Home Columns Klitschko readiness rating: Is Robert Helenius ready for the Klitschkos?

Klitschko readiness rating: Is Robert Helenius ready for the Klitschkos?

Credit: Photo Wende & Winfried Mausolf

Evaluating Robert Helenius As An Opponent for The Klitschko Brothers

Our search for potential Klitschko challengers now takes us to Robert Helenius. The 17-0 (11 KOs) “Nordic Nightmare” was ballyhooed by many as the logical heir-apparent to the heavyweight throne–until his “win” over Dereck Chisora in December of 2011. That seemed to sour fans and media on Helenius, who has subsequently gone from a near-sensation to an afterthought.

Helenius hasn’t helped his cause by being inactive for all of 2012. A few wins would have cleared the air of the lingering stink from the Chisora fight, when Helenius was awarded an unjust split decision. Then again, it’s worth noting that many fighters who reached the top had bumps during their rise. Riddick Bowe seemed to get a gift against Tony Tubbs before he won the heavyweight title. Even Wladimir got stopped by journeyman Ross Purrity before winning a title belt. In addition, Helenius had serious shoulder surgery in January and needed a lot of time to recover, only just recently getting back to work in the gym.

Credit: Photo Wende & Winfried Mausolf

So writing off Helenius as an exposed fraud is a hasty judgment at this point. He seemed rather oafish against Chisora and his stamina was iffy at best. But by now, we surely realize that we can’t look for the perfect fighter because he may never come along. The pickings in the heavyweight division are so slim that we can’t be too particular when scouring the ranks for worthwhile candidates to end the Klitschko era.

Does Helenius have a chance against either Klitschko?

Sure he has a chance. How much of a chance is another matter. When evaluating talent, we tend to look at the abilities of a fighter more than how those skills mesh with their top competition. Helenius is a formidable physical force, and his power has developed as he has gained more experience. While four of his first five fights went the distance, Chisora was only the 2nd man to make it to the final bell with Helenius in his last dozen contests. He’s entertaining, big at 6’7” 240-ish, and has a mean streak that hasn’t been evident with many recent challengers to the Klitschko’s reigns.

Whether Helenius can match up well with the brothers Klitschko is problematic, but isn’t it for everyone?. He has a lot of tools and can be a force in the ring, but does he have the requisite ring smarts? Does he have the more invisible qualities he will need, like defense, guts, chin, and knowledge of ring angles? Theoretically, he has a chance, but it takes more than size and strength to beat the Klitschkos.

It looks doable. But beating a Klitschko is obviously a lot harder than it looks. You might sit there, imploring the challenger to just damn the torpedoes and bum-rush their way in to do damage. You try hitting a guy from halfway across the ring while running into telephone poles.

Both brothers are long, looking to retreat, and adept at keeping something in their opponent’s face. They are just incredibly hard to hit. It’s like trying to grab a quarter from the top of a basketball backboard. No fighters that come to mind have been able to make mastering distance in the ring such a hallmark part of their success.

Was Helenius overrated?

He may have gone from being overrated to underrated. Pre-Chisora, he was on everyone’s lips when the issue of up-and-coming heavyweights was discussed. Now, you barely hear his name. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. You can’t blame people for jumping the gun when looking for a good heavyweight. There has been such a famine that it’s understandable why people are eager to pin their hopes on someone.

Chisora’s performance against Helenius was the best the enigmatic Brit has ever looked. Considering Helenius’ past opponents, it’s a bit troubling that he struggled against the first good young fighter he faced. Helenius received major props for knocking out former titlists Lamon Brewster in his 11th fight and Sam Peter in his 15th fight, but both of those fighters were spent forces. We’re also forced to give Helenius a little benefit of the doubt being that he reportedly fought Chisora with a messed-up shoulder, as evidenced by the fact that he got it operated on the following month.

