From St. Olaf’s Castle to the O2 in London: The Frenetic Odyssey of Robert Helenius


By Arne K. Lang

Promoter Eddie Hearn was expected to announce Anthony Joshua’s next opponent yesterday (Monday, Aug. 7). The day passed without any news forthcoming from Hearn’s public relations staff.

The impasse was broken early this morning. At 2:45 AM Pacific Time, a press release turned up in this reporter’s e-mail box announcing that Robert Helenius was the man. The 39-year-old Finn, nicknamed the “Nordic Nightmare," replaces Dillian Whyte who was shelved when his VADA test returned an adverse finding, i.e., evidence of a banned substance or substances.

Helenius (32-4, 21 KOs) first came to the fore in 2010 when, in his 11th pro fight, he sent former WBO heavyweight titlist Lamon Brewster off into retirement with an eighth-round stoppage. The following year, he scored a ninth-round TKO over Nigerian knockout artist Samuel Peter. Those fights were in Germany.

Helenius is best known to U.S. fight fans for his three recent fights on U.S. soil, the first two against Adam Kownacki and the third against Deontay Wilder. They occurred back-to-back-to-back over a 31-month span beginning in March of 2020.

Helenius was the first man to defeat Kownacki. His fourth-round stoppage of the popular Pole in Brooklyn was one of the biggest upsets of the year. He repeated that triumph when they met again in Las Vegas. The Finn stopped Kownacki in the sixth.

That led to a match with longtime sparring partner Deontay Wilder. That didn’t go well for the “Nordic Nightmare.” Late in the first round, Wilder knocked him unconscious with a brutal right hand.

That brings us to St. Olaf’s Castle, a 15th-century medieval stone fortress that sits on an island in a lake in southeastern Finland. A popular tourist attraction, now a museum, it is best known for its annual opera festival.

This past Saturday, in his first ring appearance since getting bombed out by Deontay Wilder, Helenius stopped countryman Mika Mielonen in the third frame at St. Olaf’s. A pudgy, short-armed, 41-year-old businessman with six pro fights on his resume, Mielonen came to fight but was in no condition to last the scheduled eight rounds. He was on his feet when the referee waived it off. The bout can be found on youtube.

Veteran Scandinavian boxing scribe Per Ake Persson, a correspondent for Boxing Scene, was there. “Helenius,” he wrote, “appeared to be in good shape and seems to be ready for new adventures in the heavyweight division.”

New adventures, indeed! After competing before a few hundred people at a medieval castle, he will now take the ring before 20,000 or thereabouts at England’s premier indoor boxing venue. It’s such a quick turn-around that one suspects that his head is spinning.


Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn, Anthony Joshua’s promoter, was in a quandary when it came to finding a new opponent for Joshua. “The plan,” said Hearn yesterday, “is to get the most credible opponent who can test him for Deontay Wilder.”

Therein lay the rub. The long-range plan is for Joshua to meet Deontay Wilder in December for big bucks in Saudi Arabia. Considering Joshua’s fragile ego, Hearn had no interest in pitting his fighter against an opponent with a strong chance of winning. Helenius is a big puncher but is very slow. Hall of Fame boxing writer Thomas Hauser once compared his speed to that of a stalagmite.

Because time was of the essence, Hearn had no leverage when it came to finding a replacement for Whyte. “It’s a minefield,” he said [because] the credible ones want $10 million, a private jet and my left lower limb in the contract.” He has a history with Team Helenius. The Finn appeared on his 2017 show in Cardiff, Wales, topped by Joshua’s match against late sub Carlos Takam. Helenius opposed Dillian Whyte who defeated him, winning a wide 12-round decision.

To Hearn’s credit, however, he salvaged Saturday’s show. Joshua vs. Helenius and a fairly-interesting undercard will be live-streamed on DAZN.

Anthony Joshua has a big following across the pond. His match with Dillian Whyte would have been a DAZN pay-per-view in the United Kingdom (at a cost of roughly $27 in U.S. dollars). With the switch of opponent, the pay-per-view comes off and the fight will be available to all DAZN subscribers at no extra charge worldwide.