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Matchroom Boxing heads explain the art of finding a late replacement

Eddie Hearn with Anthony Joshua. Photo credit: Sky Sports

Promoter Eddie Hearn has lifted the lid on the behind the scene machinations that went into selecting a replacement opponent for Anthony Joshua.

Former two-time unified heavyweight champion Joshua 25-3 (22) was left without an opponent for Saturday night when Dillian Whyte 29-3 (19) was scratch from their bout at the O2 Arena in London, England after testing positive to a banned substance.

With just a week to work with, Matchroom Boxing boss Hearn needed just two days to draft in Robert ‘The Nordic Nightmare’ Helenius 32-4 (21) as a late replacement.

His decision came after sifting through the multiple call outs to determine who was genuine about the fight and who was simply chasing clout.

In the end it was the 39-year-old Finn who landed the gig. Helenius was match fit after an easy third-round knockout of overmatched Mika Mielonen 6-1 (6) in his home country last Saturday, his first fight back after getting starched in the opening frame by former WBC champion Deontay Wilder 43-2-1 (42) last October.

“You go into the wild west of who wants it, who doesn’t,” Hearn said to talkSPORT. “We wanted someone credible, who would come to fight, who we could do a deal with at pace. He’s had big wins and got chinned by Wilder. He boxed on Saturday and got a knockout.”

One familiar foe who called out Joshua on social media was Andy Ruiz Jr 35-2 (22), who famously stepped in at late notice to face the Brit four years ago after original opponent Jarrell Miller 26-0-1 (22) failed a drug test.

Ruiz would prevail in a seven round shootout at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden by losing a wide unanimous decision in the immediate rematch in Saudi Arabia in December 2019.

“Andy Ruiz put a tweet out but never contacted us. He would have probably wanted $10 mill. [Helenius] has had two good wins on pay-per-view in the US [a brace of knockout victories over Adam Kownacki], he can punch a bit and is a credible fighter,” Hearn said.

“We are taking the fight off PPV and the financial difference for AJ is astounding but he wanted to fight. We all wanted to see the Dillian Whyte fight.”

Matchroom Boxing CEO Frank Smith said it’s easy for armchair experts to pick the fighter they would most like to see step in to fill the void, but much more difficult in reality to get those short notice bouts across the line.

“It’s quite easy for someone to say, ‘Why didn’t you do this?’ Someone who has no knowledge or information about the business at all. Just run through those names,” said Smith to Boxing Social.

“Andy Ruiz wanted an absolute fortune. He came out on social media, he called him [Joshua] out, but there was no real intention around it. He would want a fortune to take the fight.

“Why not [Filip] Hrgovic? Hrgovic was training for a southpaw for 10 weeks in Demsey McKean. He’s mandatory for [WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight champion] Oleksandr Usyk if he wins the fight. So it’s not just a case of, ‘All right, I’ll just jump out and take the AJ challenge now’.

“Demsey McKean is a southpaw. AJ was training for Dillian Whyte for 10 or 12 weeks. That was never realistic. The other one you mentioned to me was Joseph Parker. [Joshua’s] boxed him before. I don’t think the numbers would have stacked up and that’s the reality of it.”

Smith added that you can’t expect to please everyone in this business.

“Not everyone’s going to be happy with the decision we make,” he said. “Our aim was to keep the show on. Look, it would have been quite easy for us as a business [to cancel the card]. Whatever way this show goes, it’s not good for us financially.

“The key for us was to keep the event on, keep the undercard fighters. They’ve been training for twelve weeks. They don’t get paid otherwise.

“If we cancel the show, people go, ‘useless, you’re not giving people opportunities’ [and] we keep the show on and people are going to complain.

“It’s kind of like we had to make the best decision within a short period of time and I think we’ve delivered.”