British heavyweight Anthony Joshua says he is "laser-focused" on beating Robert Helenius at London’s O2 Arena on Saturday after the Finnish boxer was confirmed as a late replacement for Dillian Whyte.
Joshua, the two-time former unified heavyweight champion, had been set to take on his domestic rival but the bout was cancelled after “adverse analytical findings” were detected in a doping test conducted by Whyte.
That left Joshua's promoters Matchroom Sports in a race against time to salvage the sold-out event, and the 39-year-old Helenius has answered their SOS despite having fought in Finland only last weekend.
“This wasn’t in the script," said the 33-year-old Joshua. “I respect Helenius and, may I say, I respect any male or female who steps into the ring.
“I am laser-focused on the win. I can make steps forward to bigger and better things but the road map has a check point – Saturday night. May the best man win.”
Helenius, who has a 32-4 record (21 KOs), returned to the ring last Saturday with a routine third-round knockout of the unknown novice Mika Mielonen in Savonlinna. His previous outing had been a devastating first-round knockout loss to big-punching American Deontay Wilder last October.
“I am a true Viking that is willing to face any challenge at a moment’s notice," said Helenius, a former European champion, known as "the Nordic Nightmare". "This is not an opportunity I was going to let slip away. I plan to make the most of it."
Joshua (25-3, 22KOs) will be delighted with the opportunity to get back in the ring as he looks to rebuild under the tutelage of American trainer Derrick James.
The 2012 Olympic gold medal winner enjoyed a meteoric rise in the paid ranks but has now lost three of his last six fights, raising concerns he will never return to the kind of form that saw him twice claim the IBF, WBA and WBO world crowns.
His last outing, his first with James in the corner, was an insipid points victory over unheralded American Jermaine Franklin in February. Victory on Saturday, however, would keep him on course for a rumoured Saudi Arabia-hosted super-fight against Wilder in the winter.
Whyte, meanwhile, has vowed to clear his name after failing a test conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association. The 35-year-old is the third high-profile British fighter to fail a test in the past 10 months.
Most notably, welterweight contender Conor Benn was flagged by Vada last October, causing the late cancellation of his fight against Chris Eubank Jr. Then in April, Amir Khan received a two-year ban after a failed test following his fight against Kell Brook. The tribunal ruling over the case accepted Khan's argument that the violation was not intentional.