Dougie’s Monday mailbag (Robert Helenius, Adam Kownacki, upsets and the heavyweight division)
mvpboxing |  March 09, 2020, 12:10 PM

YEAR OF THE UPSET CONTINUES

Hi Doug,

Just a couple of quick questions/comments if you have the time. If 2019 was the “Year of the Upsets” (the year even closed with an upset — Jean Pascal over Badou Jack on December 28), it seems like 2020 is looking to follow suit or even surpass it. Off the top of my head we’ve had Jeison Rosario over Julian Williams, Joe Smith over Jesse Hart, JoJo Diaz over Tevin Farmer, Tyson Fury over Deontay Wilder (Fury was favored early but Wilder had become the slight favorite by the opening bell at most books), Chocolatito Gonzalez over Kal Yafai, Jono Carroll over Scott Quigg, Robert Helenius over Adam Kownacki. That’s 7 in just 9 weeks and those were all main or co-main event-level fights, not deep cuts on undercards. I’d like to ask you, does this run of upsets (going back to last year) feel unusual to you, in terms of how often it is happening?

Seems like a good portion of the commentariat/fans are eager to bury Kownacki, isn’t it too early for that? MMA fans are already conditioned to expect upsets in the heavyweight division (and they have a limit of 265 pounds, which limits size differences). It was considered a minor miracle when Stipe Miocic, a great boxer by UFC standards — he was a Cleveland Golden Gloves champion — broke the record recently by successfully defending his heavyweight title 3 times (he lost his next fight by 1st round KO and regained the title by KO in the rematch against Daniel Cormier, a wrestler). Upsets happen all the time.

Helenius is 6-foot-7, 250 pounds — try getting hit by that guy! Seems like upsets like this are inevitable in this super-heavyweight era now that the talent is more evened out. There will be unexpected knockouts — look no further than Wilder and Anthony Joshua in the last year. Fury and Dillian Whyte have barely escaped multiple knockouts in the last couple of years. And those guys are rated at the top of the division. We should just have fun with the ride and allow fighters to come back for another try. And in about 10 years, when a 40-something Joe Joyce is knocking out some hyped undefeated contender, don’t act surprised or trash the loser! Lol. Best to you and all of the mailbag readers. – Jerry, Los Angeles

You have the right attitude, Jerry. But you’re going to have to accept the sad fact that a lot of people who follow boxing, even those who consider themselves “hardcore” or “purists,” CAN NOT accept losses suffered by high-profile boxers in this silly age of the social-media “Fanager.” (Trust me, I argue with their #salty asses all the time.) Also, consider that Floyd Mayweather Jr. was voted Fighter of the Decade by the BWAA, so even though he only he only participated in real boxing matches for the first half of the decade, it was basically his era. He was close to being FOTD for 2000-2009, he got the nod for 2010-2019. And we all know that his credo was basically an amalgamation of “business before sport, high-reward/low-risk, protect the ‘0’ at all costs.” This mentality probably seeped into the heads of fans and media more than it did the boxers (God Bless ‘em). It’s probably gonna take another 5-10 years for some folks to totally get over it and just get back to enjoying entertaining fights.

Off the top of my head we’ve had Jeison Rosario over Julian Williams, Joe Smith over Jesse Hart, JoJo Diaz over Tevin Farmer, Tyson Fury over Deontay Wilder (Fury was favored early but Wilder had become the slight favorite by the opening bell at most books), Chocolatito Gonzalez over Kal Yafai, Jono Carroll over Scott Quigg, Robert Helenius over Adam Kownacki. That’s 7 in just 9 weeks and those were all main or co-main event-level fights, not deep cuts on undercards. I’d like to ask you, does this run of upsets (going back to last year) feel unusual to you, in terms of how often it is happening? Not really. Upsets are part of boxing, and I don’t consider Smith over Hart, Diaz over Farmer, Fury over Wilder or Carroll over Quigg to be upsets at all.

