‘Two Guns’ aiming both barrels at Gashi
It wasn’t very long ago that Kevin Lerena was still the willing aspirant, a ball of energy and ambition.
The energy and ambition remain, but at 31 he has assumed the role as last man standing. He’s won and lost, but he continues to rage against the prospect of gently winding down his career.
At 31 he still has plenty of fight left, plus there are more mountains to climb, more villains to be beaten. Even now, in his 12th year as a professional, Lerena still thrills to the sweat and slog of the gym, he still gets a buzz taking the long walk to the ring.
On Saturday he will do so for the 32nd time when he fights hard-hitting Senad Gashi, the German-based Kosovan who boxes for fun. Having escaped the ravages of war, he knows about sacrifice. He’s coming to win and has a right hand that can hurt Lerena.
He’s not likely to hit harder than Daniel Dubois though. Last year Lerena stepped up to heavyweight and a chance to crash the rankings, but over eagerness and a drop in concentration provided a painful lesson. Lerena was knocked out, but it wasn’t a total loss: the experience taught him to finish a man when he has him hurt.
“I won’t make the same mistake,” he vowed this week. “I can’t give an inch. I got a real taste of action against one of the game’s biggest punchers. No way will the loss dampen my ambition.”
Lerena is now at the comfortable phase of his career where he knows his body well, knows exactly what he can produce and isn’t intimidated by what’s to come. He still gets nervous, but he draws confidence from the work he’s put in. “If a guy beats me, it won’t be by outworking me. I’m training harder than I ever have.”
You would think a sense of complacency might have set in, but Lerena is still driven, both by his determination and the need to satisfy his army of fans who will again come out en masse to Emperors Palace on Saturday. He fights for them as much as he does himself.
“It’s an honour and a privilege to do this,” he said. “I’m proud of myself and fights like these allow me to bask in the moment.”
The one thing his fans won’t see again is Lerena as a cruiserweight. He’s too big, so for now bridgerweight is the elegant compromise. The big money and opportunities come at heavyweight, but Lerena is happy to play the long game. Boxrec ranks him 15th among heavyweights, so the call for a major fight could come at any time. He’ll be ready.
In the interim, he’s happy to shake things up at bridgerweight, first by winning the title outright and then by dominating enough to demand attention.
The first order of business will be this weekend. Lerena is strong and positive.
“My body is in good nick and I’m ready to do the business. As you grow as a person and a fighter, you learn about the sport and the business side and I’m looking to capitalise on both. You do this by channelling energy the right way. It’ s a big fight, but I must step up for bigger fights.”
Lerena’s too smart to simply figure that victory alone will be sufficient. He wants to be clinical in his delivery and produce a good performance for the fans.
Whether the boxing community likes him or not, he’s a totem for South African boxing. His shadow looms large over the sport. People expect. Winning is thus more important than ever.