Featured image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.
Former two-time heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua (25-3, 22KOs) continues his comeback against Finland’s Robert Helenius (32-4, 21KOs) at London’s O2 Arena on Saturday.
Preparation for the fight has hardly been ideal for Joshua who was initially set to rematch old rival Dillian Whyte before the latter returned averse findings in a Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) test last week.
The fight was cancelled and the search for a replacement opponent was underway before Team Joshua settled on Helenius who only fought six days ago, stopping Mika Mielonen inside three in his native Finland.
Joshua is no stranger to late replacements, having beaten Carlos Takam inside ten rounds at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium after Kubrat Pulev withdrew in 2017.
The Briton was also set to meet Brooklyn’s Jarrell Miller in June 2019 before the American registered for multiple banned substances, paving the way for Andy Ruiz Jnr to land a seismic upset as he handed Joshua his first pro defeat with a seventh-round stoppage.
Potential Wilder fight lies on the horizon
The parallels between the Ruiz Jnr defeat are uncanny, with much of the fight week talk also centring around a potential showdown with American heavyweight Deontay Wilder.
A Joshua-Wilder showdown back then would have crowned the sport’s first undisputed champion in almost two decades.
Neither man holds a world title to their name four years on but a potential showdown presents a tantalising offering nonetheless, with Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn confirming the fight is close to being agreed to take place in December or January.
Representatives of Saudi Arabia’s Skills Challenge Promotions, who are set to stage the event, are in London this weekend with hopes of closing a deal.
The onus is therefore on Joshua to secure victory against an ageing Helenius who himself faced Wilder in October last year, losing via first-round stoppage.
“The principle still remains the same – worry about myself”, Joshua said at the fight week press conference.
“Me and Helenius, we’ve shared the ring together, years ago though. I’ve sparred so many people [with] different styles and the objective remains the same – victory by any means.
“There’s no overtime in boxing so I’ve gotta be on my A game and inflict pain to get the victory.”
The 39 year old Helenius enters Saturday night a heavy underdog but also a man with little to lose.
He only learned of the opportunity shortly after leaving the ring in Savonlinna last week and is looking to follow in Ruiz Jnr’s footsteps four years ago by reshuffling the heavyweight division once again.
“This fight offer came to me five minutes after my fight. I was going on a vacation with my family but not anymore, here we are”, he laughed.
“Luckily we had a good training camp behind us so I feel ready.”
Joshua is no stranger to pressure and talk about what will come next but to say avoiding another slip-up this weekend is crucial would be an understatement.
Defeat would not only kill any prospects of a fight with Wilder but also a direct route to the top of the division once again.
Even if it is Joshua’s hand that is raised come Saturday night, the method in which he secures the win will also draw scrutiny.
Wilder’s one-round demolition of Helenius draws a natural comparison with Joshua’s performance this weekend and while the two fights may act as a natural barometer for where each is at for some, winning by any means should remain top of Joshua’s agenda.
More heavyweight action features further down the card as IBF mandatory challenger Filip Hrgovic (15-0, 12KOs) faces Australia’s Demsey McKean (22-0, 14KOs).
Croatia’s Hrgovic climbed off the canvas to secure a contentious unanimous decision win over Zhilei Zhang a year ago and is set to challenge for Oleksandr Usyk‘s IBF title providing he defeats McKean this weekend.
Veterans Derek Chisora (33-13, 23KOs) and Gerald Washington (20-5-1, 13KOs) also meet over ten rounds, while lightweight Campbell Hatton (12-0, 5KOs) faces Tom Ansell (10-4, 2KOs) over eight.
Popular Brentwood heavyweight Johnny Fisher (9-0, 8KOs) also challenges for his first major title as he takes on Camden’s Harry Armstrong (5-1-1) for the vacant Southern Area belt.