By Paul Magno
It’ll be a heavyweight slugfest with major implications when the undefeated Adam Kownacki takes on veteran Robert Helenius Saturday night on FOX.
With the heavyweight division in the forefront of boxing fans’ minds, two hungry contenders step forward for their own chance to make waves in the red-hot big man division.
This Saturday, March 7 live from Barclays Center in Brooklyn and atop a FOX PBC Fight Night and FOX Deportes card (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT), undefeated hometown battler Adam “Babyface” Kownacki (20-0, 15 KOs) meets the man known as “The Nordic Nightmare,” Robert Helenius (29-3, 18 KOs), in a 12-round WBA heavyweight title eliminator.
Adam Kownacki is a throwback fighter with a throwback story. Born in Lomza, Poland, he moved to Brooklyn with his family at age seven. in pursuit of the American Dream and eventually found his calling in the boxing ring. After an accomplished amateur career, he moved on to the pros, where he is now an undefeated contender ranked within the top six of all four recognized sanctioning bodies.
This upcoming bout will be Kownacki’s 10th at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and his second in a row as a headliner. He’s become a popular local draw with his crowd-pleasing, all-action style and is now working his way toward a shot at becoming boxing’s first Polish world heavyweight champ.
Robert Helenius was once considered one of the most fearsome heavyweights on the European fight scene. In 2011, at the top of his game and just steps away from a world title shot, an undefeated 27-year-old Helenius registered victories over Samuel Peter, Siarhei Liakhovich, and Dereck Chisora before suffering a shoulder injury that required major surgery.
Since returning from that setback, the Sweden-born Finnish fighter is 12-3 and, despite losses to Johann Duhaupas, Dillian Whyte, and Gerald Washington, he’s maintained his status as a dangerous, high-end heavyweight contender.
This fight with Kownacki, Helenius’ second in the U.S., represents a shortcut to a world title shot, something which would be the culmination of his life’s work as a fighter.
As a WBA heavyweight title eliminator, the winner of this bout will be in line for an important and lucrative title shot. He’ll also likely move into an overall top five slot in the division, behind the big three of Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, and Anthony Joshua.
Kownacki is the epitome of a volume puncher and pressure fighter. There’s nothing fancy or particularly nuanced about the game of the 30-year-old battler. He comes forward and throws leather, testing the will and conditioning of opposition and keeps doing what he does until the man in front of him breaks. He is more patient and calculated than the typical pressure fighter, but his calm and consistent approach has been just as effective as a hard-charging forward rush style. Although he does have some pop, especially in his right hand, his offensive bread and butter is volume. Up until now, this approach has worked flawlessly for him with high-water mark victories coming against Artur Szpilka, Charles Martin, Gerald Washington, and, most recently, Chris Arreola.
Defensively, he has some liabilities and can be hit. However, a solid sense of timing and an “offense is the best defense” approach has generally kept him out of trouble.
“ I’m in shape and ready to showcase my skills. ”Undefeated Heavyweight Contender – Adam Kownacki
Helenius is an awkward straight up and down fighter with one-punch KO power. At nearly 6-foot-7 with a 79-inch reach, he’s most effective on the outside where he can use his physical attributes to strike from a distance. An awkward sense of timing also contributes to his effectiveness on offense as it makes his long-range attacks, launched at sometimes odd angles, fairly unpredictable.
There are some real holes in Helenius’ defensive game, however, and those shortcomings have cost him dearly in big fights. Aside from a relatively slow reaction time, he has a tendency to throw a sloppy jab, which makes him susceptible to a counter right hand. His habit of keeping his hands low, especially as a fight progresses and fatigue sets in, also makes him vulnerable to incoming shots.
“This will be my second time headlining at Barclays Center and having the whole New York community, especially the Polish fans, coming out to support me really feels amazing. I grew up in Brooklyn, so seeing my face everywhere on ads and billboards is a great feeling. There’s definitely a little bit of added pressure being in that situation, but diamonds are made with pressure.
“Helenius is going to come in with the mindset as if I’m a world champion. I know he’s going to try to take my spot in the rankings…But I’m motivated too. I’m in shape and ready to showcase my skills.”
“This is the fight I have been waiting for. All of the years of training and fighting will pay off when we fight on March 7. Kownacki is about to feel the strength of Thor’s hammer. I respect him for taking this fight, but he chose the wrong opponent. This is not going to be a fight; it’s going to be a war. I will be the last man standing.”
The big question in this heavyweight contest is whether Helenius can stop Kownacki from plowing forward and launching his volume-punching offense. With both big men having defensive liabilities, both will likely take big shots and the outcome of the bout will be determined by how well each can take those shots.
The 36-year-old Helenius does best when he can exploit a size and strength advantage and, while he may have the better one-punch power of the two on Saturday, he’s only about three inches taller than Kownacki with a three-inch reach advantage and, most likely, a double-digit weight disadvantage come fight night. He’ll need to be more active than usual and work to earn Kownacki’s respect in order to slow down the pace and establish preferred distance.
Career momentum is definitely in Kownacki’s favor on Saturday night. He’ll also have home field advantage in his adopted hometown of Brooklyn. Most everything seems to be pointing in his favor in this title eliminator, but even the most well-crafted of dreams has been shattered to pieces with the impact of one heavyweight knockout punch. The “Nordic Nightmare” certainly has the ability to ruin Kownacki’s American Dream run to a world title.