Anthony Joshua cannot afford a defeat against Robert Helenius after putting his career on the line… it’s CURTAINS for AJ if he falls to the Nordic Nightmare at the O2
Boxing gave a collective groan this week when an aged Finnish heavyweight who looks more like the Yeti than the Nordic Nightmare, as he calls himself, was named as the replacement opponent for Anthony Joshua this Saturday night.
Ticket holders for the 02 are still agonising over whether to seek a refund or turn up in case a proper fight breaks out.
Public opinion, on this occasion, does somewhat less than justice to Robert Helenius. It may not be setting the highest of bars but If anything, he is a marginal improvement on the drugs-tested Dillian Whyte. Nor does the perception of Helenius as a deputy fall guy do anything to take the heat off Joshua.
Every fight since AJ was knocked out by roly-poly Mexican Andy Ruiz Jr and then lost his world titles a second time to Ukrainian war mascot Oleksandr Usyk has become a critical watershed.
Bluntly, he cannot afford another defeat. Certainly not if were to be inflicted by a lightly regarded substitute.
Anthony Joshua will take on Finnish heavyweight Robert Helenius at the 02 Arena on Saturday night
The two-time world champion admits the pressure is on after losing his titles to Oleksandr Usyk
Defeat for Joshua would likely mean a New Year fight against Deontay Wilder is off the cards
‘No, I must not lose,’ says Joshua. ‘Yes, I am under pressure. Hopefully, its good pressure which keeps me focussed on doing the job as quickly as possible. I am the one with everything to lose.’
Lose not only the tens of millions of dollars on offer for a New Year fight against Deontay Wilder in Saudi Arabia but also however much may be left of a career garlanded in Olympic gold and two reigns as world heavyweight champion. ‘Robert,’ as Joshua puts it, ‘has nothing to lose, everything to gain.’
Helenius spells out exactly how much he could profit from giving up the hunting, shooting and fishing holiday in Lapland which he had promised his kids after an easy knock-out win in a Finnish castle last Saturday night.
For enriching starters, he says: ‘This win will put me among the leading heavyweight contenders and the millions in purses which come with those big fights.’
Then he says: ‘I also know that when I beat Joshua I will become the biggest star in Finland’s sporting history. Since the news broke on Monday that I am replacing Dillian in this fight it has been all over television, radio and the front and back pages of newspapers in my country. I think they would make me President if I wanted. For which, no thank you.
‘But I do think the public will see me as greater than even Maati Nykanen (the best ski jumper of all time) and Paavo Nurmi (the legendary runner who amassed nine gold and three silver medals over three summer Olympics).’
It will not escape the notice of petrol-heads that there is not so much as a mention there of Finland’s three F1 world drivers champions Mika Hakkinen, Keke Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen. To each country, its own sporting preferences.
Helenius is hoping for a win that would make him ‘the biggest star in Finland’s sporting history’
And to every idol, the fickleness of fame. Joshua is not unaware that his fan base is weakening as he steps down from huge stadium title fights to arenas. There is a wistfulness about him and humility but no resentment as he says ‘I never bought into the hype. Never thought ”oh they love me.” You will suffer if you believe that. People don’t love you. They love the belts and whoever has them is the king. The belts don’t belong to me now so I can understand there is a shift in my reality.
That’s why I’ve worked hard also at developing my life outside the ring. In business. On marketing my brand. Low times like this will eat you up if your only identity is as a boxer. Even if you’re a champion. When you lose or retire you lose that identity. I will define myself by what I do in my whole life.’
Even so, he is willing to work hard to reverse that gradual drift from adoration: : ‘It’s back to the 02 and travelling around the arenas. Maybe Manchester next. It’s a rebuilding process and I do believe I can go back to stadiums by fighting the right people. You know who they are (think Wilder, Tyson Fury and Usyk probably in that order.)
‘Absolutely I can win one of the belts as they all become available quite soon Maybe not all of them. Maybe not become a unified champion again. Winning one belt is easier than fighting champion after champion to accumulate belts. That’s very, very difficult. And right now I must concentrate on the man in front of me this Saturday.’
Joshua’s support among boxing fans is starting to dwindle but he is willing to work hard to earn back his titles
Joshua warms to that task when he is told that Helenius has described him as ‘a little bit robotic.’ He says: ‘Looks like being a robot paid off. Twice world champion.’
A little angst should come in handy as sets his sights on emulating Wilder’s instant knock-out of Helenius in October. Says AJ: ‘Comparisons of results don’t really work but I too want to get him out of there in the first round.’
Even if takes a little longer, a showreel KO in the 02 would sound a clarion call to the faithful and zoom him back towards the big time. Expect a stoppage. Not least because Joshua knows that anything less would leave him in the doldrums.
Joshua v Helenius will be televised life this Saturday night on DAZN, via regular subscription.