South­paw Ler­ena cruis­ing again af­ter Smith steps in

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

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

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