Anthony Joshua stands over a beaten Robert Helenius in the seventh round of Saturday’s fight at London’s O2 Arena
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It was the finish and not the fight that mattered to Anthony Joshua at the O2 on Saturday night.
He got the finish he wanted, after seven rounds that he needed, and then he left the ring, his face covered in blood from his nose, to greet his fans at ringside.
Joshua knocked out Robert Helenius with a perfectly-timed right hand, delivered as the third punch in a combination, to end an odd fight a minute and 27 seconds into round seven. At one point in round three, Joshua’s devoted flock had booed as the pair looked for angles, openings and safety. Helenius accepted the fight the previous Saturday and was proving to be tricky; Joshua was not in a hurry to do what everybody expected him to do. There has always been too much expectation in the Joshua game.
“He was harder to hit than I thought he would be,” said Joshua. The finish was perfect, two jabs to the chest area to distract Helenius, a slight movement of the feet and then the final right cross. Helenius was out cold before he hit the canvas. It was what the crowd came for and what Joshua prepared for.
“I got sloppy, I’m disappointed,” said Helenius, just before 2am, as he left the O2. “I came here to win, not to lose.” He was serious, by the way.
It was a win that Joshua needed, the type of knockout his fans have come to expect since his professional debut in 2013. His domination of British boxing started shortly after that with big fights, sold-out venues and wild nights. He has had his critics from inside and outside the boxing business, but jealousy in boxing has always been in conflict with reality. Joshua has retained his dignity against great assaults – on Saturday, he asked once again for a bit of space, some space to breathe. It is hard being Anthony Joshua, just like it is hard being Tyson Fury. However, a few years ago Fury held his hands up and admitted he was struggling with his mental health. Joshua has his own struggles and battles and demons.
Anthony Joshua celebrates after beating Robert Helenius
There is no such thing as vintage Joshua; the great nights at the O2 and other vast indoor arenas, and the many wins out under the stars, have all had different elements. He has been raw, hurt, dropped, vulnerable, vicious and frustrated in fights before. There are a lot of contradictions in the fighting life and times of Anthony Joshua.
Joshua now has a fight planned for January next year in Saudi Arabia against Deontay Wilder; the fight is ready to go. It is a massive fight and Saturday night’s win against Helenius should not be used as a measure of Joshua’s chances.
Against Wilder, you see, it is all about concentration; fighting and beating Wilder has very little to do with punch resistance. The simple truth is that Wilder has dropped every single one of the 43 men he has beaten, he has knocked out 42 of them, including 21 in the first round. If Wilder connects, you go down – if he connects cleanly you don’t get up.
It is fully possible right now, on the very brink of a massive fight worth more than any British boxer has ever received, that Joshua, a veteran of the ring, has to sort out his boxing life. And that includes admitting where he wants to be in life.
On Saturday, his footwork was the best I have seen, the final shot the best he has thrown, but he hesitated, and seemed once or twice to be counting time between punches. Obviously, that version of Joshua would be an easy target for Wilder, but a more mobile Joshua can make it a real fight. And, that final right hand, delivered at the end of the jabs, will drop Wilder.
It was a win, a heavy knockout and it adds to the journey. Joshua should be celebrated for his role in British boxing’s boom and not mocked because of his behaviour. He is a heavyweight and his job is to knock out opponents and thank his fans. That is exactly what he did on Saturday night.
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