JOHANNESBURG – Kevin Lerena is hard at work preparing to defend his IBO title fight against Ukraine's Dmytro Kucher at Emperor's Palace on March 3.
Lerena is addicted to physical training, so any questions about his physical state are relative.
The cruiserweight is always fit and strong; it’s the smaller things that need attention, which is where his focus will be leading up to the big night.
Mentally, Lerena says he is in a good place, too, having learned vital lessons in his last fight against Youri Kalenga and now more keen to show the world what he’s capable of.
“I’ve proved time and again that I can make guys look ordinary,” he says. “I know what the future holds – the future’s exciting.”
He rates Kucher as a commendable talent and a “tough guy”, before adding, “they’re all tough if you stand in front of them rather than move and box.”
Lerena has no intention of seeing what he’s up against on YouTube. “It’s almost irrelevant . . . it’s much different when you climb into that small square to fight. I’m Kevin Lerena. He must worry about me. I don’t stand and take unnecessary shots. I use my intelligence.”
At 25, he believes he is only now entering his prime after seven years as a pro fighter. Interestingly, among the top 10, he’s the second youngest behind only IBF champion Murat Gassiev, who is a year younger.
He has youth on his side, conceding, though, that he is still absorbing the skills and smarts to become a better boxer.
“I’m a student of the game. With each fight, I get better and better. Ringcraft is everything to me. I’m always learning, always looking to improve.”
Indeed, he says he learned two crucial lessons against Kalenga. The first was that when he hurts an opponent, he must finish him.
“I let him off the hook and gave him too much respect. That’s unacceptable. He buckled and I should have ripped him to pieces. I can’t allow a guy to get back in after hurting him.
“The other lesson was that I underestimated myself. I was very nervous, but I must back myself more.”
For all this, Lerena’s mental game is strong. He’s never turned an opponent down and vows there isn’t a cruiserweight he fears.
He knows that there are bigger, harder fights down the road, a journey he embraces like the determined fighter he is.