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Robert Helenius: Why some B-side "opponents" are underrated and can be very dangerous

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Lee Cleveland Updated
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Win or lose, it's a beautiful thing when a hungry athlete who has paid his dues but suffered some setbacks gets an opportunity to change his career and ultimately his life's direction (literally) overnight.


How often are boxing fans discouraged when they learn a young up-and-coming contender has signed to face an presumed "opponent" instead of a champion or another foe on an upward trajectory?

(Main image courtesy of Premier Boxing Champions, Michael Ham)

You know what we mean by "opponents."

We have all kinds of nicknames for them, from "journeymen" and "stiffs" to "tomato cans" and "professional losers."

Unfortunately, boxing fans and media don't give those match-ups enough attention, and we often fail to give the A-side favorite the credit he deserves when he's victorious because he was supposed to win anyway, right?

But defeating a quality, motivated foe is often easier said than done, even if he's the strong B-side and underdog.

Several weeks ago, a surging Adam Kownacki faced one of those "opponents" in front of many of the former's adoring fans in Brooklyn. 

Fresh off a fine performance on ESPN against Chris Arreola, Kownacki was 20-0 with 15 KOs and was seemingly just a win away from a title shot in 2021.

Heading into the bout, Adam & Co had assembled quite a checklist en route to making Kownacki a true powerbroker in the division: 

  1. Big time media exposure.... Check (The fight was aired live on FOX)
  2. Big time promoter .... Check
  3. High heavyweight ranking .... Check
  4. A growing fan base ... Check
  5. Fan-friendly location and venue.... Check
  6. A quality "opponent" with several loses who might give Kownacki problems but is too vulnerable to win... Check

Enter Robert Helenius, the "opponent" (i.e. the fella who was supposed lose)

At 29-3, 19 KOs he boasted a fine record and had good wins against top contenders, thus making him fairly marketable. However, Helenius hadn't legitimately defeated a real contender in nearly 9 years (TKO 9 vs Siarhei Liakhovich, Aug 2011) and was noticeably not the same after suffering a very serious shoulder injury later that year.

helenius


Moreover, he'd had three losses since his last signature win, including a stoppage defeat to marginal contender Gerald Washington in 2019; And he struggled to beat Yury Bykhautsou (then 10-14-3) in 2018 in their first bout. That stated, he was 5-1 in his last six bouts.

On paper, the 36 year old Helenius was the perfect "opponent" for the 30 year old Kownacki. But, unfortunately for Team Kownacki the Finnish veteran refused to read the script and pummelled the usually steal-chinned Kownacki into submission inside of four rounds.

Oopps!

boxing LR TGB PBC ON FOX WEIGH IN KOWNACKI VS HELENIUS TRAPPFOTOS 03062020 8114It was supposed to be a coronation of sorts for Adam Kownacki; He was the leading man and star of the show...Before the fight started.

Helenius entered that fight well-prepared and hungry, and knew an upset would re-invigorate his career.

Those B-side "opponents" fans and media often take for granted can be dangerous foes, as Helenius so viciously reminded us.

And no, they aren't professional losers. They understand an upset over a highly-favored A-side is tantamount to hitting the jackpot so they are often in top shape, physically and mentally.

One can say Robert Helenius hit the jackpot. He's a powerbroker of sorts for the first time in nine years and people are talking about him getting a high money title shot.

Finally, after overcoming a string of injuries and illness and few disappointing outings in recent years, Helenius is waiting for confirmation of a possible WBA final eliminator.

robert helenius
Next time you see a heavily favored A-side fighter face an obvious B-side with a few losses, keep in mind the latter intends to make good on the opportunity he's been granted.

Oftentimes, he doesn't see himself as the "opponent," even in situations when he realizes he's the clear underdog.

Moreover, like Helenius, he's usually a polished pro with good experience and has achieved enough success in his career to be supremely confident.

And, of course, he knows a win - or even a valiant effort in defeat - will catapult his career and propel stock value in the sport.

Hence, higher purses. Sometimes, exponentially higher.

Win or lose, it's a beautiful thing when a hungry athlete who has paid his dues but suffered some setbacks gets an opportunity to change his career and ultimately his life's direction (literally) overnight.

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