WATCH: Kevin Lerena’s children motivate him to keep winning
“My kids are my biggest motivation. I tell myself that this man (his opponent) isn’t taking food off their table. I fight for my kids, they are my biggest blessing.”
The 27-year-old cruiserweight boxer from Joburg enjoys an almost perfect fight record.
After turning pro in 2011, Lerena has suffered only one defeat - in 2014, when he fought fellow countryman, Johnny Muller.
Last weekend, the southpaw, who is trained by former pugilist Peter Smith, extended his winning run to 25-1 by knocking out Albania’s Sefen Seferi in the third round to retain his IBO cruiserweight belt for an astonishing fifth time.
It was one of Lerena’s biggest scalps, because Seferi had never been knocked out - until last weekend.
“I was expecting a very tough opponent. (Smith) prepares me for war. We had a game plan. I don’t watch any of my opponents’ past fights.
“I rely wholeheartedly on Peter’s judgement. (Seferi) has been in the ring with some big names and only lost twice, so I knew it would be tough.
“But I soon realised I was a way superior fighter, and I just backed myself and did what Peter told me to do to get the victory.”
And Lerena had always wanted to knock the Albanian out.
“It’s not arrogance. I’m not wishing harm on people. It’s just that a knockout adds value, and people want to see knock-outs, and if you’ve got the power to do it, why not do it?
“Seferi also had never even been knocked down in his whole career. Tyson Fury retired him in the fifth round, but Fury is a heavyweight.
“I really wanted to make a statement, and I believe I did that.”
While the fight was punted to be one of Lerena’s toughest, he says his fight against Seferi turned out to be one of the easiest of his career.
“On paper, it’s in the top five hardest fights I have had because of his record, but in terms of actual fights, it was one of my easiest. Maybe I’m evolving as a fighter, maybe Peter’s teaching is bearing fruit.”
While Lerena is now regarded as one of the best boxers in the world, he admits it’s been a long and hard journey to get to where he is.
“Along the way, you veer off the path - stumbling, falling, and getting back up. I am where I am today because of my perseverance. I started my career and barely made any money.
“I was earning R4000 a fight, and I fought once every three months. How do you sustain a living like that?”
“This sport is about making money.
“I never want to sell myself short, but I also want to enjoy what I’m doing, and Peter has helped me do that.”
Lerena also believes his only loss against Muller helped him to be a better and more resilient fighter.
“I believe that adversity builds character. In 2014 I lost a fight I should have never lost. I avenged that loss when I knocked Muller out a couple of months later. That loss on your record is there forever. It stays 25-1 and not 26-0. But it doesn’t bother me because it’s made me who I am today, opened my eyes, taught me a lot, and helped me build character.”
Lerena emphasises how much he owes his success to trainer Peter Smith.
“I’m fortunate to be supported by a coach like Peter. He makes the path more stable; never easier, but I have a lot more direction. We started from the bottom, and although by no means are we at the top, we are still climbing and I’m just grateful.”
Smith has also heaped praise on Lerena, comparing their working relationship to a “marriage”.
“People don’t see what we do behind closed doors, and that’s where the secret lies. It’s like a marriage, and it’s getting stronger and better. A good marriage, obviously. The understanding of what Kevin and I have is like the equation that’s creating the victories.”
Smith said Lerena’s achievements were unbelievable, especially since he had no boxing background.
“I’ve watched him grow from when he had no money, nothing at all, to being a world champ. He dedicated himself. He would go do other jobs to make money so he could fight.
“He knew what his plan was.”
While the dust has barely settled on the victory against Seferi, Lerena is already eyeing his next bout, and is ready to defend his title.
“We are still busy finalising my next opponent. I haven’t signed the contract, but have agreed verbally to fight overseas in November.”