October is officially the spookiest month of the year, with Halloween bringing out all manner of horrors. For the boxers of the heavyweight and lightweight divisions, there will be extra reasons to fear this All Hallow’s Eve. Two former world champions will return to reassert themselves and begin the climb back to the thrones they once ruled from with iron fists. Former WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder will meet Robert Helenius in his first fight since an all-time classic with Tyson Fury last October. Meanwhile, Vasiliy Lomachenko will box for the first time since December 2021 when he takes on lightweight contender Jamaine Ortiz.
Boxing loves a comeback. While we admire the “0” in Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 or Floyd Mayweather’s 50-0, the true fighting spirit of boxing is found elsewhere. It’s in Muhammad Ali or Evander Holyfield reclaiming the heavyweight throne after losing the gold. It’s about fighters like Glen Johnson or Frank Bruno putting heartbreaking losses behind them to reach the top. Wilder and Lomachenko’s journeys back are intriguing because these men were once invincible but are now mortal. A human is more relatable to the general public than a god. We now get to see how two of the most exciting fighters of the last decade react after being brought back down to Earth.
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We have glimpsed into ‘The Matrix’ once since Lomachenko’s greatest defeat. The Ukrainian boxer followed up his shock defeat to Teofimo Lopez with a near-shutout win over Richard Commey last year. The victory at Madison Square Garden had looked set to hand ‘Loma’ a route back to his old unified lightwent title. The man who had defeated Lomachenko for those belts, Teofimo Lopez, had lost them to George Kambosos Jr in an upset of his own.
Lomachenko was supposed to travel to Australia and fight Kambosos in his own backyard, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine halted the plans. Like heavyweight monarch Oleksandr Usyk, Lomachenko put his fight career on hold to join the territorial defence force. WBC boss Devin Haney would travel in his place, unifying the championship with an enthralling twelve-round decision. Now, the 34-year-old cannot wait to reclaim what he sees as his rightful place on top of the 135lb division.
The man who stands between Lomachenko and a title shot against the winner of Haney’s undisputed title rematch with Kambosos is Jamaine Ortiz. The 26-year-old is no pushover, as former WBO super featherweight leader Jamel Herring found out last time out. ‘The Technician’ matches up well with Lomachenko, but his experience is levels beneath the former three-weight world champion. Look for ‘Hi-Tec’ to make a dangerous statement against his younger foe, setting up a dream fight with likely-champion Devin Haney.
Wilder’s return marks the first time we have seen him in a ring with someone other than Tyson Fury since 2019. ‘The Bronze Bomber’ is coming off back-to-back stoppage defeats to the apparently-retiring WBC champion. He’s been matched carefully in his comeback bout, though Robert Helenius is no soft touch. ‘The Nordic Nightmare’ is on a run of three stoppage wins, including twin-upsets over former prospect Adam Kownacki. The Pole was a crowd-pleasing heavyweight hope until he ran into the veteran, who splattered him in six and four rounds over the course of their two bouts.
Deontay Wilder exists on another plane entirely though. Of the three men to have defeated Helenius, Wilder has shared the ring with two of them. He dealt with Gerald Washington in five rounds and stopped Johan Duhaupas in eleven. If Wilder is anything even approaching his best against Helenius, he will win comfortably and decisively.
The real question surrounds how close to his best he will be. Wilder has endured three brutal wars with Fury in the last four years. There have been other tough nights too. Bracing clashes with Luis Ortiz spring to mind. At the age of 36, Wilder is far from old for a heavyweight. But in terms of miles on the clock he has taken his fair share of punishment. Will the Helenius bout be the one where the levee breaks?
The chances are slim. Realistically, 38-year-old Helenius has had a rougher career than the former heavyweight champion. While Wilder has gone the distance just once, Helenius has been extended on multiple occasions. The Swede lacks the one-punch knockout power of Wilder, and we have seen how much punishment ‘The Bronze Bomber’ can take without giving in. The former champion's power and toughness should see him through this one.
October will be a pivotal month for two fighters who will be remembered for generations. Will everything they have given us in the past be the sum total of their contributions to the sport, or are there years of terrific achievement ahead of them? Those questions likely won’t be settled this Autumn, but both men will set out on the road to finding out the answers.
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