Former heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder marked his much-anticipated return to the boxing ring with a thunderous knockout punch that stopped Robert Helenius in the opening round of their bout at Barclays Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City on Saturday night.
A punch like that one declared Wilder’s intentions to be a force in the division. In case it wasn’t clear by his performance, Wilder emphasized the point after the match.
“Deontay Wilder is back,” he said in his postfight interview on Fox. “The excitement in the heavyweight division is back.”
Wilder was making his return to in-ring action for the first time since he lost to Tyson Fury last October. Fury became the first foe to ever get up from a Wilder knockdown when he got off the mat in the 12th round during their split draw in 2018. Fury then proceeded to win the next two fights by knockout, including their bout last year that featured five knockdowns between them and was considered by many as the fight of the year.
In his first fight since the Fury trilogy, Wilder (43-2-1, 42 KOs) opted to fight Helenius, a Finnish contender who sparred with Wilder for his bouts with Fury. Helenius (31-4, 20 KOs) was coming off two straight knockout wins over Adam Kownacki.
“I knew what he is capable of,” Wilder said after the bout. “I didn’t take him for granted. I could look in his eyes. He wanted to be [the first Finnish] heavyweight champion.”
Feeling Wilder’s power in headgear is one thing. Trying to withstand that force in an actual bout is an entirely different matter.
In the closing seconds of the first round, Helenius tried to land a combination on Wilder from a distance. The former champion from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, picked his spot and unloaded the right hand that promptly dropped Helenius and ended the fight three seconds before the bell rang.
Helenius never even made it back to his corner.
“I allowed him to reach,” Wilder told Fox. “And then when he reached, I attacked.”
The victory emphatically started the final phase of Wilder’s career.
Leading up to the bout, Wilder stated he intended to fight until 2025, when he turns 40 years old. With his personal deadline on the horizon, Wilder said he wanted to chase fights against top boxers who will have to reckon with his power.
“Most of the time when guys say they want me and they come to a show of mine, they see a devastating knockout like that, they turn the corner on me,” Wilder said in the ring after the fight.
He mentioned unified champion Oleksandr Usyk and former champion Andy Ruiz as potential opponents. Anthony Joshua, another former champion who lost his belts to Usyk, was someone Wilder mentioned during the prefight buildup, but he didn’t reference Joshua after dropping Helenius.
The person Wilder faces next will try to join Fury and Bermane Stiverne as the only Wilder opponents not to succumb to his power.
Almost immediately after the final punch landed Saturday, Wilder placed his gloves on his hips and stared into the crowd as Helenius was flat on the canvas, another recipient of one of the most devastating punches in boxing history.
Wilder held a blank look on his face. It was almost as if he were asking the fans in Brooklyn if they expected anything less.