Despite incredibly having never partaken in a single amateur contest, reigning IBO world cruiserweight champion, Kevin Lerena (23-1) has made it to the pinnacle of the professional game.
The decision to skip the unpaid scene was mainly due to a lack of numbers in his native land and did absolutely nothing to harm his career.
“In South Africa, it doesn’t have a big amateur presence, especially in the heavier divisions,” he told me. “They’ve got a lot of lighter-weight fighters, welterweights and down, but they don’t have a lot of heavier guys. So, it’s pretty pointless to be an amateur, to win tournaments by not even having to fight but just having byes, you know? The option to turn pro was the better option.”
The South African southpaw has been defending his world title relatively comfortably with four successful defences to date. It’s feasible to believe that he’s not even been pushed close to his limits yet. “I think I’m just starting,” he boldly proclaimed. “I’ve got so much more to give and so much more to achieve. So, I think this is only the start.” His most recent defence in June at the famous Emperor’s Palace was a straightforward unanimous decision, despite Lerena suffering with illness leading into the bout against Vasil Ducar.
“No, I was very sick. I was actually on antibiotics. I had bronchitis, to be honest.” You would think that would have undoubtedly affected his performance? “Maybe to a point, but I’m the type of guy who doesn’t use excuses, to be honest. That was a hurdle I had to overcome and I overcame it. No excuses. Whether it hampered my performance or not, I chose to fight sick and that’s a responsibility I took and I got the victory, so I’m happy.”
The twenty-seven year-old is currently the fifth best cruiserweight in the world according to Boxrec and it seems likely that unification matches are on the horizon. “Most definitely, I think it’s around the corner. It’s just a matter of time. I’ve just got to keep winning, defending my IBO strap. The world is recognising me and I think the most important thing is to stay humble, stay hungry and just keep winning.”
The other top cruiserweights have been fighting their own battles in the current season of the World Boxing Super Series. Lerena was due to be a key part of it, but unfortunately, an injury forced him out of it. “I was meant to be in it, but I had a shoulder operation. I was offered it by Sauerland Promotions and I was meant to be in it after my fight before Artur Mann, but I injured my shoulder, so I had to undergo surgery. That’s what caused me to miss it.”
The saying goes that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ and that may well end up being true if Lerena fights the winner upon the tournament’s completion. A multi-belt unification is something that boxing fans would be salivating to see. “I think I should fight the winner,” he said. “I think I’m deserving of a shot and it should be a unification fight regardless of who it is. They’re all top fighters and we’ve got to fight each other to see who’s the best.”
Almost all of the major players in the cruiserweight division other than Lerena fight in mainland Europe. He may have to venture to their turf to secure the big match-ups unless his promoter, Rodney Berman, can tempt them to travel to South Africa.”They should come to South Africa or we can go there if the money’s right. If the money side of it and the business side of it fits then we’ll go to their territory. But, if it’s not right then I’m not going to sell myself short and go over there. I value myself as a fighter. We all have a value and if the value’s right then we’ll go and fight on any soil, home soil, foreign soil. The money has to be right, it has to be worth our while, in a sense of getting paid for our worth.”
Regardless of whether those big-money fights come to fruition, he’s looking to get out later this year to complete his third title defence of 2019. “Yes, that would be ideal. My promoter, Rodney Berman, is working on the 21st of September. We haven’t decided who yet, but we are working on it and we’re hoping for a date in September.”
Former WBA, WBC, WBO & IBF world champion, Oleksandr Usyk recently relinquished his titles to move up and pursue a foray into the land of the giants. The Johannesburg pugilist hopes to walk a similar path amongst the heavyweights in the future. “That’s exactly what I want to do. I want to win as many belts as I can at cruiserweight,” he explained. “I’ll be honest, I find it quite hard and challenging to make the cruiserweight division. I walk around at 100kgs (220lbs); cruiserweight limit is 200lbs, so it’s a challenge for me to make the weight – but I make it. I’m strong at it, but I do feel that if I could unify the cruiserweight division and there’s nothing left for me at cruiserweight and I’ve done everything I can – I will most definitely go up to the heavyweight division eventually.”
He continued on, “I think that’s a division I could go up to and I would be competitive too. Yes, I’m only 6’1″ and I’m only 100kgs, but at the end of the day, styles make fights and I’m a very awkward fighter. I don’t go backwards. I move my head a lot. I fight from angles. So, I would pose a threat to any fighter at heavyweight or cruiserweight.”