Timothy Bradley Jr.’s breakdown: Can Deontay Wilder land his right hand against Robert Helenius?

Deontay Wilder returns to the ring on Saturday for the first time since his knockout loss to Tyson Fury in their trilogy fight a year ago. He’ll face Robert Helenius at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (Fox PPV, 9 p.m. ET).

Wilder (42-2-1, 41 KOs) possesses a powerful right hand, and he was able to put Fury on the canvas four times during their three epic fights. Wilder also has a good left hook and has shown some improvement with his body punching under new trainer Malik Scott, something that could be key against Helenius.

Helenius (31-3, 20 KOs), is riding a three-fight winning streak and is only slightly shorter — .5 inches — than Wilder. His last loss was an eighth-round KO to Gerald Washington in 2019, a fighter who Wilder stopped in five rounds two years before.

Will Wilder land his right hand to end the fight or can Helenius stay away and outbox the power puncher?

Two-division champion and current ESPN boxing analyst Timothy Bradley Jr. breaks down the heavyweight matchup and picks the winner.

Fight overview

Deontay Wilder is the new standard for boxing. I say this because I feel like the sweet science is no longer appreciated in boxing. Canelo Alvarez just fought recently and everybody said it was a snooze fest — that he didn’t do enough and that he didn’t knock Gennadiy Golovkin out. The expectations are high. After all, everybody wants to see a knockout.

I remember there was a time when the boxer, not the puncher — the stylist fighter — was at the top of the food chain. The boxer was more appreciated, more accepted and it was the popular style. The boxer was famous and was recognized as being a brilliant warrior. Fighters like Muhammad Ali, who moved a lot. Sugar Ray Leonard, he moved a lot, too. Willie Pep, Joe Gans — all these creative warriors were appreciated. In today’s boxing, it’s no longer appreciated..

If you have a style like Wilder, many boxing experts, boxing coaches, trainers, you name it, say “He doesn’t know how to fight. He doesn’t have a pretty style.” Nobody really cares about that, nowadays. The average fan doesn’t care about that. What the average fan cares about is the result. They want to see knockouts. They don’t care how they get it, but that’s what they want to see.

When everyone watches a Wilder fight, they’re at the edge of their seats because all it takes is one punch with his right hand. We know that. Wilder might not have a pretty style but he’s mesmerizing because this generation is infatuated by the knockout. This has been going on since the early 90s when Mike Tyson spoiled everybody and when you couldn’t even get up to get a drink because the fight was over. It’s been 30 years since boxing has made that shift from loving the actual boxer and the sweet science to loving the fierce punching power of fighters.

The matchup

This fight against Helenius is somewhat of a tricky fight for Wilder, and it’s primarily due to their history in sparring.

Helenius is coming into this fight with a three-fight winning streak, after being stopped by Gerald Washington — by a right hand! Styles make fights, but Helenius is not a slouch, especially with Wilder coming from a two-fight losing streak where he was brutally knocked out. That’s tough, mentally, for Wilder going into the fight. I know preparation ahead of this fight has been great for Wilder, and he has had time to fix some things and get his mind right by being away from the sport for a bit. Now he’s back and feels like he’s back at home in the ring. But still, once the bell rings it’ll be tough to forget that he was recently brutally knocked out.

As far as the physical part goes, I think that what makes Wilder tough, aside from his powerful right hand. He has fought the best heavyweight of his generation in Fury and he put up a hell of a fight, three times. He has seen the best fighter in this division.

Helenius has boxing ability. He’s been in the sport since he was 5 years old. He has knowledge and experience, he’s not one of those guys who is wet behind the ears. He knows how to fight and he has a full arsenal. He likes to throw the right hand. He likes to throw the uppercut and has a left hook as well. He has some tools for a guy like Wilder, but there are some mistakes that he makes that can cost him. And those mistakes are going to be the cause of him being knocked out.

And as you can see when he fought Washington, Helenius tends to pull back, thinking he’s away, because typically he’s the bigger man — he’s 6-foot-6½. A lot of tall fighters get used to pulling back. He completely drops his hands as he’s pulling back to get away from a shorter fighter to get out of range — and most of the time they can do that. He’s not going to be able to do that against Wilder. Wilder is going to extend with that right hand and he’s going to catch him and he’s going to hurt him. And when he hurts him, he’s going to finish him.