Seems like a good portion of the commentariat/fans are eager to bury Kownacki, isn’t it too early for that? Of course, it’s too early to “bury” him. He’s 30 (which isn’t very old for a heavyweight) and this is his first pro loss. Helenius is 36, he’s got three losses (two by knockout), and he just put himself on the board. I’m sure a lot fans “buried” him years ago, if not following the stoppage to Gerald Washington. “The End” for a fighter is never up to the fans. It’s always up to the fighter. Now, having said all that, it’s not too early to criticize certain flaws that Kownacki has. He’s got some work to do between now and his next fight.

MMA fans are already conditioned to expect upsets in the heavyweight division (and they have a limit of 265 pounds, which limits size differences). I don’t follow MMA, so I’ll take your word for it. And in this regard, MMA fans kick ass on boxing fans.

Helenius is 6-foot-7, 250 pounds — try getting hit by that guy! No thanks.

Seems like upsets like this are inevitable in this super-heavyweight era now that the talent is more evened out. Upsets are inevitable in every era and every weight class.

 

HAIL HELENIUS!  FINNISH HEAVYWEIGHT HISTORY

Dear Mr. Fisher,

It has been 82 years since a Finnish heavyweight had an impressive TKO win in New York against a highly ranked opponent. On 3rd March, 1938, Gunnar “GeeBee” Barlund beat Buddy Baer by TKO7 in Madison Square Garden, and yesterday, Robert Helenius shocked Adam Kownacki at Barclays Center.

After GeeBee beat the “Brother of Max” he was ranked in the heavyweight top 10 by The Ring (number 2 contender of Joe Louis) and got his picture on the cover of the magazine. No. 2 is the best rating of Finnish boxers in any division ever in The Ring ratings.

What do you think, will Helenius get into the top 10 of The Ring magazine ratings? Will he face AJ or Fury in near future (it was a WBA title eliminator as you know)?

And the most important question: will he get his picture to the cover of the Ring magazine? 😉  Sincerely yours. – Boxing Fan, Dr., Rev. Juha Itkonen, Finland 

Everybody at The Ring congratulates Helenius on his upset victory, but I’m gonna keep it real with you, it takes a lot more than knocking out our No. 9-rated heavyweight to earn a solo cover. Tyson Fury is on the next cover because he did what your man Gunnar did back in the day, he took out our No. 2-rated heavyweight, but he also regained The Ring championship and picked up the WBC belt.

Back in the late 1930s when Barlund upset Baer (who was immensely popular, like his former champ brother), the heavyweight championship was “Biggest Prize in Sports” and just being a top contender made you notable professional athlete. We’re talking more than a decade before television would even begin to be widespread (radio was still the main broadcast media in most households) and long, long before the NFL, NBA or worldwide soccer. Boxing, baseball and horseracing were the kings of professional sport, and few forms of entertainment (sports or otherwise) could rival a heavyweight fight (let alone a heavyweight championship bout).

What do you think, will Helenius get into the top 10 of The Ring magazine ratings? That’s a question for the Ratings Panel, but I doubt it. They’ll probably drop Kownacki and re-enter Kubrat Pulev at No. 10.

Will he face AJ or Fury in near future (it was a WBA title eliminator as you know)? My man, he’ll be lucky if his gets a shot at Manuel Charr.

 

HEAVY WEEKEND

Dougie,

Hope this finds you well (and stocked up on water and toilet paper)! It’s been a truly Heavy weekend giving us both what we love and hate about the Division. I’ll offer you my thoughts and would love your take:

Frank Sanchez: Yawn! Talented, athletic and unwilling to go after a hopelessly outclassed opponent. Who I would like to see him against? Really nobody, but for sake of separating the chaff, Jermaine Franklin.

Efe Ajagba: Robotic. He really needs more time to work on fluidity. Next? Some unknown from the Midwest with a too good to be true record (and a low KO%).

Hughie Fury: 2nd best Fury. He looked better than usual. Was it because he was trying harder to impress or an overmatched opponent? Probably both…next? How about Povetkin again? He seemed uninterested in engaging last time out, so maybe he can redeem this time around.