The Chisora fight and shoulder aside, it’s difficult to find a better prospect than Helenius, at least as far as beating a Klitschko is concerned. Fighters like Haye, Povetkin, and Adamek might be more established fighters, but would you rather see any of them in the ring with a Klitschko than Helenius? The 28-year old Swede is as big an X-factor in the division as anybody.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Helenius has youth and strength on his side. He’s a little deceiving. You see a big guy with a body that hardly inspires awe. Not that he’s not in good shape, but he’s in good shape for a guy shirtless mowing the lawn more than a professional fighter. His hair isn’t really helping, either. He should go back to the close-cropped look. In recent appearances, he has the same hair as the dummy Clint Eastwood left in his cell in Escape From Alcatraz. It just takes the mind a little time to catch up when seeing a balding blond Swedish heavyweight and take him seriously.

Despite all that, he is in fact surprisingly quick, nimble, and fluid for his size. He’s not slick and fluid in a Larry Holmes kind of way, but he strings his punches together well and has an innate sense of where to put the punches. He has a good arsenal of shots at his disposal and several different gears at which he can fight. When the situation calls for it, he’s quite ruthless and dogged in his attack.

You have to wonder about his availability to incoming shots, though. So far, he has mostly managed to tame the opposition with his offense, but Chisora revealed some deficits in the defensive game. Helenius keeps his head high and tends to lean in with it excessively when on the attack. It just might be a matter of time before he runs into the wrong opponent who can exploit that. Chisora would say he already did, but just didn’t get credit.

In Helenius’ favor is that he can take a good punch and isn’t too averse to getting hit. That might not sound like such a great attribute, but when trying to gauge how Helenius will do against a Klitschko, it’s important to know he isn’t going to fold like Francesco Damiani the first time he gets swatted in the face. If he’s going to beat a Klitschko, however, he should learn how to keep his chin tucked in better.

What can Helenius do to enhance his chances?

First thing he can do is get active. He’s seen no action in 2012 and as of this writing has nothing scheduled. He had shoulder surgery earlier this year, a problem that had already manifested itself prior to the Chisora fight, which gives Team Helenius a ready-made excuse for that result. Maybe the shoulder thing was a blessing in disguise.

Helenius can now ease himself back into action. If he had easily beaten Chisora, he might have been right on the verge of fighting a Klitschko. He now has the luxury of pushing that back to the end of 2013 or so, affording himself the opportunity to iron out some rough spots in his game.

While waiting for his big shot, he should fight some taller fighters–guys who can at least prepare him for the physical dimensions he will face with a Klitschko. Perhaps he will face guys who can hit him and get him thinking about making some defensive improvements–not squaring up so much, holding his hands higher, and not holding his head like he’s trying to peek over a fence.

Final Grade

Klitschko Readiness Rating: B

Judging the chances of Helenius against either Klitschko reminds me of handicapping an NFL football game. No teams have really scored on the Klitschkos lately and I think Helenius can move the ball better than any of the Klitschko’s recent foes. But defensively, he’s going to have trouble keeping either Klitschko out of the end zone.

Helenius has the physical tools to make life hard on Wladimir or Vitali. But while trying to to do his thing, he’ll be getting pelted with shots. He leads with his face and is not hard to find. His best chance is a gung-ho approach. If round after round, he can’t get within distance and is absorbing shots, he has no chance. But if he goes out there and really opens up quickly, he might be able to make things interesting.

A measured approach exposes him to the possibility of taking extended punishment. And when the Klitschkos get on a roll, it’s a wrap. Helenius can’t play that game. He doesn’t have the off-the-charts stamina or defense to play the waiting game. He should adopt a thoughtful approach, but one that calls for a lot of early action.

While his lack of polish and defense suggests a bad outcome against either Klitschko brother, who would you rather see fight the Klitschko brothers? See, it’s not easy to come up with quality names. Let’s keep an eye on his next few fights, as he builds up toward the opportunity. Something tells me that before it’s all said and done, the “Nordic Nightmare” is someone who could make some noise.

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Scott Levinson has been a rabid boxing fan since his earliest memories. A writer and educator, Scott has been studying the sport's history for over 25 years. He also has extensive knowledge of the game on an international level, as he has closely followed the sport in Europe, Asia, and South America for many years. He is based in the San Diego area, and can be contacted at scottmlevinson@yahoo.com.