THE prescient braintrust behind Adam Kownacki has long sworn by their charge’s ability to take a punch, that his chin, a product of the preternaturally tough Polish bloodline, could withstand the tonnage from, say, the tomahawk right hand of Deontay Wilder.
There may never be any evidence to support that claim, but what we do know after Saturday night, before a stark raving mad crowd of 8,811 (reported) mostly Polish partisans at the Barclays Center, is that Kownacki’s chin had no answer for the Finnish-bred right hand of Robert Helenius.
It caught Kownacki’s chin – clean – twice in the fourth round, sending the blubbery Kownacki tumbling to the canvas and the crowd into a shell-shocked trance. The arena was so quiet you could hear someone mash a fork into a pierogi. A glassy-eyed Kownacki got up, only to take a few more shots to the head before referee David Fields intervened. The official time of the stoppage was 1-08.
To say nobody saw this outcome coming would be an understatement. Kownacki, after all, was being primed as a local box office attraction in his native Brooklyn, the successor to the last great Polish-American heavyweight draw Tomasz Adamek. That, in part, is ostensibly why Kownacki and his team and no interest in a potential Anthony Joshua bout last summer. They had their eyes set on a few more easy fights to drum up his profile before a title shot against Wilder, who, as it were, is currently bereft of his belt, thanks to Tyson Fury. So much for those plans.
Reached for his thoughts, Kownacki’s longtime manager Keith Connolly simply said, “I’ve had better days.”
One loss shouldn’t define a fighter, but there are no contingencies for losing to Helenius, a gross underdog in this bout and a running joke in recent years. A staunchly European-level fighter, Helenius had been knocked out by the lowly Gerald Washington, a former NFL linebacker, last year. Kownacki, on the other hand, had dispensed with Washington in two breezy rounds.
It appeared at first that Kownacki was well on his way to earning a quick stoppage. By the end of the first round, Helenius’ nose was ruby red. By the end of the third, Helenius was running on fumes. But midway through the fourth, Helenius tagged Kownacki with a chopping right hand that dropped Kownacki into the ropes. For whatever reason, Mr. Fields declined to issue a count. Helenius, though, had no complaints.
“It was a good benefit for me because he didn’t get the count,” he said postfight. “I saw him hurt, I felt him hurt so of course, if he had received an [eight] count maybe he would have recovered better.”
Another right, followed by a short left hook, put Kownacki down a second time – and he never really recovered.
On the undercard (TGB Promotions), heavyweights Efe Ajagba and Razvan Cojanu fought at a glacial pace for the majority of their scheduled 10-rounder. But Ajagba, a well-regarded prospect, began to chip away at Cojanu late, scoring two knockdowns en route to a technical knockout in the ninth round. The official time of the stoppage occurred at 2-46.
Cojanu had some moments in the second half of the fight, getting on the inside and working Ajagba’s body. But the Los Angeles-based Romanian was mostly outclassed.
After a slow start, Ajagba was able to land the right with more frequency in the second half of the fight. In the eighth round, Ajagba dropped Cojanu, whose right eye by this point was swollen shut, with a well-timed right. Cojanu would last for another round before another Ajagbe right put him down again, prompting referee Ron Lipton to wave off the bout.
Cuban heavyweight Frank Sanchez handily outpointed Philadelphia’s Joey Dawejko over 10 listless and forgettable rounds. Calling it a sparring session would be charitable.
Judges Julie Lederman and Ken Ezzo scored it 98-92 and Kevin Morgan had it 100-90, all for Sanchez.
Sanchez, who lives and trains Las Vegas, controlled the tone and pace of the fight, working behind his long jab as he kept the rotund Dawejko at range. Whenever Dawejko managed to get on the inside, Sanchez responded with the clinch as though he had steel clamps for arms.
Frustration boiled over for Dawejko in the seventh round after Sanchez connected on a hard right. Dawejko beat his gloves together and yelled “stop running.” Sanchez, of course, never listened. Shada Murdaugh refereed.
The Verdict When two big men are throwing bombs at each other, anything can happen.
Brooklyn-based trainer Andre Rozier says he expect his charge, middleweight contender Sergiy Derevyanchenko, to return in May. And, according to Rozier, they want Chris Eubank Jnr. to be the opponent. “That’s who we want,” the trainer said with a big smile. Serious negotiations, however, don’t seem to have started.
Robert Helenius (238 3/4lbs), 30-3 (19), w rsf 4 Adam Kownacki (265 1/4lbs), 20-1 (15); Efe Ajagba (242 1/4lbs) w rsf 9 Razvan Cojanu (265 1/2lbs); Frank Sanchez (222 1/4lbs), 15-0 (11), w pts 10 Joey Dawejko (247 1/4lbs), 20-8-4 (11); Steven Torres (252 1/2lbs), 3-0 (3), w ko 2 Alex Ajabor (226 1/2lbs), 2-2 (1); Carlos Negron (237 1/4lbs), 21-3 (17), w rsf 1 Robert Alfonso (249 3/4lbs), 19-1-1 (9); Zachary Ochoa (140 3/4lbs), 21-1 (7), w pts 8 Angel Sarinana (140lbs), 10-10-3 (4); Arnold Gonzalez (146 1/2lbs), 4-0 (1), rsf 3 Traye Labby (146 1/2lbs), 4-5-4; Francis Hogan (158 1/4lbs), 1-0 (1), w rsf 4 Brent Oren (159 1/2lbs), 2-4.