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Wladimir Klitschko never granted world heavyweight title fight to rising contender Robert Helenius

"I would really have liked to fight him, but they also told me back then that he didn't want to fight me. I don't know why."

Wladimir Klitschko
Image: Wladimir Klitschko defeated a string of challengers during world title reign

Wladimir Klitschko ruled the heavyweight division with brutal dominance for nearly a decade, but a spurned challenger believes he was denied the opportunity to dethrone the Ukrainian.

Standing at 6'7" tall, and with a string of knockouts to his name, the imposing Robert Helenius appeared to have all the necessary qualities to challenge for one of Klitschko's world titles.

The Finland-based fighter had already handled a risky step up in class, out-battling Lamon Brewster to register an eighth-round stoppage win over America's former world champion in just his 11th fight.

Robert Helenius
Image: Robert Helenius was rising the rankings towards a fight with Klitschko
Wladimir Klitschko
Image: The Ukrainian was considered the No 1 fighter in the division

Brewster had also shared the ring with the younger Klitschko brother, who wilted alarmingly after the fifth round, prompting the referee to signal a shock stoppage loss in Las Vegas.

Wladimir would later avenge this defeat with a typically clinical stoppage of Brewster, but Helenius then attempted to vanquish another demon from Klitschko's past, Samuel Peter, who had floored the unified king three times in a narrow points defeat in 2005.

Klitschko avoided such scares in the rematch with Peter, an emphatic 10th round knockout in 2010, but Helenius tried to outdo him, halting 'The Nigerian Nightmare' in the ninth, in his next fight.

Siarhei Liakhovic, a former world champion, would provide another telling warm-up test for Helenius as he edged closer to a Klitschko clash. The Belarusian had defeated Brewster to briefly hold the WBO belt, which was ripped from his grasp after a dramatic final round knockout loss to Shannon Briggs. Yet again, Helenius did what needed to be done, stopping Liakhovic, and that world title fight was nearer than ever.

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Robert Helenius
Image: Helenius pounded Samuel Peter to a halt to extend his unbeaten record
Wladimir Klitschko, Derek Chisora
Image: Klitschko was due to face Britain's Derek Chisora in Mannheim

"I would really have liked to fight him, but they also told me back then that he didn't want to fight me. I don't know why," Helenius told Sky Sports, when asked about his pursuit of Wladimir Klitschko.

"I think I was very, very close. I was number six in Boxrec (boxing statistics website) and I was No 1 challenger for his belt back then."

But the reputation and fragile body of Helenius would be dented by Derek Chisora.

Britain's erratic contender had also come within touching distance of a showdown with Wladimir, having received a December date to challenge for the WBO and IBF belts in Germany, but Klitschko pulled out a few days beforehand due to injury and switched his attention to a unification clash with David Haye.

Helenius and Chisora were instead brought together in a battle for the European strap, along with two ranking belts, and the winner was supposed to stay firmly in contention for an elusive title fight.

Derek Chisora, Robert Helenius
Image: Chisora and Helenius put their world title ambitions at stake
Robert Helenius, Derek Chisora
Image: A points win for Helenius was greeted with dismay in Helsinki

Twelve rounds later and Helenius emerged with a split decision victory, although his ambitions had been seriously damaged.

The announcement of the decision led to a heated outcry, with many suggesting that Chisora's relentless aggression should have been rewarded with a unanimous verdict. More troubling for Helenius was a shoulder injury that had hampered his performance and he would continue to be plagued by fitness issues.

With Helenius sidelined for nearly a year, Chisora would receive a Klitschko fight, albeit against the older sibling Vitali, and produced a creditable showing in a points loss, despite his controversial antics throughout fight week.

Helenius is still waiting to battle one of the world's best, having suffered three damaging defeats, starting with a shock knockout loss to Johan Duhaupas.

He would then endure defeat to Dillian Whyte, another heavyweight who has been forced to wait for his own shot at the WBC belt. That one-sided loss was overshadowed by Anthony Joshua's main event win over Carlos Takam, but Whyte has retained his respect for the Scandinavian.

Dillian Whyte, Robert Helenius
Image: Dillian Whyte inflicted a unanimous decision defeat on Helenius in October 2017

"Helenius was a major threat for Klitschko," Whyte told Sky Sports. "Klitschko didn't want to fight him at one stage.

"Helenius is a dangerous guy, a tall guy, he can punch, he's rangy.

"What makes Helenius dangerous is he's clever."

The composed skills of Helenius were on show last month as the 36-year-old carefully waited for his moment to deliver a fight-ending assault on the previously unbeaten Adam Kownacki in an eliminator for the WBA belt.

Helenius is back, perhaps just one victory away from a shot at Anthony Joshua, who has replaced Klitschko as a unified world heavyweight champion.

With Wladimir now residing in retirement, could he eventually gain a fight with the current holder of three world titles?

"I think it would be a very interesting fight [against Joshua]," said Helenius. "I would like that very much. It would be fireworks and tactics, of course, but I think it would be a very, very interesting fight for me."

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