There is a reproductive strategy in some animals called Neoteny. In these animals, larval characteristics are retained by sexually mature adults. One of the best-known examples is the Axolotl, a tiger salamander that lives only in Mexico and retains its larval gills and fully aquatic lifestyle throughout its life because the environment around the lake where they live is too harsh for them to survive. The retention of these traits confers an advantage.
Many fighters retain juvenile habits and traits from the amateurs, often to their detriment. Very few of them actually look the part though. Enter Polish-American heavyweight Adam Kownacki (20-1, 15 KO), a man who not only refuses to discard his bad habits, but also looks like an obese 6’3″ toddler. If you looked beyond the face, physique, and total lack of defense, though, you’d see an absurd work rate, heavy hands, and a good chin.
Last night, in a bout aired on Fox from the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, those juvenile traits weren’t supposed to pose any problems against aged what-might-have-been, 36-year-old Robert Helenius (30-3, 19 KO). Helenius made a name for himself nearly a decade ago by starching several contenders and then having his career mostly derailed by injuries, and stoppage losses to Johann Duhaupas and Gerald Washington. If recent form was to be believed, Kownacki should have little trouble overwhelming the gawky Finn.
Kownacki opened the bout as he always does, by rushing Helenius and forcing him to fight off the back foot. The early pace was brisk, and Kownacki added in rabbit punches and low(ish) blows in the clinches that inevitably resulted. the Pole was getting the better of the action consistently, but Helenius was catching him with hard right hands, which were mixed between the head, and Kownacki’s ample abdomen.
By the 3rd round, Helenius’s right hands to the body had caught the attention of Fox’s Joe Goossen, who pointed out that they were forcing Kownacki to think. Late in the round, Kownacki bum-rushed Helenius into a corner, but the old boy proved too deft of foot, pivoting quickly, if not gracefully, out of the way and catching Kownacki on the side of his wide-open face with a short right hand. Kownacki shook it off and immediately began punching again. The crowd, who’d sat through an absolutely mind-numbing undercard, had a fight on their hands.
Pressure fighters tend to have pretty simple strategies. If the pressure you’re applying isn’t making your opponent wilt, the answer is to simply apply more. In 20 previous fights, that had worked perfectly for Kownacki. On this night, it would be his undoing. He started the 4th by rushing Helenius, forcing him into a corner. As in the prior round, Helenius pivoted away. Kownacki’s head was completely unguarded when the sneaky right from Helenius crashed home, dropping the Pole on his ass. The punch was so furtive that referee David Fields missed it completely and ruled it a slip. Kownacki rose quickly, but the following attack from Helenius punctuated by a crunching 2-3 put Kownacki flat on his back. And this time it counted. He rose gamely, but wobbly, and for his courage was battered around the ring until Fields was forced to intervene, waving off the fight at 1:08 of round 4.
This fight was an eliminator for one of the alphabet extortion gangs, the winner becoming the mandatory challenger to Anthony Joshua. In recent weeks, Kownacki has spoken of Joshua, as well as his desire to fight the winner of the Tyson Fury – Deontay Wilder rubber match. As Al Swearengen taught us though, “announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh.” It’s back to the drawing board for Kownacki and his team. Meanwhile, Helenius finds himself with a rejuvenated career and many options to pursue, all of which should be lucrative.