‘Two Guns’ Lerena setting the early pace for Golden Gloves
The presence of Kevin Lerena looms large over local boxing as South Africa’s most prominent fighter contemplates a big year.
His dream of another world title crack will almost certainly be realised in the first third of 2024 given that the planned WBC bridgerweight fight between champion Lucasz Rozinski and Badou Jack has foundered.
Word on boxing’s grapevine is that the WBC will now call for negotiations between the Rozinski and Lerena camps, a situation promoter Rodney Berman is happy with. Lerena has kept his side of the bargain, winning two key fights at the weight in 2023, and is desperate to get his hands on the prestigious green belt.
“I’ll do all I can to keep the fight in South Africa,” said Berman, well aware of the financial gymnastics required to ensure big-money fights continue to be staged in SA. He says a late March or early April date looks most likely.
Golden Gloves’ immediate focus, however, is on Ricardo Malajika, the slick super-flyweight who defends his IBO belt against England’s Marcel Braithwaite in March. Berman has long had his eye on Malajika, more so because of his emergence – and improvement – in the past two years.
Assuming he wins, the long-term prognosis features several lofty goals with the likes of France’s Georges Ory and Andrew Maloney touted as potential opponents – both compelling fights in a vibrant division.
Equally, the junior-middleweight division is brimming with fresh talent, among them Shervantaigh Koopman and Roarke Knapp, both Joburg-based, both dangerous and both on Golden Gloves’ books.
“Koopman is well regarded internationally,” said Berman, who is looking to keep him busy in 2024.
For all the excitement around Knapp, he won’t be rushed back before his injured hand is fully recovered. Thereafter he will be cut loose and given every chance of justifying the buzz that accompanies him.
If 2024 is shaping up as an exciting year on the Golden Gloves front – there are six major tournaments lined up with several development shows too – there’s particular anticipation surrounding the local debut of Asemahle Wellem, the national super-middleweight champion recently signed by Golden Gloves.
Hailing from the Eastern Cape, where flyweights rather than super-middleweights abound, Wellem is unbeaten in seven fights. Aged just 22, the sky would appear to be the limit for the young champion who will top a development card on March 10 before getting another chance on a big card in May.
The prospects thus appear thrilling for 2024 where much of SA boxing’s best talent will get a chance to shine.