Breaking down Robert Helenius’ major upset of Adam Kownacki

In a fight that was presumed to be an afterthought for Adam Kownacki, Robert Helenius earned a TKO victory in Saturday night’s heavyweight title eliminator at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and likely set himself up for at least a few significant fights to come.

To put this fight into perspective, sportsbook William Hill had Kownacki as a -2500 favorite as betting closed, as compared to +900 odds for Helenius. This was not supposed to happen.

So how did we get another major upset in the heavyweight division? Let’s break down the biggest questions of the night.

What happened to Kownacki? Did he overlook Helenius?

While it’s impossible to get inside the mind of Kownacki, who like every other fighter will give you the cliché about taking every opponent seriously and focusing on one fight at a time, I find it hard to believe he wasn’t caught looking ahead just a bit. There’s a reason Helenius was selected: He’s 36 years old, and just two fights ago, he was stopped in eight rounds by the limited Gerald Washington. Helenius was thought of as a relatively safe opponent with a bit of name recognition.

A right hand in the fourth round sent Kownacki down near the blue corner (which was incorrectly ruled a slip by referee David Fields) and that started his downfall. While Helenius didn’t get credit for the knockdown, the physical damage was done. Helenius was potentially aided by the missed call, in fact, as Kownacki wasn’t given the customary mandatory eight count. Kownacki was quickly sent down to the canvas for the first official knockdown, and once he got up, he faced a barrage by Helenius. Fields waved off the fight at 1:08 of the round to cement the shock result.

Premier Boxing Champions, which only recently had all four major heavyweight titles back at the start of December with Deontay Wilder and Andy Ruiz Jr., was lining up Kownacki for the WBA belt, as this was billed as an elimination bout, despite the logjam of fights already in place. Given the fact that he has become a significant draw at Barclays Center with his sizable contingent of Polish fans in Brooklyn, the Kownacki Express was supposed to keep on rolling.

Instead, we had a train wreck. You wonder if Kownacki and his team regret turning down that incredibly lucrative offer to face unified titleholder Anthony Joshua on short notice as a late replacement for Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller in June 2019.

Where do these two fighters go, considering the current landscape of the heavyweight division?

For Helenius, you try to go for the biggest money fight possible. With his victory over Kownacki, he now puts himself in position with the WBA (whose belt is held by Joshua), but chances are Helenius will have to wait in line for that opportunity, behind Kubrat Pulev — and potentially behind the winner of Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder III and Oleksandr Usyk. But suddenly “The Nordic Nightmare” is a wanted man who has punched his ticket to a few more paydays in the heavyweight division.

How about Ruiz? Ruiz-Kownacki had been bandied about before this weekend, and, well, why not reward the guy who just upset the apple cart? How would Ruiz deal with the height and right hand of Helenius? It would be an intriguing fight, given the respective styles of both fighters.

As for Kownacki, who felt as though he was just a step or two from a heavyweight title shot, he’ll have to move further back in line. But he is still a marketable fighter. Given his association with PBC, a fight against Charles Martin, who recently knocked out Washington on the Wilder-Fury II undercard, is a very makeable fight and one that could get Kownacki back on track — if he wins. There’s also Dominic Breazeale, who is still a recognizable name and would give Kownacki a chance to deal with another tall fighter with a long reach — something that, given his size and stature, Kownacki must learn how to deal with if he wants to succeed at heavyweight.

Something else to consider for Kownacki: For Saturday night’s fight, he weighed in just a touch over 265 pounds, at 6-foot-3. Just a few years ago, when Kownacki stopped Artur Szpilka in four rounds, he was 242. No matter who he faces in the near future, less is more.

Is the heavyweight division just more susceptible to upsets?

In a word, yes. Because in this particular weight class, one well-placed punch can change the course of a fight like no other. Go back to Ruiz’s upset of Joshua. A left hook clipped Joshua in the third round, and that forever altered the course of that fight. Then a couple of weeks ago, the right hand that Fury used to knock Wilder down in the third round of their rematch basically foreshadowed the ending of that contest.

