NEW YORK -- Heavyweight Robert Helenius, a 10-to-1 underdog who had taken a beating for most of the first three rounds, rallied for a shocking fourth-round technical knockout of contender Adam Kownacki in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions on Fox card on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Most of the crowd of 8,811 was decked out in the red and white of the Polish flag and cheering wildly for Kownacki, whose goal of becoming the first Polish heavyweight champion took a huge hit as he was stopped on his feet while taking punishment, leaving his fans in shock.
The fight was a title elimination bout and Helenius moved a step closer to an eventual shot at one of three-belt world titlist Anthony Joshua's belts, although Joshua has two mandatory defenses looming for the remainder of his 2020 schedule against Kubrat Pulev in June and Oleksandr Usyk probably in the fall.
But the 6-foot-6, 239-pound Helenius (30-3, 19 KOs), 36, a Sweden native fighting out of Finland, will have plenty to celebrate after the improbable win on Kownacki's turf. Kownacki was fighting at Barclays Center for the 10th time and for the fifth time in a row as one of boxing's growing attractions.
"I want to thank everyone who gave me this opportunity," Helenius said. "Kownacki is a tough fighter. I worked hard in training camp and it paid off."
Kownacki was ahead 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 on the scorecards after the third round and appeared well on his way to victory as he was landing many more punches than Helenius, who landed just 49 of 228 shots (22%), according to CompuBox statistics. Kownacki connected with 84 of 224 (38%), many of them very solidly.
In taking his first defeat, Kownacki did not complain and gave Helenius credit.
"It wasn't my night. It's boxing," a disappointed Kownacki 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."
The fight began with a fast pace as Kownacki and Helenius wasted no time feeling each other out. The 6-3, 265-pound Kownacki (20-1, 15 KOs), 30, who has lived in Brooklyn since moving from Poland as a child, pressed forward throwing shots to the head and body and Helenius threw right back even if he did not connect with as many punches.
There were heavy exchanges in the second round as both landed powerful blows and forced the other back. But it was Kownacki who got the better of the action, including landing a left hook that rocked Helenius before landing several more shots that had him in trouble at the end of the round.
Kownacki continued to plow forward in the third round as he knocked Helenius around the ring. He landed right hands, body shots and left hooks, forcing Helenius to cover up and grab. Helenius had awful body language and looked exhausted by the time the one-sided round ended.
"He just kept coming and coming. He's a good fighter. I have to give it to him," Helenius said. "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."
Whatever trouble Helenius had found himself in during the third round, he shook it off and came out strong in the fourth round. He appeared to drop Kownacki to one knee in a corner with a right hand, but referee David Fields ruled that Kownacki had slipped. But Helenius, probably sensing that he had hurt Kownacki, ramped up his aggression.
"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."
After Fields ruled that Kownacki had slipped to the mat, Helenius landed a strong straight right hand to the head followed by a left hook that did drop Kownacki. He beat the count from Fields but appeared unsteady as Helenius attacked him. Helenius rocked Kownacki with combinations and forced him back toward the ropes. In a desperate attempt to keep Helenius away, Kownacki flailed with a couple of punches that missed badly. When Helenius landed a few more shots, Fields stepped in and waved off the fight at 1 minute, 8 seconds.
"He hit me with a good shot," Kownacki said. "I knew what was going on, but I'm just upset with myself. It is what it is."
A few years ago, Helenius was regarded as one of the heavyweight division's top rising contenders, but that was before a sixth-round knockout loss to former world title challenger Johann Duhaupas in 2016. Then he lost a one-sided decision to top contender Dillian Whyte in 2017 and was handed an eighth-round knockout loss versus former world title challenger Gerald Washington last July. Helenius had been relegated to an afterthought -- but he is no longer that.