Boxing Snippets

Ever-ready, Lerena jetting off to stake his claim

Nailing Kevin Lerena down for an interview is much like trying to land a flush right hand on him.
Easier said than done.
The good news is that his unavailability has more to do with him hitting the gym than avoiding awkward questions. He has a major fight lined up and work comes first.
On March 8, in Saudi Arabia, he will have his fourth outing at heavyweight, against unbeaten Justis Huni of Australia. Taking no chances, Lerena is training as hard as ever, knowing that the exposure – the fight will be on the undercard of the Anthony Joshua-Francis Ngannou blockbuster – will be invaluable as he seeks to cash in.
Huni moves well for a big man, and he is big, but Lerena is undaunted by the prospect.
“Skills pay the bills,” he says, a maxim he has delivered on ever since his first days as a pro fighter.
Lerena is at a fascinating juncture in his career. His cruiserweight days are behind him and he’s among the top bridgerweights around, but the action (and the money) is at heavyweight.
It’s why he opted to fight Huni, notwithstanding the risks. The heavyweight division is so fluid, it’s well worth being in the mix. You don’t know who may be making the next call, or where it may lead.
Indeed, one of the recent ones was an invitation from heavyweight champion Tyson Fury to spar in preparation for his unification fight against Oleksandr Usyk.
Lerena packed his bags and hot-footed it to Saudi Arabia where he was royally treated. He and Fury are friends and Lerena saw first-hand how accomplished the Briton is.
“His boxing IQ is phenomenal. You must be on your game, 100 percent switched on,” said the popular South African who gave him valuable work before a cut eye over Fury’s brow brought preparation to a standstill. “He’s such a good fighter. You can work him, but the second you take your foot off the gas he’s on you. He doesn’t give you room to breathe.”
As much as the sparring helped Fury, it helped Lerena too. Huni is a big man and the work has prepared Lerena for a hard outing next month.
“He’s an explosive, young guy. It’s a high-risk fight for him, never mind me. I’m going there to smash his face in.”
Lerena, who expects to come in around the 104kg mark, disputes the notion that the fight does nothing for him given that Huni is little-known and not ranked especially high. He points to the international platform and the patronage of His Excellency Turki Alalshikh, boxing’s new kingmaker recently ranked among the sport’s most powerful figures as reasons to celebrate the upside.
“I don’t see this as a low-reward fight,” insists Lerena. “If you’re not daring to be great, what are you doing the sport for? Assuming I have four more years of boxing, I must maximise my brand, push [promoter] Rodney Berman’s interests and promote South Africa. You saw Sive Nontshinga the other day . . . South African fighters are doing big things.”
At the age of 31 and with 32 bouts under his belt, it’s natural that Lerena is feeling the bumps and bruises that are an occupational hazard.
He believes that every top level fighter boxes at less than 100 percent fitness purely because pain and injury are constant. The trick is to manage the damage, something Lerena has done since his first serious shoulder injury six years ago.
He has since been joined by a full-time sports therapist. “He’s bullet-proofing my niggles,” Lerena quips.
He’ll spend the rest of the week fine-tuning his game, training “hard but smart” before jetting off to Riyadh on Thursday.
Assuming he deals with Huni’s challenge, he says Golden Gloves has big things in the pipeline.
This may include a major homecoming bout in June, which Lerena hopes will give thanks to Berman, the famous Lerena Army of fans and SuperSport, which has been in his corner from the start.
“I’m daring to be great,” says the ever-confident fighter, who has never been backward in coming forward.
Whatever happens, he’ll never wonder what might have been.

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