When you have the biggest and strongest men in boxing punching one another, anything can happen. While one singular punch didn’t necessarily end those bouts, such a punch certainly shaped how they played out. Once he was stunned, Kownacki never truly regained his bearings, and he paid the price.

Goossen announces he will be training Pulev for his upcoming title shot against Joshua in June. Can he help Pulev pull off the upset?

Joe Goossen is one of the best trainers in the sport. He has a long history of developing fighters from scratch, from Gabe and Rafael Ruelas to Michael Nunn; but he also has taken over the careers of guys such as Diego Corrales and Joel Casamayor and led them to productive careers.

Will any of this be of service to Pulev, who is a heavy underdog to Joshua?

That remains to be seen, but this much is known: Goossen also is one of the elite troubleshooters in the sport. You give him some time to formulate a game plan, and really work with a fighter over a few months, and he can absolutely make a difference in a fight. He also is one of the best corner jockeys you’ll ever see.

Case in point: In August, he took a shopworn Chris Arreola and led him into battle with Kownacki, and they gave the popular Polish fighter hell over 12 entertaining rounds. While they didn’t come out with the victory, there’s no doubting Goossen made his mark.

And let’s not forget that Joshua is still looked upon as a vulnerable guy because of his knockout loss to Ruiz in June. Joshua then played it really safe against Ruiz in the rematch. The key for Goossen will be to get Pulev to buy in to his game plan, which will most likely feature aggression and then looking for openings.

The presence of Goossen alone makes this matchup more interesting, at the very least.

What did promising up-and-comers Ajagba and Sanchez show you?

Both heavyweight hopefuls on the Kownacki-Helenius undercard came out victorious and remained undefeated, but they also showed that they aren’t quite ready for prime time.

Efe Ajagba wore down a game Razvan Cojanu over nine rounds, wearing him down with his heavy, two-fisted attack. There’s no denying Ajagba’s physical strength and punching prowess, but you wonder if he’s a bit too stiff and methodical.

Frank Sanchez won a clear 10-round decision over veteran Joey Dawejko in a rather dreary affair that was devoid of action for the most part. Trained by Eddy Reynoso, whose most famous client is Canelo Alvarez, Sanchez came into the pro game with a deep amateur pedigree forged in Cuba. While he has a set of fast hands, Sanchez seemed very reluctant versus the smaller Dawejko to let them go or engage all that much. It left you wondering how Sanchez would deal with real pressure from the bigger heavyweights, moving forward.

Time is, thankfully, on the side of Ajagba and Sanchez, as they are 25 and 27, respectively.

FIGHT SCHEDULE

BELLATOR 241: PITBULL VS. CARVALHO

March 13, 2020

  • Patricio Freire vs. Pedro Carvalho TITLE FIGHT

UFC FIGHT NIGHT: LEE VS. OLIVEIRA

March 14, 2020

ESPN+ EARLY PRELIMS 5:00 PM EST, ESPN+ MAIN CARD 8:00 PM EST

MAIN CARD

  • Kevin Lee vs. Charles Oliveira
  • Demian Maia vs. Gilbert Burns
  • Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Alexey Kunchenko

UNDERCARD

  • Jussier Formiga vs. Brandon Moreno
  • Gustavo da Silva vs. David Dvorak
  • Renato Moicano vs. Damir Hadzovic
  • Maryna Moroz vs. Mayra Bueno Silva
  • Randa Markos vs. Amanda Ribas
  • Rani Yahya vs. Enrique Barzola
  • Veronica Macedo vs. Bea Malecki
  • Johnny Walker vs. Nikita Krylov

UFC FIGHT NIGHT: WOODLEY VS. EDWARDS

March 21, 2020

ESPN+ PRELIMS 1:00 PM EST, ESPN+ MAIN CARD 4:00 PM EST

MAIN CARD

  • Tyron Woodley vs. Leon Edwards
  • Danny Roberts vs. Nicolas Dalby
  • Darren Stewart vs. Marvin Vettori
  • Jack Shore vs. Geraldo de Freitas
  • Jack Marshman vs. Kevin Holland

UNDERCARD

  • Molly McCann vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith
  • Paul Craig vs. Ryan Spann
  • Lerone Murphy vs. Gabriel Benitez
  • Bartosz Fabinski vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov
  • John Phillips vs. Dusko Todorovic
  • Mike Grundy vs. Makwan Amirkhani

UFC ON ESPN: NGANNOU VS. ROZENSTRUIK

March 28, 2020

ESPN PRELIMS 4:00 PM EST, ESPN MAIN CARD 7:00 PM EST

MAIN CARD

  • Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
  • Raphael Assuncao vs. Cody Garbrandt
  • Aspen Ladd vs. Julianna Pena

UNDERCARD

  • Tecia Torres vs. Mizuki Inoue
  • Matt Brown vs. Miguel Baeza
  • Cody Stamann vs. Raoni Barcelos
  • Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan De Castro
  • Sam Alvey vs. Khalil Rountree
  • Louis Smolka vs. Davey Grant
  • Martin Day vs. Randy Costa

UFC FIGHT NIGHT: OVEREEM VS. HARRIS

April 11, 2020

MAIN CARD

  • Alistair Overeem vs. Walt Harris
  • Carla Esparza vs. Michelle Waterson
  • Vicente Luque vs. Randy Brown
  • Eryk Anders vs. Krzysztof Jotko

UNDERCARD

  • Derek Brunson vs. Edmen Shahbazyan
  • Tristan Connelly vs. Alex da Silva Coelho
  • Don’tale Mayes vs. Rodrigo Nascimento
  • Niko Price vs. Muslim Salikhov
  • Markus Perez vs. Alessio Di Chirico
  • Julia Avila vs. Karol Rosa

UFC 249: KHABIB VS. FERGUSON

April 18, 2020

MAIN CARD

  • Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov TITLE FIGHT
  • Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas
  • Jeremy Stephens vs. Calvin Kattar
  • Karl Roberson vs. Makhmud Muradov

UNDERCARD

  • Lyman Good vs. Belal Muhammad
  • Uriah Hall vs. Ronaldo Souza
  • Khama Worthy vs. Ottman Azaitar
  • Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Ciryl Gane
  • Ben Rothwell vs. Gian Villante
  • Sijara Eubanks vs. Sarah Moras

UFC FIGHT NIGHT: SMITH VS. TEIXEIRA

April 25, 2020

MAIN CARD

  • Anthony Smith vs. Glover Teixeira
  • Evan Dunham vs. Michael Johnson
  • Anthony Rocco Martin vs. David Zawada

UNDERCARD

  • Ovince Saint Preux vs. Shamil Gamzatov
  • Mackenzie Dern vs. Ariane Carnelossi
  • Zak Cummings vs. Andrew Sanchez
  • Cynthia Calvillo vs. Antonina Shevchenko

UFC FIGHT NIGHT: HERMANSSON VS. WEIDMAN

May 2, 2020

MAIN CARD

  • Jack Hermansson vs. Chris Weidman

UNDERCARD

  • Sarah Alpar vs. Vanessa Melo
  • Andrei Arlovski vs. Philipe Lins
  • Claudia Gadelha vs. Marina Rodriguez
  • Ed Herman vs. Da Un Jung

BELLATOR 242: BADER VS. NEMKOV

May 9, 2020

UFC 250: CEJUDO VS ALDO

May 9, 2020

  • Henry Cejudo vs. Jose Aldo TITLE FIGHT

UFC FIGHT NIGHT: SAN DIEGO

May 16, 2020

UFC 251

June 6, 2020

UFC FIGHT NIGHT: KAZAKHSTAN

June 13, 2020

UFC FIGHT NIGHT: SASKATOON

June 20, 2020