By: John “Gutterdandy” Walker
It took a while, but the “Nordic Nightmare” has finally returned to boxing’s heavyweight division in full force.
Perhaps lost in the much deserved excitement over Tyson Fury’s demolition job of Deontay Wilder last Saturday evening was an amazing, brutal, performance by Robert Helenius, aka “The Nordic Nightmare,” who destroyed Polish-born Brooklyn resident Adam Kownacki earlier in the evening during the impressive, heavyweight-stacked undercard.
The Sweden-born, Finnish national Helenius (31-3, 19 KOs) was once upon a time seemingly headed for the very top of the heavyweight division. Those such as this writer who were mesmerized by some of his best performances have long awaited the return to form Helenius has now shown during his last two stoppage wins over the formerly rising star Kownacki.
During the early part of the extended period of heavyweight domination by the Klitschko brothers, it was Helenius who most often seemed a possible successor to the Ukrainians. At 6′ 6 1/2″ tall, Helenius had the size, and in his best run, demonstrated the kind of power that could match what Vitali and Wladimir brought to the ring.
2011 was the year Helenius peaked, with devastating stoppage wins over the still viable Sam Peter and former WBO heavyweight champ Sirhei Liakhovich, and a split decision victory in a brutal contest against over tough then-rising Brit Dereck “Del Boy” Chisora. In the latter fight, however, Helenius aggravated a shoulder injury suffered during training, and that injury started a downward spiral that would derail Helenius’s career for close to a decade.
Helenius showed only flashes of his former promise during his years in the heavyweight wilderness when he was knocked out by the likes of Johann Duhaupas and Gerald Washington. Fans of the Nordic Nightmare could only wonder where the old Helenius had gone, and wonder if he was lost forever.
However, Helenius wasn’t done quite yet. After a knockout loss to Washington, he decided to overhaul his training methods, including adopting a new high protein diet, and soon felt himself growing stronger. Helenius recently reflected on the changes he made before his first meeting with rising heavyweight Kownacki in 2020:
“My conditioning was great. My strength was perfect. It’s the healthiest I was in three years,” said Helenius.
“I started a new diet five years back, and I’ve been eating much more meat and leaving the carbohydrates alone. It took a while, but I felt the strength, and my ligaments and muscles, and bones were stronger because of that. I knew I was in the best shape of my life. I didn’t have any hesitation against [Kownacki],” Helenius explained.
Boxing experts can be forgiven for not expecting much the first time Helenius met Kownacki, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in March, 2020. Helenius knew he had been brought in to lose, but finally injury-free and brimming with newfound physical confidence, the old Nordic Nightmare suddenly made a startling return. Helenius shocked Kownacki, using his height, reach, and power to stun his then-undefeated foe with a fourth-round stoppage.
Even then, as Helenius knew, the win over Kownacki would be seen by many as a “fluke,” not proof that after so much time, the old Nordic Nightmare had returned. It would take the rematch on the undercard of Fury – Wilder 3 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to convince all but the most cynical that Robert Helenius was once again a serious force in the heavyweight division.
Proving his seriousness, Helenius sparred with the powerful Deontay Wilder to get himself ready for his next test.
“I’m not thinking any differently than the first time I faced (Kownacki),” Helenius said going into the rematch.
“I’m prepared to die in the ring to win the fight. This is my last couple of years fighting and I’m going to give it everything I have left in my tank.”
True to his word, Helenius in the rematch delivered perhaps his finest hour as a fighter to date. Kownacki (20-3, 15 KOs) now knew what to expect, but couldn’t do much about it, as the newly confident Helenius roared out of the starting gate, peppering the Brooklyn-based fighter with heavy power shots. By the end of round one, Kownacki was in big trouble, and later it would be determined that Helenius had broken the Pole’s left orbital bone during the brutal assault.
The first round set the tone, and though the brave Kownacki would try to rally, Helenius continued to hit his opponent with an array of uppercuts, left hooks, and hard straight rights, peppering the Pole’s left eye, which was rapidly swelling shut. Kownacki was finally reduced to using low blows, seemingly as a way out of the fight as much as to defend himself. The referee mercifully called a halt to proceedings at 2:38 of round six with the Pole out on his feet.
The stoppage was initially ruled a disqualification but later changed to a TKO. Either way, Kownacki left the arena after this one-sided beatdown with his once-promising boxing career in tatters.
After his long period in the heavyweight wilderness, Robert Helenius, however, had proven he was not only back, but better than ever, and ready to, as he puts it, to keep “grinding towards being a world champion.”
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