Kevin “Two Guns” Lerena produced a coming-of-age performance against Youri “El Toro” Kalenga on Saturday night to claim the vacant IBO cruiserweight championship.
Kalenga fought like a bull, but Lerena spit-roasted him with a confident and mature showing that underscored his rating by all the major organisations. He showed poise and patience, overcoming a slow start to outfox an aggressive, dangerous challenger.
Kalenga came out throwing bombs, but he lacked a Plan B and was unable to change up his game plan. Lerena, in turn, weathered the storm, countering smartly, and although he threw fewer punches, they were more accurate.
The pair put on an entertaining bout that ebbed and flowed, but Lerena’s superior skills proved telling as he won via split decision. Two of the judges gave him the nod (116-113 and 115-113) while the other favoured Kalenga (117-111).
Kalenga’s approach was elemental as he moved in straight lines and tried to crowd Lerena with his short, sharp punching. But Lerena showed speed and angles and avoided Kalenga’s power shots.
Indeed, the best one-off punches were landed by Lerena, not least in the second round when a left hook made Kalenga shudder.
Lerena’s straight left is a thing of beauty and he would have been better served had he utilised it more. Nonetheless, he has other weapons which were enough to overcome the feisty visitor.
Lerena was able to ignore a cut around his left eye that opened up in the fourth and Kalenga’s best attempts at finding the target were mostly unsuccessful as Lerena finished strongly to claim the best win of his pro career.
MBENGE EXTENDED BY KEEN NDWAYANA
Exciting Thulani Mbenge made a successful defence of his SA welterweight title, but doing so was far harder than he would have expected, especially after he came close to ending matters in the first round against Mziwoxolo Ndwayana.
Instead, Mbenge had to go the full 12-round distance against the rugged challenger, who recovered marvellously from a brutal first-round knockdown when he was felled with a huge right uppercut.
He survived that moment through sheer bloody-mindedness and duly came on strong as the fight wore on. Mbenge never appeared to be in trouble at any point, but Ndwayana never let him get comfortable either.
The challenger’s fitness allowed him to weather Mbenge’s staccato bursts, which were impressive but lacked the necessary sting to add to his KO record.
The challenger, too, had no way of hurting Mbenge and had to be satisfied with flurries that only momentarily halted the rhythm of the fight with the champion content to win down the stretch.
He’ll bank the experience, no doubt, and be better for the experience.
Points were 119-108 all round.
MARVELLOUS MHLONGO CRUSHES YOUNG THYSSE
Brandon Thysse was touted as the next big thing in SA boxing, but he hadn’t reckoned on long-in-the-tooth Nkululeko Mhlongo, who sensationally took him to school on Saturday night.
It seldom occurs that the better skilled fighter is overwhelmed, but this was the case as Mhlongo, flat-footed but so strong, had few problems putting the young gun away in defence of his SA junior-middleweight championship. Mhlongo (15-5) brought all his experience to bear, his strength and accuracy too much for Thysse (9-0), who surrendered his unbeaten record as he fell to a 10th-round TKO defeat.
It was a shattering setback for the 23-year-old who must now go away and reassess his fighting style. He copped a lot of hard shots to the head and body, his lack of defence an alarming weakness against someone as relentless as the champion, who boxed superbly for a 35-year-old.
Mhlongo’s method was simple. He applied pressure early and boxed smartly, not wasting a single punch as he put on a command performance. There was virtue in his simplicity as he broke down the challenger with a withering attack, mainly upstairs.
Thysse’s lack of response and his inability to counter Mhlongo was alarming. He shipped punches for round after round and the ending mercifully came in the 10th when he was being belted from pillar to post.
UNDERCARD ACTION . . .
Southpaw Chris Thompson continues to look a fine prospect and was in fine form as he overpowered Antonella Maree in two rounds to move to 3-0.
Thompson had few problems and when he opted to unload, Maree had little response, leaving referee David van Niewenhuizen little option but to call the action off.
Fellow prospect Rowan Campbell dropped down to super-middleweight and looked the stronger for it as he stopped Benjamin Nhabetse in the fourth. A right hand sent Nhabetse to the canvas in the fourth and while he bravely continued, he was ill-equipped to evade the assault as Campbell walked him down.
He was durable and tough, but was finally overcome after a sustained attack.