Kevin Lerena will stay at home for his first IBO title defence; this after an accomplished showing against Youri Kalenga on Saturday night.
Promoter Rodney Berman said that hometown support was critical, especially as the new champion had built up a solid base of fans since turning pro. “We’ll fight him at Emperors Palace again in February and then possibly take him to America.”
Berman is sitting on gold given the Lerena package – he’s young, charismatic and entertaining, plus he’s one of the few world-rated cruiserweights outside Eastern Europe.
Even so, Berman believes the 25-year-old must still work on his game plan. He noted how Lerena appeared to rock Kalenga on occasion on Saturday, but failed to follow through. Berman wants him to have the confidence to pull the trigger.
“You need to take these opportunities, especially in the heavier divisions where a single punch can change everything,” said Berman. “But he’s done helluva well. He’s had just 19 fights and no amateur record to speak of. What he’s done is sensational.”
Lerena himself acknowledged the brutal nature of the fight and saluted Kalenga for going toe to toe.
“He was very tough, but I used my head; I made him miss. That was the plan.”
Berman also had words of praise for SA welterweight champion Thulani Mbenge, who outboxed Mziwoxolo Ndwayana in his first title defence.
“He’s a special talent and we’ll be looking to the WBC to recognise him,” said Berman, who plans to lure an attractive talent into the ring for Mbenge’s next outing, also in February.
Neither fighter will be particularly rushed. With each having endured 12 hard rounds, the accrused experience will prove invaluable down the track.