The veteran heavyweight contender shocks the hometown hero to place himself in line for a title shot Saturday night on FOX.
A boisterous, predominantly-Polish crowd of 8,811 were on hand at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to witness the return of kinsman and fellow BK native Adam "Babyface" Kownacki.
However, what was supposed to yet another happy homecoming for the undefeated, high-ranked heavyweight contender turned into a nightmare at the hands of the “Nordic Nightmare,” Robert Helenius. Helenius scored a major upset, stopping Kownacki at 1:08 of the fourth in the main event of FOX PBC Fight Night.
The shocking end seemingly came out of nowhere. Kownacki was busier for the first three rounds, digging to Helenius’ body with effect. Two-way action in the second brought the crowd to their feet but it was Kownacki who appeared to land the bigger blows.
All of that changed in the fourth. Kownacki charged ahead as always, driving Helenius to the ropes with a series of shots. But Helenius bounced off those ropes with a right hand flush on the jaw. Kownacki dropped to a knee, rising on wobbly legs. Referee David Fields ruled it a slip.
Kownacki hadn’t recovered when action resumed. Helenius pounced, wailing away until a straight right followed by a left hook dropped Kownacki a second time. Again, he made it to his feet on stiff legs. Helenius followed up, until Fields waved it off.
Helenius is now in line for a world title as this was a WBA heavyweight title eliminator.
"I want to thank everyone who gave me this opportunity," said a jubilant Helenius afterward. "Kownack is a tough fighter. I worked hard in training camp and it paid off. I knew that I hit him hard and I knew I just had to continue. I knew he was still hurt after that punch.
"He just kept coming and coming. He's a good fighter I have to give it to him. 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."
A disappointed Kownacki left the ring to cheers from the crowd. "It wasn't my night," he said. "It's boxing. 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.
"He hit me with a good shot. I knew what was going on, but I'm just upset with myself. It is what it is."
Efe Ajagba promised to exhibit better defense and patience this time. He delivered on both counts—without sacrificing offense. Ajagba dismantled veteran Razvan Cojanu, battering him until the fight was mercifully stopped at 2:46 of the ninth round.
Last December, Ajagba was floored by Iago Kiladze during a moment where he left himself wide open. The undefeated heavyweight from Nigeria would go on to stop Kiladze in five, but there was work to be done back in the gym with trainer Ronnie Shields.
This time, Ajagba, 25, 13-0 (11 KOs), showed consistent head movement and counterpunching skills against a crafty Cojanu (17-7, 9 KOs). But it was his jab that dominated.
The rounds were competitive early on. Cojanu went on the attack in the second, but Ajagba fought him off, working the body to establish distance for his heavy jab. Occasionally, he’d land a right and deftly move out the way of the return fire.
The jab, and the body work, helped break Cojanu down. But the Romanian didn’t go without a fight. After eating a three-punch combination in the sixth, Cojanu motioned for more. Ajagba obliged, landing another volley that momentarily stunned his opponent. But Cojanu fired back with a hard right of his own.
Cojanu landed two more rights in the seventh. Ajagba was unbothered, steadily pumping his stick and digging downstairs. By the eighth, Cojanu was a spent force. A beautiful right hand followed by a left caused Cojanu to take a knee. He rose to his feet and was badly staggered by a left hook. He was saved by a bell that rang moments later.
Ajagba unloaded the arsenal in the ninth, battering Cojanu until another clean combo dropped him a second time, forcing referee Ron Lipton to wave it off.
"Cojanu has a lot of experience,” said Ajagba. “When I threw my jab, he used his right hand to block my vision, so I couldn't throw as many combinations as I wanted. It was a good challenge.
"Ronnie told me to attack the body behind the jab. It was very effective and it started to slow him down. When he got close to me, I knew to throw more and punish him.”
Ajagba is fast rising up the heavyweight rankings and he wants no soft touches along the way.
"It's up to my team who we fight next, but I want hard fights,” said Ajagba. “My team has a plan and we'll keep following it.”
Rising undefeated heavyweight Frank Sanchez used his superior boxing skills to keep Joey Dawejko off balance and win a 10-round unanimous decision.
Final cards read 100-90, 100-90 and 98-92.
"I was well prepared and I thought I fought very well tonight,” said Cuba’s Sanchez, who improves to 15-0 (11 KOs). "I dominated the fight. I showed good footwork and movement and did exactly what we worked on.”
Sanchez, who at 6-foot-4, was five inches taller than Dawejko, used that to his advantage, working behind a long jab in the first. The 247-pound Dawejko (20-8-4, 11 KOs) outweighed Sanchez by nearly 25-pounds. However, he struggled to get inside and wear Sanchez down.
In the third, Sanchez began landing rights after his jab, reddening Dawejko’s face. The pattern continued round after round. Dawejko never stopped coming forward, although he landed little with effect, despite the Polish crowd cheering their countryman on.
"I knew he was going to fight on the outside and he stayed on the outside,” said Dawejko. “Not much to say, he just did what he had to do.
"He was scared that's why he was running around. He kept jumping back and staying away, so I guess he made it easy on the judges."
Dawejko staged a mini-rally in the ninth, landing a right at the end of the round. The momentum didn’t carry over to the 10th, as Sanchez cruised to the victory.
"I didn't want to fight Dawejko's fight, and he realized that and it frustrated him,” said Sanchez. “He might have thought he's faced guys like me, but there's no other heavyweight like me."
"I'm going to continue to advance in my career and hopefully we get an even bigger fight next.”
For a closer look at Kownacki vs Helenius, check out our fight night page.