Southpaw Lerena cruising again after Smith steps in
SOUTH African Kevin Lerena (16-1, 8KO’s) is a man on a mission as he approaches his cruiserweight bout next month against Vikapita Meroro.
And it is the mutual respect between Lerena and his trainer, Peter Smith, which is clear for all to see, that has the 24-year-old believing that he can get a crack at his ultimate goal – a world title bout – within a year. But for now, the pair’s focus is clearly on Namibian Meroro (28-5, 14KOs) – a tough opponent who is trying to get his career back on track after losing to Russia’s Dmitry Kudryashov in 2015.
Cutting your teeth as an amateur seems to be a right of passage for any professional boxer and yet Lerena has only ever competed within the paid ranks.
His unmarked face belies the fact that he has been a professional boxer since 2011 and the only hint of him being a pugilist is his incredible physique.
Recently, Lerena revealed that he considers his lack of an amateur career an advantage, declaring: “I have not taken any punishment.”
Lerena’s first fight was against Justice Silinga, won by knockout and a year later he had five fights under his belt, winning all of them on stoppages.
At this stage of his career, Lerena felt that he was more of a brawler than a boxer and it was Smith who began the transformation that turned the southpaw into a more technical boxer.
In 2014, in his 12th fight, Lerena took on seasoned campaigner Johnny Muller, who took the fight by way of a points decision – Lerena’s first professional loss and one that he acknowledges was a bitter pill to swallow.
That defeat also made Lerena question his own ability as a fighter.
Once again it was left to Smith to pick up the pieces and to rebuild Lerena’s confidence. Four months later Lerena was back in the ring against Igor Pylypenko from Denmark.
The fight took place in Ballerup, Denmark, and Lerena was still questioning his own ability. Moreover, there was the added fear of perhaps losing by way of a hometown decision.
Lerena, however, took the fight on points via an unanimous decision in the defining moment of his career – it restored his confidence and hunger for the game. In his next bout he took the South African cruiserweight title, defeating Deon Coetzee in 2015 in a one-sided affair.
It was his follow up fight, fought in April last year however, which was the one the Johannesburg-based boxer had been waiting for – a rematch against Muller.
In front of a capacity crowd at Emperors Palace, Lerena started like a man possessed and it looked like the bout was going to be one-way traffic.
But, for reasons unknown, Lerena took his foot off the pedal and moved away from the agreed fight-plan. Muller got stronger and by the end of Round 9 was ahead on most of the scorecards.
At the end of that round, Smith read Lerena the riot act.
In Round 10, Lerena looked like a new fighter. He began catching Muller with solid punches, landing telling blows that turned the tide in his favour.
Lerena took the fight by way of a TKO in that round, adding the WBA Pan-African title to his growing collection of belts, and avenging his only defeat.
At this point, promoter Rodney Berman announced the Cruiserweight Super 4 in which Lerena took on Argentine Roberto Bolonti, winning on points.
In the final, Lerena met Micki Nielsen of Denmark, an unbeaten fighter who had despatched of Muller in the previous round. In a tough battle, Lerena earned a close but well-earned majority decision victory.
Lerena is currently ranked by both the WBC and WBO in 11th spot and aims to challenge for one of those titles within the year.
Right now, however, his focus is clearly on February 4 at Emperors Palace on the Golden Gloves bill dubbed ‘Thunder and Lightning’. – ANA