The fight has endured a stormy buildup, but finally it has been confirmed – Kevin “Two Guns” Lerena will now fight Youri Kalenga at Emperors Palace on September 9.
The pair will contest the vacant IBO cruiserweight championship.
This follows the withdrawal of Maxim Maslov, who cited injury, and the subsequent decision by Olanrewaju Durodola and Maxim Vlasov not to take the fight. Given the chopping and changing, the tournament has also been pushed out from the original August date.
Kalenga (23-3, 16 KOs) is arguably a better-quality opponent than the aforementioned trio. He has campaigned at a high level, fighting top men like Denis Lebedev and Yunier Dorticos. Twice he boxed on Golden Gloves promotions in Monte Carlo, most memorably two years ago when a brutal left hook put Roberto Bolonti to sleep in the ninth round.
Originally from the DRC and now based in France, he has earned a reputation as one of the division’s hard men. A look at the tape of his fight last year against Dorticos, a hammer and tongs affair, reveals a fighter who knows only how to box on the front foot. He never stops coming and has a very capable punch.
“Frankly, this is a very, very tough proposition for Lerena,” said Rodney Berman, who scoured the major markets for a suitable opponent. “I’ve seen Kalenga plenty. He’s a hard puncher and he always comes to fight. Kevin will need to pull out all stops.”
Lerena (18-1) is fast approaching his prime, having dispatched the like of Johnny Muller, Bolonti and Micki Nielsen in recent years to put himself into major contention. He is rated second by the WBO.
He yearns for the big fights and will presumably be satisfied that a highly regarded fighter like Kalenga is being shipped in. A win on his ledger will propel him into bigger fights down the road.
Berman believes that the difficulty in putting the fight together reflects the sober reality that Lerena has become an avoided fighter.
“We always underestimate our own and Lerena is a perfect case in point,” he said. “Maslov was a highly respected fighter who pulled out with a lame excuse. And Vlasov, highly ranked by all the organisations, pulled out, too, again with a pathetic reason and despite a top purse on the table. Durodola, perceived to be so dangerous, was another one. These are but three of many fighters who presumably perceive him as a threat.”
The fight card will include world-rated lightweight Xolisani Ndongeni, plus SA welterweight champion Thulani Mbenge and cruiserweight prospects Rowan Campbell and Chris Thompson.