Kevin Lerena makes bold move to heavyweight division.
The speculation started when IBO cruiserweight champion, Kevin Lerena’s name appeared at number 25 on Boxrec’s heavyweight world ratings. Technically, his last fight was as a heavyweight since it took place at a catchweight above the cruiserweight limit.
It is an open secret that making cruiserweight has been a challenge for Lerena and with the WBC’s bridgerweight division still struggling to take flight, it is now official: Lerena is giving up his IBO world title and moving to heavyweight.
He is recovering well from a broken right hand that sank his fight with Ryad Merhy and his debut in the glamour division is likely to be on the Golden Gloves card planned for February 2022.
No doubt inspired by the master class delivered by fellow southpaw and former undisputed cruiserweight champion, Oleksandr Usyk, when he relieved Anthony Joshua of his world heavyweight titles, Lerena will be looking to emulate the Ukrainian in the future.
Heavyweights are bigger than ever before, and the naysayers will no doubt point at Lerena’s small size when compared to behemoths like Tyson Fury and Joshua, who stand six foot nine (2,06m) and six foot six (1,98m) in their socks, respectively. Lerena, in comparison, tops out at a mere six foot one (1,85m). However, it is worth remembering that Mike Tyson stood no more than five foot eleven (1,78m) in his destructive prime.
A glance at boxing history shows that Lerena is in good company.
Surprisingly, three former middleweight champions managed to win heavyweight titles. Bob Fitzsimmons turned the trick way back in 1897 when he knocked out James J. Corbet in the 14th round. That feat would not be repeated until 2003 when the brilliant Roy Jones jr. outboxed John Ruiz for the WBA title. Two years later, James Toney would do the same to Ruiz, who had since regained the title, only for the decision to be overturned to a “no contest” when Toney tested positive for a banned substance.
The first lightheavyweight champion to win the heavyweight championship was Michael Spinks, who outhustled the great Larry Holmes in 1985. He was followed by former WBO lightheavyweight titlist, Michael Moorer, who won the WBO heavyweight title in 1992 after an epic slugfest with Bert Cooper and then outpointed Evander Holyfield in 1994 for the more prestigious WBA and IBF titles. Moorer was also the first southpaw heavyweight champion. He lost his title to George Foreman but would regain the vacant IBF title, beating Axel Schulz in Germany.
Then there was Chris Byrd, a slick southpaw who started his career at lightheavyweight. He too, managed to become a two-time heavyweight champion, upsetting Vitali Klitschko in 2000 for the WBO belt and winning the IBF version two years later, beating some dangerous big men like David Tua and Evander Holyfield along the way.
When speaking of cruiserweights having success at heavyweight, there can be none greater than Evander Holyfield. After becoming undisputed cruiserweight champion, he moved to heavyweight and became the only four-time heavyweight champion in history during one of the most competitive eras bar the seventies. A modern great, “The Real Deal” was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2014.
Another former cruiserweight who managed to win a heavyweight title, was David Haye. The brash Brit outpointed the giant seven-footer Nikolai Valuev in 2009 in Germany and was part of some big heavyweight fights in his career.
History bears out Lerena’s ambition: It is possible for smaller men to win the sport’s biggest prize. A good big one usually beats a good small one, as the saying goes, but there have been many exceptions. However, that smaller man must be significantly better than the big man.
Can Lerena do it? Time will tell.