By Cliff Rold
It sure as hell wasn’t David Haye.
That much all can be sure of.
Eventually, almost certainly, it will be someone though.
Someone will give World Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko a run. It’s happened before in the champion’s career, it will come again. It comes for them all. Sometimes, the challenges come, and were seen coming. Other times, new forces emerge in a single night to shake the game to its core.
If Robert Helenius (15-0, 10 KO) continues to develop at the pace he’s on, he will not be the latter. Nicknamed the “Nordic Nightmare,” Helenius might just be a dream come true for fight fans that want to see Klitschko pushed.
One could take that literally to start. Helenius is not a man to be easily missed. Standing almost 6’7, and normally weighing in between 230 and 250 lbs., Helenius is a big man in the field of boxing big men.
It’s more than size that marks him as a potential force. Helenius, in his short career so far, is posting the sort of wins that merit notice. Standard fare for a solid prospect, like wins over Attila Levin and Taras Bydenko, state right away he’s better than a journeyman. Stoppage of former beltholders Lamon Brewster and Samuel Peter state more.
Robert Helenius, making his sixteenth start this Saturday (to be televised live in the U.S. on EPIX), is already a contender. How much of a contender, how serious a threat, remains to be seen. How much buzz he can build will begin to unfold as he attempts to pick up his third titlist scalp this weekend.
Sergiy Lyakhovich (25-3, 16 KO) is an interesting choice of foe. He’s fought only four times since winning the last true Heavyweight classic, a twelve round epic with Brewster in 2006. Neither man was ever the same.
Lyakhovich lost his next fight, and the WBO Heavyweight strap, in a tedious affair with Shannon Briggs, was unable to win a round against the giant Nicolay Valuev despite what should have been a storehouse of technical advantages, and since has only gone to scratch twice. He’s a part time fighter with a name, the sort rising Heavyweights with championship aspirations have feasted on for generations.
That doesn’t mean a win, particularly by knockout, would be meaningless for Helenius. Coming off the Peter win in April, it would be quite the opposite. Helenius would have the appearance of serious momentum.
The April win was that eye catching. Sure, Peter was coming off a knockout loss to Wladimir in September 2010, and, frankly, has never looked quite the same again after Vitali Klitschko trounced him for eight rounds in 2008. However, Peter can still take a decent shot and it takes a whale of a blast to put the Nigerian down.
Helenius came up with that whale of a blast. How he came up with is more reason to pay attention. Helenius feinted and slipped a short left hook inside to put Peter into the floor. It was the sort of agile blow once the stock in trade of Riddick Bowe, the sort of athletic and fluid punch most men the size of Helenius can’t throw. That includes Wladimir, whose left hook can be devastating but is more deliberate.
Of course, Wladimir Klitschko’s throne isn’t built on the left hook. It’s built on a left jab that history will likely regard one day as among the best sticks the game ever came up with. Helenius can crack, for sure. Can he get past the telephone pole growing out of Klitschko’s shoulder? Will he know what to do if he hurt the champ and got clinched for dear life?
We won’t know unless this fight ripens into something edible for fight fans one day. Helenius has a ways to go but, as he continues to pick up wins, these are the sorts of questions that inevitably form. It’s the beauty of the build. Boxing relies on fans wanting to see not just the fight today but also the fights tomorrow. Traveling that distance means finding who is next.
While there are far too many beltholders, especially in boxing’s flagship class, since the big WBC/WBA split at the end of the 70s, there aren’t that many rising contenders who can point to beating three of those former titlists before their 16th fight. Anyone who could was someone to be reckoned with.
The world will know a least a little bit more about Helenius is just a few days.
Cliff’s Notes… Champ for Champ 2011 is coming…So is a divisional ratings update. Really…Helenius is in a spot another man on the bill with him this weekend once was: Alexander Povetkin. The 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist at Super Heavyweight, Povetkin’s public posture has been as close to an admission that he can’t beat a Klitschko as one can get. It’s hard to care about a fighter who is handled in a way that screams ‘settling for second best.’ His fight with Chagaev should be entertaining enough anyways…Carl Froch is nervous about the judges for the Andre Ward fight? One can assume Showtime is too. Another marred ending to one of their tournaments would be sour indeed…Dana W hite owned Bob Arum in the war of words this week and was pretty much right on all counts. Dana White took something fringe and made it bigger. Boxing needs a Dana White in the worst way…Reminds me of the last line of Lonesome Dove: “A man of vision you say? Yeah, hell of a vision”…Of course, that’s the filmed version. The book ends with, “They say he missed that whore.” Considering they call this the red light district of sport, either will suffice.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]