Fighting means everything to Robert Helenius. “The Nordic Nightmare” has been boxing professionally since 2008 and has over 200 amateur fights on his resume. Even before he started in the amateurs, fighting has been in Helenius’ DNA.
“My father was a boxing trainer and he had himself boxed in Sweden,” Helenius told FIGHT SPORTS when training in New Era, Deontay Wilder’s gym in Alabama. “When we moved back to Finland he just took me and my brothers with him to training and we kind of got stuck there. I’ve been training since I have been about 10-11 years old. I have over 200 amateur fights. After that, I got a professional contract and moved to Germany. I lived there for six years, boxed many fights there and now I am boxing here (in America).”
“Robert is very ready for this fight,” said Kownacki’s trainer Johan Lindstrom. “His determination has been top-notch all of training camp. You can see the fire in his training. He pushes more on sparring, on cardio, etc. I think he has all the ingredients in place to get the victory.”
Helenius (29-3) was born in Sweden but his family moved to Finland when he was two. While he has dual citizenship, he has that connection to the Finnish fans that make him an international sensation. He earned the “Nordic Nightmare” nickname while in Germany; a reporter stated he reminded him of one, and the name stuck. A European And IBF International Heavyweight Champion, Helenius has always put the entire Nordic region on his back.
“It means a lot,” Helenius stated when talking about what boxing means to him. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe in myself anymore. I think I could find an easier job somewhere, but boxing is to me, it’s a lot like a lifestyle; you live it. You have to eat correctly, sleep correctly, train correctly, do everything around boxing. Even when I’m with family and we go away on vacation, boxing is my whole life. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid.
“Representing Finland, of course, I want to do big things. I’m already a two-time European Champion, but I want to go for the gold, to be a world champion. That’s my goal.”
Helenius who is 4-1 in his last five fights, may get that opportunity with a huge win on Saturday night. He faces off against Adam Kownacki on March 7 inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The fight is a WBA Heavyweight Title Eliminator bout, with the gold held by Anthony Joshua.
FIGHT SPORTS has secured the NORDIC broadcasting rights to Kownacki v. Helenius on FIGHT SPORTS MAX. The area is one of 40 countries FIGHT SPORTS has the rights for, including the MENA region.
The man with 18 wins via knockout was close to fighting in an eliminator bout back in July, when he faced Gerald Washington in his first fight inside the United States. One mistake costed Helenius, as Washington knocked him out in the eighth round. Washington went on to face Charles Martin in an IBF eliminator bout a few weeks ago, losing via TKO. The loss against Washington still stings, but it is a motivator for Helenius to prove himself this time out.
“At first of course it was devastating,” Helenius continued. “I didn’t want to believe it, that I could lose to that level of a fighter. I felt poor for a couple of weeks, but then I started training again then I was more motivated than ever. I wanted to come back and I wanted to show that I am better than this.”
Helenius came back from the loss, which ended a three-fight win streak, and beat Mateus Roberto Osorio via knockout back in November. He faces off against a Brooklyn local in Kownacki (20-0). The Polish fighter has fought inside the Barclays Center nine times, and this will be his fifth time in a row there. He headlines for the second time and has 15 wins via knockout.
New York fans are known to be very passionate. Helenius, however, doesn’t seem to care about the “home advantage” Kownacki appears to have.
“The crowd can chant all they want for Kownacki, it is not going to affect me in any way,” said Helenius. “I’m going to come out there and be myself, and I’m going to win.
Regardless of where they are, how exactly does one prepare for a fighter like Kownacki?
“I’ve been preparing for Kownacki for a long time,” Helenius stated. “A lot of pad and bag work. A lot of cardio because I know he’s going to come and throw a lot of punches. He has a lot of volume, so we talked about how we are going to deal with this. I think it suits my style.
“We’ve been doing a lot of cardio. I haven’t stopped training since my last fight. Of course, I’ve had a couple of days off on Christmas Eve and stuff like that… I’ve been thinking one thing: to go to a high-level fight for a long, long time. I’m ready.”
Kownacki is known for his punching power. In his last fight against Chris Arreola back in August, the two broke the CompuBox record for the most combined punches thrown (2,172) and landed (668) in a heavyweight fight.
“I saw the fight with Kownacki and Arreola,” Helenius reflected. “It was a tough fight, hard fight. I think that’s going to make him a little bit stronger, because a hard fight is always a hard fight. That’s good experience, in my book. It doesn’t affect this fight that much. I think I have my game plan and when I stick to my game plan it’s going to work out fine.”
Out of Kownacki’s 15 wins via KO, only one fight has gone past the fifth. With his power, however, comes a few flaws. Helenius is looking to expose Kownacki by any means necessary.
“I have to stick and move. Of course, you can go in and brawl with him, but because he is shorter and heavier than me that’s stupid,” Helenius went on to say. “He is just going to wear me down If I’m going to go and brawl with him. I could do that. My best skill is to use my boxing. I have good technique. I’m going to use my technique and my boxing skills to outbox him.
“I’m prepared to go 12 rounds with Kownacki, but you never know, boxing is kind of funny like that. One shot can end a fight, so, I don’t know.”
“I think the age gap will benefit Robert because of experience,” said Lindstrom. “Kownacki has not met a fighter like Robert, his style is completely different. There are a lot of brawlers like Kownacki but there are not so many boxers like Robert.”
To prepare for the fight, Helenius entered United States soil two weeks before the fight. He wanted to get used to the atmosphere, the time change and the food. Stating he is normally asleep when fights start in the United States, everything has to be perfect. Even the smallest difference in his normal routine is huge.
Kownacki’s power does not bother Helenius. The veteran has seen some of the best boxing has to offer and laughed at them in the face. When it comes to the game plan he mentioned earlier, Helenius knows what Kownacki brings to the table.
“I think the punching power is not as high as mine,” Helenius stated. “He has more volume; he’s destroying opponents by doing more volume than the opponent is doing. The Arreola fight was pretty close as well. Arreola in the end rounds, he was a little more dominating. Kownacki throws a lot of punches and I think that can be effective as a strong puncher.”
While he will only focus on the fight at hand, Helenius understands the entire Nordic region will be watching. If they have doubts and decided for whatever reason to not tune in, Helenius’ message could encourage them to potentially witness a history-making moment.
“When I go home after being the true contender for a world title that’s going to mean the most to myself,” Kownacki stated. “Of course the Finnish media as well, but to prove to myself that I’m in this for real. I’ve been in this branch for so long and I’ve been training and fighting on. I want to show myself that whatever you put your mind to you can achieve.
“Boxing fans in the Nordics, they should definitely tune into this fight. It is one of the biggest fights in the Nordics in a long long time. I hope that they are going to be interested and want to watch this fight. They are going to see a spectacular fight. Kownacki has never lost, so this is going to be a new experience for him.”