opening bell, Joshua refused to commit. Bar the odd jab here and there, Helenius wasn’t overly keen to engage either.
Joshua, exhibiting patience and perhaps a little too much desire to please his new coach, scored with a decent right in the third and a better one in the fourth. At that point it seemed like some of the old gung-ho spirit would have got the job done. Even so, it was difficult to give the Finnish underdog a round after the first third.
The Briton upped the pace in the fifth, briefly wobbling his opponent’s legs with another measured right hand and he controlled the next session, too. The finish, sudden and explosive, was of Joshua’s making. He positioned Helenius against the ropes, feinted, and threw a looping right hand over Helenius’ shoulder. The perfect punch, that Joshua had been hoping for, landed flush. And that was that. The power remains even if the Joshua we used to know is most certainly gone forever. Only time will tell if the new version is good enough to rule again.
“People need to let me breathe a bit and do what I do,” Joshua said when asked about his new style. Promoter Eddie Hearn then confirmed that Wilder is likely next.
In a battle of war-torn gatekeepers, Derek Chisora decisioned Gerald Washington over 10 slow and cumbersome rounds. Chisora was slightly busier, but not at all inspiring, against an opponent without a victory since 2019. The scores were 98-93, 97-94 and 96-94.
Chisora looked every day of his 39 years, and he was cut in the second from a clash of heads. He nonetheless chugged forward, largely on instinct, hoping to find a home for his slow and deliberate overarm right. The Londoner had fleeting success, but the veteran was repeatedly tagged in the opening rounds as his willing feet – too often off-balance – were betrayed by slowing reflexes.
Washington, no spring chicken at 41, looked fresher early but the sheer effort required to keep Chisora away took its toll. By the second half, the American appeared to be tiring and losing interest. Chisora, meanwhile, was barely any better. It was an ugly spectacle.
Filip Hrgovic, for 11 rounds at least, looked ordinary again in his first bout since being fortunate to get the decision over Zhilei Zhang last year. Dempsey McKean was plucky and even appeared to hurt the Croat with a body shot in the 10th round before a right hand effectively ended matters, somewhat abruptly, in the 12th. The referee, Marcus McDonnell, initially instructed Hrgovic to stop punching following a right hook, but correctly stopped it at 1-01 when it was clear the Australian – based in Essex – could barely stand.
Before that, Johnny Fisher won the Southern Area heavyweight title when he stopped the game Harry Armstrong in the 10th and final session.