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WATCH: ’Bring on Anthony Joshua!’ Kevin Lerena aims to be heavyweight in the ‘fistic art’

Published Feb 13, 2022

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Cape Town - When Kevin Lerena speaks about boxing, he refers to the sport as a “fistic art”.

That description tells you a lot about the 29-year-old southpaw. You get boxers who are looking for a quick payday, or that one-punch knockout, and they quickly surrender when they feel the heat in the ring.

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Not Lerena. He is a true student of the sport. He quickly rattled off the biggest names in the heavyweight division, where he will enter a whole new world when he takes on Romania’s Bogdan Dinu in a WBA Intercontinental Championship bout at Emperors Palace on March 26.

“The pinnacle of boxing is heavyweight boxing. When people speak about (boxing) – fine, if you take away Floyd and Canelo – they speak about Mike Tyson, Holyfield, Ali, Lewis, Klitschko, Corrie Sanders, Gerrie Coetzee… the list goes on,” Lerena said.

“There is no more prestigious division in boxing than heavyweight, so for me, it’s an honour to compete in that division. Let’s see what we can do. Like I said, it’s a long road, but it’s a road that I’ve walked before, and I have no problem going there.”

Lerena has moved on from the cruiserweights, where he was a seven-time IBO champion, and feels that there is a real opportunity to rule the heavyweight division in the not-too-distant future.

He was speaking to Independent Media at an event hosted by his sponsor, Under Armour – the Mental Health Symposium – in Cape Town recently, where he detailed some of the challenges he faced in having to make the 91kg mark to continue fighting in the cruiserweight division.

“Ten to 14 days before a world title fight, I naturally walk around at 104kg. This is who I am, and from the age of 26, it started becoming a lot harder to pull that weight off. When I was a lot younger, my initial weight for the cruiserweight division, when I was between 20 and 25, I would walk around at 96-97kg. So, to pull 7kg was relatively easy – it was a change in diet, a reduction in carbohydrates in fight week, and water,” Lerena explained.

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“But as I got older and started maturing – and filling out possibly! – it became harder to pull weight. I started feeling it, and obviously a seven-year winning streak is phenomenal.

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“But I said to myself, by pulling 14kg, at what point is it going to do an injustice to my performance? Could it have been that unification fight? We were in Namibia, and with four weeks to go, I was 104kg. In your mind, you are supposed to focus on your preparation in terms of the fistic art… your game plan, your big-match temperament, your fighting ability – you are there to fight.

“But in the back of your mind, you’re going, ‘I can’t eat that. I need 100g of grilled fish, broccoli and asparagus. I need (to lose) 2kg this week. Going into the sparring session, what’s my weight? I can only have four litres of water today.’ All that stuff is going to play on your mind. All those variables…

“It’s sacrifice, yes, but for a high-performance athlete, it’s an injustice. It doesn’t really do anything good for your performance. I got away with doing it for nine years, and I have been fortunate and very blessed to be in this position.”

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The unification fight Lerena referred to was in the cruiserweight division against WBA champion Ryad Merhy in Brussels last July. The South African had to withdraw due to a hand injury he sustained in training, which required surgery.

But now he is fully fit once more, and cannot wait to take on Dinu, a 35-year-old giant at 1.96m, compared to Lerena at 1.85m.

“That (unification) fight didn’t happen due to injury, and maybe it was a blessing in disguise for me because that pulling of weight is not good… It didn’t happen, and I sat down with the team after the injury and I said ‘Let’s move up to the heavyweight division’,” said the former KES Johannesburg pupil, who played first team rugby and was once a centre for the Golden Lions junior team.

“I think it’s the pinnacle, the monetary decision, and I think let’s give it a go, and I’ve given myself a timeline in boxing. I don’t want to box forever… I don’t want to be a so-called journeyman. I want to achieve what I can, and get out of the sport.

“I’ve given myself four years, so if I become a world champion in four years, that would be phenomenal, because that’s where I want to be. But most importantly, I want to achieve the highest that I can achieve in the division.

“I’m fighting a guy (Dinu) who has had 23 fights and 20 wins, 16 by KO. He’s a good fighter. He’s only lost to Kubrat Pulev, who’s lost to Anthony Joshua, and he lost the WBA world title to Daniel Dubois. So, he’s a very good fighter.

“It’s a big challenge for me. I know if I can beat this guy, and beat him in style, my name will be on the radar for a heavyweight world title within the next six months. I think I’m rated at 11 in the world now, and by beating this guy, I will get into the top five.

“Essentially, then it comes down to the big names… If you look at the top-five heavyweights right now, it’s Oleksandr Usyk – who was a cruiserweight who went up – Joshua, (Deontay) Wilder, Dillian Whyte, Dubois. Those are the five big names I’d like to fight… Most definitely Anthony Joshua, because it’s a big payday, and I think he’s vulnerable and he’s there to get beaten. He doesn’t take a good shot, and I’d exploit that.”

Lerena added that he is also open to taking part in ‘celebrity boxing’ bouts – with the famous YouTube Paul brothers Logan and Jake becoming instant hits – as it will come with a significant payday, but “I’m not going there for an exhibition” as he wants it to be a proper fight.

But his main focus is on rising to the top among the big boys, and that journey begins against Dinu next month. “Yes, I’m a smaller heavyweight. I’m probably 105kg today, and the big boys are ready to compete and they’re all six foot six, six foot seven and 110, 115kg-plus. But that doesn’t bother me. What I’m going to take up to the heavyweight division is speed, tenacity, agility, and that’s how I’m going to have to neutralise their power,” Lerena said.

“He’s a bigger man, six foot eight, throwing the big one-twos down the line, and you are going to get hit! If you can take away their strong points, by neutralising them, then they are going to find it a lot harder to fight a smaller man.

“And I’m going to get a comfortable weight. What I weigh on the morning of the fight is what I’m going to weigh that night. So, there’s no weight-pulling, no manipulation on the scale. No reloading, hydrating, dehydrating… just the health aspect of it. Mentally, I was in a stronger place. Physically, so much stronger.

“Emotionally, accepted the fact that I was a seven-time IBO cruiserweight champion – past tense now. I’m looking to become the heavyweight champion of the world!”

@ashfakmohamed

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