A loss is always hard for a fighter to digest, but Kevin Lerena has done it the right way since his all-action fight against Johnny Muller.
Neither angry nor in denial, he has eagerly taken the lessons aboard in his quest to become a better, more rounded boxer.
“The fight taught me so much,” he says of their fight last November. “Could I take the punches? Could I go the distance? Could I handle the pressure? I got those answers and, in the words of Johnny, ‘Kevin was much harder than Masternak’.”
Lerena is now four weeks away from another tantalising local fight, against Deon Coetzee for the SA cruiserweight championship at Emperors Palace on July 30. Such fights always offer another exciting dimension because the contest for local bragging rights is never less than intense – Coetzee will thus bring it hard, and Lerena knows it.
“Deon’s a warrior, very tough,” says Lerena, who has sparred him previously. “He’s on a seven-fight winning streak and the one thing we know is that [trainer] Nick Durandt always brings his fighters in good shape. Deon turned pro long before me and is a very durable guy.”
Having seen how stablemate Thabiso Mchunu gassed during his high-profile championship eliminator against Junior Makabu, Lerena is aware of the need to be super-fit himself. He is duly putting in the hard yards.
“Even now, five weeks out, I can truly say this is the hardest preparation ever. I know Coetzee is coming in fit. My trainer Peter Smith has been there – he was always one of the fittest boxers around – and he has really helped improve my stamina. I’m going to be relying on my fitness and skill more than ever.”
With an impressive record of 12 wins in 13 fights, fast-handed Lerena is determined to keep progressing. Muller’s remark about Masternak offered great encouragement as does the knowledge within that his all-round game is improving with every fight.
“I lost my ‘0’ against Johnny, but I gained a lot; far more than if I had banged out 13 guys. It’s not like in America where you can pad your record. In South Africa you are fighting guys with two and three times more experience because that’s how it is. No-one is kept in cotton wool.
“I’ve matured as a fighter. If I look at my first fight and then now, I’m completely different. I’m working hard, putting the hours in on the road and in the gym. Now, I bring a different dimension to the game. I put it out there. I put my balls on the line. I’ll fight whoever they put in front of me.”
He gives thanks to African Ring, Golden Gloves and SuperSport for coming to the party and putting the fight together.
“I always turn up for a fight. Whether by knockout or over the distance, I’m always entertaining.”
It’s a proud boast, but one Lerena is determined to deliver on when he tops the “Young Guns” tournament next month.
It’s one not to miss.