The official scores may not reflect it, but Kevin “Two Gun” Lerena was given a stern test of his credentials by rugged Dmytro Kucher in an entertaining 12-rounder at Emperors Palace on Saturday.
Although the IBO cruiserweight champion, making his first title defence, always looked in control, his Ukrainian opponent never allowed him a single moment to relax. He pressed the action and stayed up on his toes, but he never was able to hurt the dogged Lerena or unravel his gameplan.
Scores were 119-109, 119-109, 117-111; a tad generous to Lerena, perhaps, but there was no question that he was a comfortable, accomplished winner.
The champion tried to establish his southpaw jab from the start, but there was an early impediment when he was cut around his right eye in the third. It seemed to momentarily trouble him, but his corner did a great job stemming the blood and the injury wasn’t obviously a major factor as the fight wore on and Lerena took charge.
Lerena was at his best pressing the action, like in the fifth when a succession of hard left hands found their mark, forcing Kucher to back off. His superior speed provided him a constant advantage, although he let himself down by failing to go to the body enough. Kucher’s midriff was a wide open target, but it was one the champion seldom exploited.
Kucher was as tough as they come, his granite chin holding up well even when Lerena peppered it with his busy attack.
He had his moments, too, Lerena’s marked-up face midway through the fight reflecting Kucher’s honest efforts. The Ukrainian had arrived with just two defeats on his ledger. He leaves with a third, but his reputation as a hard man was enhanced – still no-one has been able to stop him.
It was yet another notch in Lerena’s belt, important experience as he seeks to embellish his international reputation, and he’ll be the better fighter for 12-hard rounds against a gnarled veteran.
Mbenge cruises home
In the main undercard bout, SA’s Thulani Mbenge captured the vacant WBC International welterweight title with a regulation 12-round win over Diego Cruz of Mexico.
Scores were 118-110, 118-110, 119-109.
Mbenge had few problems overcoming the Mexican, although it was disappointing that he never found a way to pull the trigger against the pudgy Mexican. Cruz had come in almost three kilograms over the limit having made no apparent effort to shift the weight earlier in the week.
Indeed, Mbenge found early success when banging for the body, to the extent that it led to howls of protest from the visitor, but the SA champion failed to follow up, seemingly content to box his way to victory.
Cruz was tough and game, but technically limited. He had little to no success in keeping Mbenge off him, not least because the South African’s speed was a far superior weapon.
Mbenge was happy to fight in bursts against an opponent whose ambition was merely to survive. He did the business, but when he looks at the fight video he’ll recognise just how much he let his opponent off the hook.
Kriel cracks on
In an entertaining fight DeeJay Kriel went over old ground as he repeated his earlier win over Xolisa Magusha, winning without fanfare over 12 rounds to keep his WBC International minimumweight belt.
Kriel started very slowly, allowing the Eastern Cape challenger to establish an early dominance. The southpaw challenger was busy and mixed up his attack, while Kriel was content to box off the back foot.
Fortunately the announcement of the WBC’s scores after four rounds, which showed him to be down on two judges’ cards, was the wake-up call Kriel needed and he smartly upped his workrate and began to show his worth as a champion.
Perhaps it was complacency, perhaps it was the certainty that Magusha couldn’t hurt him, but Kriel slipped into sparring mode a little too often for comfort. His hands were frequently low and he taunted Magusha, who tired late in the fight. It’s a trick he’s unlikely to get away with it against the elite of the division.
Untroubled Campbell marches on
In the show opener, Rowan Campbell wasn’t extended as he won a technical KO decision over Masixole Botile, who retired with an apparent hand injury 59 seconds into the second round.
It was just as well for Botile, who had come under heavy attack in the first round as Campbell let his shots go and looked exceptional doing so.