The show goes on for Anthony Joshua.
An emergency replacement opponent was not only secured to face the former two-time, unified heavyweight titlist but came from an unlikely source. Finland’s Robert Helenius has stepped in on less than one week’s notice to face Joshua atop this Saturday’s show from The O2 in London.
The new main event also provided a shift in platform, as the card will now air live globally on DAZN. It was previously due to air on DAZN Pay-Per-View in the UK and select markets, but that medium was no longer in play once Joshua was forced to scramble for a new opponent.
Helenius fought just this past Saturday and agreed to replace Dillian Whyte, who was removed from the show after to a VADA-contracted pre-fight test sample returned adverse findings of a banned substance.
“This wasn’t in the script," said Joshua. "I respect Helenius and may I say, I respect any male or female who steps into the ring. I am laser focused on the win. I can make steps forward to bigger and better things but the road map has a check point, Saturday night. May the best man win.”
Watford’s Joshua (25-3, 22KOs) returned to the win column in a twelve-round, unanimous decision over Jermaine Franklin this past April 1, also at The O2. It marked his first fight under head trainer Derrick James, a move that was made a few months after a repeat defeat to Oleksandr Usyk (20-0, 13KOs) last August 20 in Saudi Arabia.
Joshua saw his second WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight title reign end in a prior September 2021 defeat to Usyk in North London.
On the table now is a potential superfight versus former WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder (43-2-1, 42KOs), which now appears likely to take place in early 2024. Joshua was determined to remain active, to the point of joining the mad dash with promoter Matchroom Boxing to find an opponent without disrupting the rest of the show.
Strangely, it comes versus the last opponent Wilder fought and defeated via first-round knockout.
Helenius 32-4 (21KOs) claimed back-to-back stoppage wins over Adam Kownacki—who was unbeaten prior to their March 2020 meeting—to land a high-profile clash versus Wilder. The night ended miserably for ‘The Nordic Nightmare’, who was iced by a single punch late in the opening round of their Fox Sports PPV headliner last October 15 in Brooklyn, New York.
The 39-year-old heavyweight rebounded with a third-round knockout of unbeaten Mika Mielonen just this past Saturday in his Finland homeland. He immediately emerged as a surprise frontrunner to land the assignment versus Joshua, which he accepted without hesitation.
"I am excited about fighting Anthony Joshua on August 12," said Helenius. "I am a true Viking that is willing to face any challenge at a moment's notice. This is not an opportunity I was going to let slip away. I plan to make the most of it!"
The rest of the undercard remains intact, including three heavyweight fights featuring four previously options to instead face Joshua.
Filip Hrgovic (15-0, 12 KOs) risks his IBF heavyweight mandatory position as he faces Australian southpaw Demsey McKean (22-0, 14 KOs), with a shot at the Usyk-Daniel Dubois winner hanging in the balance.
Faded former title challengers Derek Chisora (33-12, 23 KOs) and Gerald Washington (20-5-1, 13 KOs)—who owns a July 2019 knockout win over Helenius—meet in a ten round battle.
Rising prospect Johnny Fisher (9-0, 8 KOs) meets Harry Armstrong (5-1-1) in a ten-round regional title fight.
“We got to work and we have done what we’re good at – and we have managed to keep the show on,” said promoter Eddie Hearn. “AJ has been unbelievable throughout this whole process. He is someone who is ready to fight having trained for 12 weeks in Dallas with Derrick James. He has always been a great pro but this just shows me again the hunger he has for the sport. He wants to go out there this Saturday in front of a sold-out crowd at The O2.
“There were a lot of options. But we had to make sure it was the right fight for the right deal. I think Robert Helenius is a good fight. Yes, he lost to Deontay Wilder but that was by a shot that would have probably knocked out a horse! But he came to fight. He can really punch, he’s 6ft 8in and he won at the weekend. Ultimately there is criticism in whatever you do, but I actually think this is a tricky and dangerous fight."
Matchroom confirmed that tickets will remain valid for all existing ticketholders. Refunds will be available from the original point of purchase for ticketholders who no longer wish to attend the show given the change in the main event.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox