Journeyman Helenius stuns previously unbeaten Kownacki
NEW YORK (AP) — For one round in just his second fight in the United States, the Nordic Nightmare lived up to his nickname.
Finland's Robert Helenius stunned heavily favored Adam Kownacki with a powerful barrage in the fourth round Saturday night, stopping the previously undefeated heavyweight in a WBA eliminator at the Barclays Center.
The 35-year-old veteran was holding his own but hardly in control when he hurt Kownacki just after the Pole had slipped to the canvas. Whether Kownacki, who now lives in Brooklyn, somehow hurt himself on the slip was difficult to tell, but he never was the same — thanks greatly to Helenius' right hand.
“I knew that I hit him hard and I knew I just had to continue,” Helenius said. “I knew he was still hurt after that punch.”
An overwhelmingly pro-Kownacki crowd of 8,811 at Barclays Center, many decked in red-and-white shirts with either Polska or Kownacki emblazoned on them, chanted and cheered for three rounds. Then Helenius landed a massive right followed by a left that decked Kownacki, who never recovered.
Dazed throughout the rest of the fourth round, Kownacki barely defended himself against the onslaught of punches from his 6-foot-6 1-2 opponent, whose reach was decisive.
Referee David Fields stopped it at 1:08 of the fourth. Kownacki was ahead on all three judges' cards.
“He just kept coming and coming," Helenius said of the earlier rounds. "He's a good fighter, I have to give it to him. My strength is to punch back when people come at me. It was a good fight and a tremendous opportunity for me to be here.”
The loss is a major setback for the 30-year-old Kownacki, who could have been in line for a title bout — though not this year — with an impressive showing. Now, he'll have to work his way back in a division dominated by three men: Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder.
Kownacki (20-1) has made the Barclays Center a second home, winning nine times in the arena. But Helenius (30-3, 19 knockouts) evicted him Saturday night.
“It wasn't my night. It's boxing," he said. "It's a tough sport and things just didn't go my way tonight. It was a learning experience and I'm going to go back to the drawing board and get back to work.
"He hit me with a good shot. I knew what was going on, but I'm just upset with myself."
The fight, broadcast on Fox, headlined a night of heavyweights in which Nigeria's Efe Ajagba pummeled Rozvan Cojanu for eight rounds, then stopped the Romanian with a series of head and body shots late in the ninth.
It was never a contest as Ajagba, 25, improved to 13-0 with 11 knockouts. He may have been slow and awkward at times, but he easily outpunched the overmatched Cojanu, now 17-7, with four losses by knockout.
“Cojanu has a lot of experience,” Ajagba said. “When I threw my jab, he used his right hand to block my vision, so I couldn't throw as many combinations as I wanted. It was a good challenge.”
Then Ajagba began attacking the body.
“It was very effective and it started to slow him down,” he added. “When he got close to me, I knew to throw more and punish him.”
Cuba's rising heavyweight Frank Sanchez nearly pitched a shutout in a 10-round decision over Philadelphia's Joey Dawejko. The fight was dull and devoid of much action; it isn't likely to do much for the resume of the 27-year-old Sanchez, who had a highly successful amateur career and now is 15-0 as a pro.
Dawejko (20-8-4) has lost four of his last five outings and did more taunting than punching in the ring.
“I didn't want to fight Dawejko's fight, and he realized that and it frustrated him," Sanchez said. "He might have thought he's faced guys like me, but there's no other heavyweight like me.”