South Africa

LORD OF THE RING

Battered and bruised Kevin Lerena continues boxing his way to the top

Battered and bruised Kevin Lerena continues boxing his way to the top
Kevin Lerena and Senad Gashi during the Double Down @ The Palace boxing tournament at Emperors Palace on 25 November 2023 in Kempton Park, South Africa. (Photo: James Gradidge/Gallo Images)

South Africa’s Kevin Lerena entered the ring on Saturday with a broken rib and a broken hand but exited with the WBC interim bridgerweight title in hand.

South Africa’s premier boxer Kevin Lerena (30-2; 14) put on a masterclass last Saturday to overcome Senad Gashi (27-4; 26) to become only the third local WBC boxing champion, capturing the bridgerweight title on an interim basis. 

Lerena looked comfortable throughout the bout at Emperors Palace in Kempton Park and sealed the victory with a knockdown in the 12th round. 

Although a few straight jabs pierced Lerena’s tight guard, it was the South African who controlled the fight — especially clinical with his right hook — and closed space between Gashi, who seemed satisfied with just holding on to Lerena, for which Gashi was eventually deducted a point. 

The fight was scored 118-109, 117-110 and an interesting 114-113 to Lerena by the three judges. 

The win meant the 31-year-old became the third South African ever, after Dingaan Thobela and Thulani “Sugar Boy” Malinga, to hold a WBC title. 

Between September 2017 and February 2020, Lerena held the IBO cruiserweight title — which he defended six times. 

“It’s massive. I’m a two-weight division world champion, it’s my 12th or 13th title fight so it’s big for me,” Lerena told Daily Maverick

“It means a lot to me to be the third-ever South African to hold the WBC world title. It’s surreal actually.” 

It was only the burly southpaw’s second fight at bridgerweight after defeating Ryad Merhy in May this year. 

But what made Lerena’s win on Saturday especially impressive was the fact that he fought the highly rated Gashi — who has a 96% knockout rate in his wins — with a broken rib, to go with his perpetually damaged left hand. 

“I broke my rib in training 10 days before the fight,” Lerena said. “I have a broken hand that didn’t heal properly for the last two years. 

“I always go into a fight with a broken hand but the rib was the latest. I just dug down deep and just fought on with it. I’ll never cancel any fight unless it’s completely debilitating.” 

When asked about getting the hand repaired, the interim bridgerweight champion said it wouldn’t be possible in the foreseeable future. 

“I can’t,” Lerena said. “If I fix my hand I won’t be able to box again. I have to fuse the whole hand, so I’ll fight with it until the very end and then I’ll fix it at the end of the day when I’m finished.” 

Polish title holder 

Poland’s Lukasz Rozanski is the current full-time WBC bridgerweight title holder but is tied to a fight with Badou Jack. The winner of the fight will face Lerena to decide the permanent holder of the bridgerweight belt. 

Rozanski and Jack have until February to settle a fight between them or Lerena could take the belt by default. 

Who would Lerena prefer to fight between the two brawny boxers? “The one that makes the most money, to be honest,” the fighter said candidly. 

“I don’t really care who I fight, it’s all about, at the end of the day, the one that’s most lucrative for me.” 

However, if it came down to it and he had to choose, “[Perhaps] Badou Jack for me. I prefer Badou Jack. He’s a big name, he’s a big prizefighter, so I’d like to fight Jack … but either of them, whichever one wins there,” he said. 

“But they need to sort their things out. If they don’t come to a certain agreement, it’s a problem. 

“[If they don’t sort it out], then I’m immediately elevated and one of them will have to fight me, so hopefully they come to an agreement relatively soon. 

“But that’s out of my control, I’m just keeping my options open.” 

Aiming for the stars 

The bridgerweight division (between 91kg and 102kg) has treated Lerena well since he stepped down from heavyweight after his controversial defeat to Daniel Dubois last December at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. 

It was on the same fight card that Tyson Fury defeated Derek Chisora and retained the WBC heavyweight title. 

Although Lerena is tight-lipped about the opponent, he is confident of being on the famed Fury’s fight card again in February when the WBC champion takes on WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO champion Oleksandr Usyk in Saudi Arabia. 

“We have a possible big fight offer in February; we’re looking to fight in Saudi Arabia in February, so we have to keep our options open and see what the best thing is for us,” Lerena said. 

“Saudi Arabia. Usyk v Fury. We’re looking to fight on the same card, we can’t say who against yet, but that’s the plan. That’s the pinnacle, that’s the pinnacle of boxing. Saudi Arabia is looking good.” 

There will be four titles on the line when Usyk and Fury meet, but for Lerena, the only thing that matters, when the opportunity comes, is getting in the ring and knocking out his opponent. DM

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