Forgotten man Deontay Wilder can shred heavyweight scene with signature KO against Robert Helenius

Forgotten man Deontay Wilder can shred heavyweight scene with signature KO against Robert Helenius

Deontay Wilder faces Robert Helenius in Brooklyn this Saturday

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Observe the heavyweight landscape before you. In the background lies Anthony Joshua, Britain’s fallen heavyweight hero, beaten once again. In the foreground, perhaps unnervingly close and paying no respect to your personal space, is Tyson Fury, bleating about his compatriot’s alleged cowardice and beckoning forward old foe Derek Chisora, who is lumbering into frame. Not enjoying the scenery?

Squint, and spy, if you can, Deontay Wilder. That’s right, there he is, somewhere before the horizon but not yet over the hill – a glove on one hand and remote in the other, ready to detonate the very scene that you and the rest of boxing’s fandom finds so distasteful.

Beside the American, who turns 37 next week, is Robert Helenius, whose exact role in this picture is as yet undetermined. On Saturday night, he will journey to New York with Wilder for a main-event contest at the Brooklyn Center. From the moment of depature to the moment of arrival, the Swedish-born Finn will stand firmly in Wilder’s blast radius, with many expecting the 38-year-old to be eviscerated. Consider, however, that Helenius might not be the victim that he is currently being portrayed as.

Of course he is unlikely to emerge from a duel with Wilder unscathed; no opponent has, even Fury. The “Gypsy King”’s back-to-back victories over the veteran in 2020 and 2021 marked the first losses inflicted upon Wilder, but the physical toll was of a considerable cost, with Fury knocked down twice in the latter of those bouts and twice in the controversial draw that preceded them.

So, expect Helenius (31-3, 20 knockouts) to sport shrapnel regardless of the result that materialises this weekend, but he would maintain that he will be much more than a wounded soldier in New York, entering this clash with Wilder on the back of three straight knockout victories – the last two having both come against Adam Kownacki, in 2020 and then on the undercard of Fury vs Wilder 3.

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The Finn represents a tougher test on paper than Chisora does for Fury, who is set to fight his compatriot for the third time this December, having already beaten the 38-year-old twice. Helenius in fact holds a win against Chisora, who is an uninspiring replacement for Joshua, with whom Fury was unable to agree terms for a mega-fight.

Such is the degree of merit that Helenius carries that a victory over him would mark a respectable comeback statement by Wilder, who we have not seen in the ring for almost exactly 365 days – since the night Helenius last competed, in fact.

When we last checked in on the former WBC heavyweight champion, Wilder was lying vulnerable and vacant on the canvas of a Las Vegas ring, down for the third time in his trilogy fight with Fury, and at last unable to discover the strength or cognisance to stand.

Deontay Wilder last fought in October 2021, suffering a second straight loss to Tyson Fury

It was a satisfying visual for Deontay’s deriders – those irked by the American’s excuses after his 2020 stoppage loss to Fury. There was the spiked bottle of water, the weight of his own walkout costume, Fury’s allegedly loaded gloves. Dignity in defeat was admittedly lacking after both of Wilder’s losses to the Briton, who dethroned the Alabama native in their second meeting and retained the WBC belt in their final one.

But valid as that criticism is, it is often spoken in the same breath as underminement of Wilder’s actual boxing abilities – a less justifiable assessment. It is true that the 36-year-old’s jab, footwork and some other elements of his approach are unorthodox and perhaps not as finely tuned as they could be given his age. But to delve into those aspects would be to split hairs, when Wilder specialises in splitting skulls. Forget intangibles, he cares about quantifiables: 42 wins from 45 fights; 41 of those victories having been achieved by now-signature KOs.

If Wilder can produce such a finish in Brooklyn, he will have firmly re-established his own enigma and once again taken his seat at the top table of heavyweight boxing.

Robert Helenius last competed on the same night as Wilder, on the American’s undercard

He and Andy Ruiz Jr seem to be on the same page, acknowledging that each likely awaits the other if Wilder sees off Helenius. Ruiz Jr has done his part, the Mexican-American going the distance with Luis Ortiz in September and winning on points, where Wilder twice deemed the judges’ scorecards irrelevant and favoured fiery finishes.

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And while it would be premature of Wilder to look beyond Ruiz, Joshua is still there in the background, while a fourth fight with Fury could reverberate with echoes of the rivals’ trilogy bout, which was an undesired but ultimately explosive affair. Clashes with Dillian Whyte, Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce would also make for intriguing match-ups. Wilder, whatever criticisms may be levelled at him, will fight anyone.

He is lurking in the background of the heavyweight picture, but Wilder is no extra, nor is he interested in wading into the foreground; he would much rather shred the scenery, and he can do just that on Saturday.

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