One of the best attributes of Wilder is that he knows that sooner or later he’s going to land that right hand. And he knows that if he doesn’t land it, his opponent can outbox him. Wilder has been down in the scorecards many times but his patience and his tenacity — his ability to stay focused during the course of the fight no matter what is going on — if he’s down on the cards or not, he’s able to stay focused all the way through and find that punch. I think that’s a special trait that he has. A lot of times, fighters who can punch can get a little frustrated when they can’t land. Wilder is not that type of guy. He’s patient and he will wait for the right time to land that punch.

Wilder’s improvements are clear

A good thing going for Wilder is that he started boxing late, in his 20s or so. And he has been one of those guys who matured quickly — he’s a fast learner. And, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, he’s blessed with tremendous punching power. In just a two-year span, with only 30 fights, he became an Olympic bronze medalist.

There’s room to grow with him, and not only that, he’s fresh for his age. I did 23 years of fighting against guys that got 27, 28 years of fighting experience with all the amateurs fights and that takes a toll on your body. But Wilder didn’t have all of that. He’s still able to learn and he just needs the willingness to learn. And I think he does now under the guidance of Malik Scott because I’ve seen some improvements in his last fight against Tyson Fury. He was actually shooting down to the body, he was trying to set up his right hand, he was trying to throw it straight.

When he fought Fury in the third fight, the first few rounds I went, ‘Oh, this is a different Wilder.’

Wilder has a left hook that he likes to throw to the body. I can see him going to the body to force Helenius to drop his hands. Of course the jab is the most important punch for Wilder. He understands how to keep his distance and how to use his jab. The game plan will be about slowly walking down Helenius with smart pressure, getting him on his back foot and extending with the right hand, catching him and knocking him out.

Wilder has been there with the best boxer in the heavyweight division in Fury, so he knows how to operate. He has been through some things, especially with Fury, who tried to lean on him. Helenius is not a guy who is going to try to lean on him. Helenius likes to keep his distance, extend with his punches at a safe distance and then get out and move and do it all over again. On the inside Helenius can fight but when the firepower comes, he puts those earmuffs on — he covers his head with both hands and keeps the high guard up. And you can split the guard.

There are going to be opportunities for Wilder, if Helenius stays there. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen in this fight, but I can tell you that if he uses that high guard, Helenius needs to be aware that the uppercut of Wilder can come up through the middle, splitting the guard and knocking you out.

Can Helenius stay away from Wilder’s right hand?

There’s always things you can do to stay away from the right hand. The thing is — you can always be aware of something going into the fight, but then when you start feeling the pressure you end up making the mistakes you always make. You always resolve back to your core, what you are accustomed to. Sometimes fighters feel like they have a safe place, being in a certain position, and it is not like you think about it, it just happens. That’s the thing with Helenius.

That right hand of Wilder is one of those punches you can’t catch. You can’t parry his right hand, it’s too powerful. So it’s all about moving your head and making him miss or even ducking underneath it sometimes. Helenius needs to figure various ways to keep an eye on that right hand of Wilder, because the jab is going to tell you when the right hand is coming. Wilder will extend the jab and leave it out there just a second longer than usual. Sometimes he snaps the jab and then there’s times when he leaves it out, a stiff jab, and then he shoots the right hand. That’s a dead giveaway that the right hand is coming. And don’t pull back, you better go to the side or go underneath that right hand because if he lands, even if it grazes you, it will hurt .

What can Helenius do to hurt Wilder?

Helenius has a full arsenal. One of the combinations that Fury used often against Wilder was the left hook-right hand. It was jab, jab, jab, feint, left hook, right hand. Wilder is susceptible to the left hook-right hand, especially if you get him looking at the jab early.

As the left hook comes around, Wilder tends to stand straight up. He doesn’t always bend his knees and weave under the left hook. He can do it, but not always do it. With the left hook, Helenius should try to pull back or go to the side and try to block it, and then the right hand is coming. And Helenius has a pretty good right hand. I would say, left hook, right hand and the jab are the punches Helenius should be looking to land.

Who wins?

I don’t think this fight is going to go the distance. Of Helenius’ three losses, two have been KO losses and they were against lesser punches than Wilder. Wilder is going to hit him and hurt him. Helenius is going to have a hard time getting away from Wilder.

I am expecting a much improved Wilder. I’ve heard he said to the public he sparred more than 400 rounds for this fight. I think that’s a bit excessive, but at the end of the day, I guess when you are trying to learn, and learn on the job (Wilder fought only 36 rounds in his first 22 pro fights), that’s the way you are going to gain experience.

My prediction is Wilder by KO, but I’m not sure what round. Even in the two knockout losses to Fury he was able to put Fury on the canvas. You don’t think he’s going to put Helenius on the canvas? He’s going to put Helenius on the canvas and he’s going to knock him out.

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