Featured image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.
Anthony Joshua landed his first knockout victory in over two-and-a-half-years as he stopped late replacement Robert Helenius in seven rounds at the O2 Arena on Saturday.
The former two-time heavyweight champion cut a tentative figure after six tense rounds before finally forcing the stoppage with a straight right hand midway through the seventh.
Joshua is now touted to meet America’s hard-hitting Deontay Wilder in January with representatives of Saudi Arabia’s Skills Challenge Promotions in London to tie down a deal between the former champions.
The stoppage came but only after six gun-shy rounds in the capital
Originally set to rematch old rival Dillian Whyte before a failed VADA test forced its cancellation, pressure was mounting on Joshua to stop late replacement Helenius in style.
It was the latter who arguably edged the first however as he targeted the body of the Briton whose output was low in the opening three minutes.
Joshua increased the tempo from the second but, despite landing regularly with a prodding jab, the 34 year old hesitated in following it up with his right hand.
Single shots were no doubt the favoured approach by the Brit who was struggled to pin down his opponent in search of his first stoppage in four fights.
Sporadic success with right hands in the third and fourth culminated with growing frustration in the crowd who continued to long for a Joshua blowout.
Helenius looked concerned every time the Brit committed to his work but it wasn’t happening often enough to force a breakthrough as the fight dragged on into the second half.
Joshua was no doubt banking rounds but hadn’t looked close to a stoppage by this point as fears grew of another laboured points decision.
The crucial moment – one which everyone inside the O2 Arena were waiting for – came halfway through the seventh as a Joshua jab backed Helenius to the ropes.
Unlike before, the former champion finally followed with his feet and greeted the Finn’s chin with a thudding right hand which immediately left Helenius sprawled on his back.
The arena breathed a sigh of relief as Joshua basked in his first win inside the distance since a December 2020 win over Kubrat Pulev, opting to leave the ring and join the celebrations of those sitting ringside.
Joshua: “This is my time – let me breathe”
Minutes later, with Helenius thankfully on his stool receiving medical attention, Joshua returned and batted off any criticism of what transpired before the stoppage.
“People need to leave me alone, I do what I want. This is my time in this ring. People need to let me breathe a bit”, he told DAZN post-fight.
“My back [hurts]. Is there a doctor in here? My back’s gone, because I’ve been carrying the heavyweight division”, he joked as talk centred on a potential fight Wilder next year.
Ultimately, the key was victory by any means, although preferably in spectacular fashion to setup a long-anticipated fight with the American.
And while that was achieved, attention now shifts from landing a fight with Wilder to winning it, and the Joshua seen in those opening six rounds is a far-cry from what is required if his hand is to be raised out in the desert at the start of next year.
Croatian heavyweight Filip Hrgovic handed Australia’s Demsey McKean the first defeat of his career with a final-round stoppage after a drab twelve rounds.
Hrgovic maintains his status as IBF mandatory challenger and is in place to face the winner of Oleksandr Usyk vs Daniel Dubois in two weeks’ time.
Veterans Derek Chisora and Gerald Washington also fought across twelve difficult-to-watch rounds in a fight that played out as expected between two men who have seen far better days.
Chisora got the nod via unanimous decision in a fight which could have swung either way – though a score of 98-93 in favour of the Brit rightly raised eyebrows in what was hopefully the final stanza of Chisora’s 16-year career.
Johnny Fisher also scored two knockdowns on the way to a comfortable unanimous decision victory over Harry Armstrong which saw him claim the vacant Southern Area Heavyweight title.