Anthony Joshua knocks out Robert Helenius, wants Deontay Wilder next

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Anthony Joshua scored a spectacular seventh-round knockout of Robert Helenius on Saturday at the O2 Arena, setting up a potential showdown next with fellow former world heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder.

Joshua (26-3, 23 KOs) produced a brilliant finish after a sluggish, tentative start in a performance that was more patient than explosive. The knockout came 1 minute, 27 seconds into Round 7.

Representatives from Saudi Arabia were in London this weekend to discuss a fight between Joshua and Wilder (43-2-1, 42 KOs) with Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn for January.

“That’s the fight we want,” Hearn said in the ring afterward. “We have a three-fight plan: Robert Helenius, Deontay Wilder and [WBC champion] Tyson Fury. That’s the ambition of the team.

“He’s a mature heavyweight now, and against Helenius he took his time to deliver one of the knockouts of the year. He’s ready now for some marquee fights. He’s smarter now. He’s going to take less risks.”

Helenius (32-5, 21 KOs) was a late substitute, taking the fight on a week’s notice after it was announced Dillian Whyte had failed a drug test, but it was still a significant win for Joshua.

It was the English boxer’s first stoppage since he knocked out Kubrat Pulev in nine rounds in December 2020, following back-to-back points defeats to Oleksandr Usyk, the WBA, IBF and WBO world champion, and a cautious unanimous points win over Jermaine Franklin in April.

After a timid start, Joshua eventually let his hands go to knock out Helenius with a thunderous right hand. It was a finish to add to his highlight reels.

Joshua, 33, seemed uninterested in matching Wilder’s quick knockout of Helenius, which came in the closing seconds of the first round of their bout last October.

Helenius, 39, only agreed to fight Joshua following his third-round stoppage over Mika Mielonen in his native Finland seven days ago. He landed the first decent punch of the fight Saturday, a body shot, in the second round.

The O2 Arena was a few thousand short of capacity after the change of opponent, and those who were there began to jeer at the lack of action in the third round. Joshua seemed reluctant to throw shots, when a single right hand was his only notable punch.

Joshua, who made seven defenses in two reigns as world champion (2016 to 2019 and 2019 to 2021), threatened to launch an attack when Helenius slipped onto the ropes in the fourth round. But Helenius escaped with just a bloody nose from a short, hard jab.

Joshua started the fifth full of confidence and landed a crunching right as he began to let his punches flow more. Joshua got through with a left hook early in the fifth round, and later in the round another left hook wobbled Helenius.

But it was single shots rather than flowing combinations from Joshua, and once again the crowd began to vent their dissatisfaction in the sixth round.

Joshua responded by ending the fight in the next round with a huge right hand that caught Helenius as he was leaning back. Helenius fell flat on the canvas.

Joshua immediately jumped out of the ring to celebrate with his family and friends.