Boxing fans have to accept that the Anthony Joshua of yore isn’t coming back, according to his promoter.
The former heavyweight titlist from Britain notched a devastating one-punch knockout of late-notice replacement Robert Helenius in the seventh round of their scheduled 12-round bout last Saturday night at The O2 Arena in London. It was Joshua’s first stoppage win since 2020, when he wiped out Kubrat Pulev in nine rounds, and his second consecutive win since dropping two consecutive defeats to unified heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk.
As telegenic as Joshua’s knockout was—two flicks of a jab, followed by a sweeping right—it did not alter the fact that the crowd had been booing him earlier in the night for his reluctance to engage with Helenius, who had enough successful moments to leave Joshua bruised and bleeding from the nose.
Critics have long insisted that Joshua's fighting style was irreparably altered by his encounters with Wladimir Klitschko—Joshua was dropped in the sixth round of that fight before rallying to stop the Ukrainian in the 11th round—and Andy Ruiz in their first fight, which saw the Mexican-American stop Joshua in seven rounds.
Eddie Hearn, the Matchroom head who handles Joshua, said after the fight that calls for Joshua to be as aggressive as he once was earlier in his career are falling on deaf ears.
“I knew this would happen,” Hearn told BBC 5 Live Boxing. “Everyone’s talking about the new AJ, the old AJ, and after two or three rounds, the crowd starts to get a little bit impatient. You know, you also have to understand that this guy (Helenius) is coming in on five days’ notice.
“Josh has been in a training camp for six weeks for Dillian Whyte. The guy (Helenius) is six-foot-eight, he can punch a bit. He (Joshua) don’t want to take no chances. He finds the measure of his right hand and he delivers one of the knockouts of the year on Robert Helenius. Absolutely brutal finish. And this is just the AJ you’re gonna see now. No chances. He’s not going to come in and start crossing his feet and trading with his chin in the air. And he still got to be more aggressive than he was tonight.
“But there was a lot on the line. And obviously the late replacement is difficult. But I’m just pleased he delivered the knockout of the year. He needed that, because the fight was beginning to get a little frustrating. Crowd was getting restless and they went home with a massive knockout.”
Joshua was originally supposed to take on Dillian Whyte on Saturday night, but Whyte was removed from the match after it was announced one week prior that he had tested positive for a banned substance.
Sean Nam is the author of Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing.