Heavyweight Deontay Wilder returns to action on Saturday almost a year to the day since his last fight – an epic trilogy encounter with Tyson Fury.
With question marks hanging over Wilder’s motivation, his trainer Malik Scott says the Alabama native is as driven now as he has ever been.
“He still has a fighting dark spirit when he’s in the ring,” Scott told BBC Sport.
“That’s what I like, because once that evilness and meanness leave – that is the point to retire.”
After successive stoppage defeats to Fury, Wilder had to rediscover his passion for the sport again. Here BBC Sport examines why the ‘Bronze Bomber’ is back.
‘We thought that was it’
The defeats to Fury were the first of Wilder’s previously unblemished career and stripped him of the WBC title he had held since 2015. They also carried the added shock of being back-to-back stoppages.
In the months that followed the trilogy bout on 9 October 2021, Wilder’s future appeared uncertain after he lost his passion for the sport.
He explained: “I went to the gym a couple of times to try and get that feeling. I couldn’t find it. That feeling wasn’t there no more.”
Wilder – who became a fighter to financially support his daughter, who has had the spinal defect spina bifida all her life – looked ready to bow out.
“We all thought ‘that’s it’ – he did not want to watch boxing, he didn’t want to be around boxing,” Scott continued. “I really did not know.
“It was 50-50 because Deontay really was not interested in boxing. Up until the statue was revealed, I was very unsure.”
The statue to which Scott refers is a life-size bronze figure of Wilder that was erected in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in May this year.
The public art moved Wilder to reconsider his future in the ring.
“That was the first time I saw him smile from ear-to-ear since we were getting ready to fight Fury for a third time,” said Scott.
“He was smiling, laughing and giggling all in this one smile and I hadn’t seen that since the last training camp.
“He just told us ‘all right’ then and there in front of the whole crowd that he won’t be retiring.
“After the statue was revealed, it hit a spark and it’s been lit ever since. About an hour later he was talking about training camps and opponents.”
Has Wilder lost confidence?
Galvanised by the support from his community, Wilder stepped back into the gym.
Scott says his fighter found fire back in his belly, but questions still hang over the scars left physically and mentally by the gruelling three fights with Fury between 2018 and 2021.
“Obviously he was down, we did not get the result that we wanted, he’s human,” Scott said.
“But I don’t think Deontay had to rebuild mentally because he’s accomplished so much.
“To rebuild mentally you have to be someone that’s really unaccomplished, someone that hasn’t made a ton of history.
“Losing a boxing match is not something that could make Deontay lose confidence in the man and fighter he is.
“In the most simple form: he lost in a boxing match to a very good fighter.”
‘It will be Usyk or Joshua next’
Fury produced two stoppage defeats over Wilder with aggressive tactics, pushing the puncher onto the back foot and bullying the bully who had previously knocked out 41 of his 42 opponents.
Scott, though, urges caution to Helenius if he plans to borrow Fury’s blueprint.
He said: “I’m hoping Helenius copies Fury because he’ll find out very early that Fury was knocked down by Deontay four times for a reason.
“Helenius does not have the chin Fury has. We’ve seen him get hit by people with way less power and stay down and his punch resistance isn’t like Fury’s.”
Wilder’s desire in camp has contrasted starkly with those deflating visits to the gym after the defeats to Fury.
“He’s training three times harder than he’s ever trained. To do that you have to want it. There has to be a fire burning inside,” said Scott.
“We’re having to slow him down, put brakes on him,” Scott added. “He’s giving 130% every day, these are not things you can fake.
“Whatever Helenius brings to the table won’t be enough come 15 October because Deontay Wilder’s going to put him to sleep.”
‘The Nordic Nightmare’ is enjoying an upturn in form after winning his last three contests but, as Wilder’s former sparring partner, is very much a known quantity.
Scott says they’re not looking past the Finn’s familiar skill set, but if they secure the victory they expect, Team Wilder are aiming to reach the summit of the division once more.
“It’s the second half of his career, he’s not in this for money, but the fight he should take is a high-profile, big-time fight,” he said.
“It’d be Oleksandr Usyk or it’d be Anthony Joshua next. I’m not interested in Deontay fighting Andy Ruiz or Frank Sanchez – none of those guys.
“He wants to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.”