Robert Helenius noticed a different Deontay Wilder when they sparred recently in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Helenius sparred several times per week with Wilder, usually for three or four rounds per session, since the veteran heavyweight arrived in Wilder’s hometown from Finland to complete camp early in September. The 6-feet-6 Helenius is preparing to fight a shorter opponent in 6-3 Adam Kownacki, but sparring against the slightly taller Wilder has helped keep Helenius sharp while also providing Wilder with work as he gets ready for the taller Tyson Fury.
The Helenius-Kownacki rematch will be part of the Fury-Wilder pay-per-view undercard Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“He has looked very strong and very confident,” Helenius told BoxingScene.com. “Sparring has gone really well. He feels stronger, more confident and more sure about himself.”
Helenius has sparred with Wilder before previous fights. These sessions haven’t been quite as intense, according to Johan Lindstrom, Helenius’ longtime trainer.
“We sparred him several times a week, but we’re not doing that many rounds with Wilder this time because he has a lot of different sparring partners,” Lindstrom said. “We’re there helping him out and, after that, we have our own sparring partners that we bring in. So, we’re doing rounds afterwards with people that we brought in, that’s more like Kownacki’s style. I’m looking at the benefit of sparring with Wilder because he’s really, really elite. It’s like sharpening our tools. They’re not going in there throwing bombs at each other because both Wilder and Robert have important fights coming up. But the technical game, the reaction times, you know, the pace in the sparring with Wilder is totally different.
“And I think sometimes different is good, you know, than to grind with shorter people that have more of a slugger’s style over and over and over again, for two years almost. That’s not good for you, either. So, sparring with Wilder really brought up his level, with reaction times and the timing and stuff. It’s beneficial as long as you don’t do that too much, of course, because he’s not the type we’re gonna fight. But for adaptation, it’s good to switch things around a little bit and spar different guys. I think you grow from that, also.”
Helenius (30-3, 19 KOs) is approximately a 2-1 underdog against Kownacki (20-1, 15 KOs), despite that he dropped and stopped Kownacki in the fourth round of their March 2020 bout at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Kownacki’s home borough. Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) also is listed as slightly more than a 2-1 underdog in advance of his third fight with Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.