Helenius: Nice win but should have seen it coming. He’s been in tough over the years and was in with a guy who just doesn’t bother with defense. He’s in line for a payday, but the Draws are all taken. Next? Anthony Joshua! Helenius should just stay in shape and hope AJ takes care if business. I don’t think AJ vs Fury gets made (assuming Tyson beats Wilder again) this year. Maybe the Nordic Nightmare can get his nice paycheck and retire.

Adam Kownacki: Toughman with some skills. Despite the fact he doesn’t take fitness seriously, he’s still a fun guy to watch. He should go back to the drawing board and work on defense, but I fear the die is cast. Next? I’d pay top dollar for him and Ruiz still. Maybe a promoter can offer a bonus if they both come in under 250. Realistically, maybe he can revisit his Nordic Nightmare. It could be a good enough payday for Helenius and who else is there for him right now?

Keep up the good work! – Scott

Thanks, Scott.

I think Team Kownacki will eventually want to run it back with Helenius (if not immediately). If they don’t do it right away it makes sense for a relatively safe tune-up vs. a faded trial horse in the Chazz Witherspoon/Devin Vargas mold. If he’s willing to travel to the UK (which I doubt), I wouldn’t mind seeing “Babyface” go at it with big David Price or his British counterpart, Nathan Gorman. Those would be fun scrap in my opinion.

WBA ranking/“mandatory status” aside, Helenius is a gatekeeper. Nothing wrong with that. The sport NEEDS gatekeepers. I LOVE gatekeepers. They let us know if a prospect is real. They let us know if past-prime former titleholders still have it. They let us know if fringe or lower top-10 contenders (like Kownacki) deserve their ranking. I’d like to see him test young guns like Filip Hrgovic, Efe Ajagba and Jermaine Franklin, or fringe cats, such as Otto Wallin, Oscar Rivas and Carlos Takam.

Fury (right) nails Sour. Photo by Dave Thompson

Hughie looked better because he was in with a scrub. Let’s be real. I’m still gonna view him a stinker, but I also recognize his potential due to his young age (25) and experience. I don’t need to see him in with Povetkin again. Povetkin is in a real fight with Dillian Whyte on May 2. It would be a pointless backward step for the Russian vet to revisit Hughie. But I wouldn’t mind seeing Fury challenge the undefeated (but untested) likes of Agit Kabayel or Junior Fa (both 19-0, mature and ranked by the sanctioning bodies).

I agree that Ajagba is stiff and overly methodical. But he’s just 25 with 13 pro bouts. He can learn to relax. I like his technique and punch selection, but he’s clearly a work-in-progress/project for Ronnie Shields. I think he’s in need of more quality rounds. Call in Joey Dawejko or Bogdan Dinu. (I’d mention the grand oldman of heavyweight gatekeepers, the man formally known as “The Southern Disaster,” Dominick Guinn, but I think I saw him in Ajagba’s corner Saturday night.)

Sign me up for Sanchez vs. Franklin. The Cuban has potential but we won’t have a clear idea on his ceiling until he’s in with a live opponent.

 

WHAT’S NEXT FOR KOWNACKI AND HELENIUS?

Hey Doug,

An entertaining scrap at Barclays on Brooklyn Saturday night although the outcome was a shocker… or maybe it wasn’t. I had seen Adam Kownacki fight two or three times so I knew what he brought to the dance. He doesn’t look much like a fighter but he can bring it. I was unfamiliar with Robert Helenius and not seen him before. While Kownacki occasionally slips a punch he seemed content to take one to give one. As he said he would, he took it right to Helenius letting both hands go and for a moment it looked like it might be a short night with another win for Kownacki, but as early as round two I thought to myself that Helenius didn’t come there to lose…you could tell by the look on his face and the bad intentions behind his punches that he was really trying to win. After a sharp right dropped Kownacki in round four I knew it was all but over. Adam got up but his legs were gone. Even so he did the only thing he knew to do. He went right at Helenius who let his hands go on the badly buzzed Kownacki and got the stoppage. I have to give some respect to Robert Helenius for going into hostile territory and getting it done.

As for what’s next for both guys…. Kownacki has to rebuild and a bout with Andy Ruiz would be a fun fight (probably a short fight one way or the other). As for Helenius, he won’t get any kind of meaningful fight anytime soon. The titles are tied up in rematches and mandatories so any kind of title shot (this fight was billed as a title eliminator) ain’t gonna happen. It would have been the best thing for the heavyweight division for Tyson Fury to have been immediately matched with Anthony Joshua (there is not a venue ANYWHERE that could hold that crowd) but that’s not the way boxing goes (but they should take a cue from MMA who makes a big match when it is the logical thing to do). Sadly, it will take months or maybe a year or so to sort the whole thing out. We the fans have no choice but to wait it out. What do you think? – David, Nashville

I think you’re right. The earliest that we can expect a showdown between the Fury-Wilder3 winner and Anthony Joshua for the undisputed heavyweight crown is sometime in 2021.

As I said earlier in this mailbag (I wasn’t being flippant to the Finnish fan), Helenius will be lucky if he gets a shot at the WBA’s “regular” beltholder, Manny Charr. But hey, I’ll be rooting for “the Nordic Nightmare.”

An entertaining scrap at Barclays on Brooklyn Saturday night although the outcome was a shocker… or maybe it wasn’t. Listen, forget about the one-sided scorecards, Kownacki went life and f__king death with the faded remains of Chris Arreola last August. And truth be told, he was as outworked by the 39-year-old veteran. That fight should have let everybody know EXACTLY where Kownacki stood in the grand scheme of the heavyweight division.  

I had seen Adam Kownacki fight two or three times so I knew what he brought to the dance. He brings the ruckus, and I respect that. He’s fun. He’s must-see TV. However, judging by the way he handled getting rocked by Helenius in Round 4 of a fight he was winning, I think it’s safe to say that he doesn’t take as well as he gives, which means he should probably avoid Andy Ruiz. As lazy as the Mexican American former champ appears, it’s clear that he can take ONE HELL OF A SHOT.

Dillian Whyte and Helenius. Photo by Lawrence Lustig

I was unfamiliar with Robert Helenius and not seen him before. Ten years ago, he was THE hottest heavyweight prospect in boxing. Dude had the height, the reach and the skill of a modern world beater, and he gave us a glimpse of his potential by scoring late-rounds TKOs against former beltholders Lamon Brewster, Sam Peter and Sergei Liakhovich. But he was out of action for all of 2014 (due to injuries I think) and he never regained his form or career momentum when he returned. TKO losses to Johann Duhaupus and Gerald Washington (and an unwatchable stinker decision “L” to Dillian Whyte) caused most of the boxing world to give up on him.

While Kownacki occasionally slips a punch he seemed content to take one to give one. S__t, he’s seems the type to get mad if an opponent DOESN’T smack him upside his head.

As he said he would, he took it right to Helenius letting both hands go and for a moment it looked like it might be a short night with another win for Kownacki, but as early as round two I thought to myself that Helenius didn’t come there to lose…you could tell by the look on his face and the bad intentions behind his punches that he was really trying to win. The Finnish veteran told anybody who bothered to interview him (which includes RingTV.com’s own Michael Woods) that he had a good camp for this fight was dialed in on springing the upset. Sometimes these longtimers ain’t bullsh__ting.

After a sharp right dropped Kownacki in round four I knew it was all but over. Kownacki did not respond well to the loss of his equilibrium.

Adam got up but his legs were gone. Indeed, and he did not have the ring savvy or wherewithal to hold, avoid Helenius, or fight back with any efficiency.  

I have to give some respect to Robert Helenius for going into hostile territory and getting it done. Shoot, you should give the veteran more than “some” respect for taking Kownacki out in Brooklyn. He beat a 30-to-1 odds favorite on U.S. national television! That’s some Rocky Balboa s__t, my man. You gotta love the boxing underdog.

 

 

Email Fischer at dougie@boxingmailbag.com. Follow him on Twitter and IG at @dougiefischer, and join him and Coach Schwartz and friends on Periscope every Sunday from SMC track.

The post Dougie’s Monday mailbag (Robert Helenius, Adam Kownacki, upsets and the heavyweight division) appeared first on The Ring.

 

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