A dozen rounds and 10 stitches later, Kevin “Two Guns” Lerena is itching to return to the gym.
“I’ll be back Thursday,” he said, ever more determined to add to his repertoire after a confidence-boosting defeat of Dmytro Kucher at the weekend.
The IBO champion displayed excellent fight management and patience in beating the Ukrainian on points over 12 rounds. He was cut and banged up along the way, but his refusal to panic and his ability to adjust served him well as he finished strongly.
“If I’m improving each fight and going the right direction, that’s what matters,” he said. “It’s nice to fight rated, tough guys, who bring out the best in me. I never got the knockout, but I felt I came close.”
The general assessment was that Lerena produced a career-best performance, a view he was happy to embrace.
‘Was it my best performance? Yes, I think so’ – Lerena
“Was it my best performance? Yes, I think so. He was a big name, I boxed smartly and I overcame an early cut. All of that stacks up well. I never got the knockout, but then no-one has. He was tough, a very good fighter.”
Talking on Monday, Lerena said the biggest lesson he had learned on Saturday was the virtue of being patient.
Kucher stood tall at the start, flicking out his jab with a long reach, giving Lerena pause.
“How’s this gonna go?” the champion wondered to himself. “I knew I had to get inside and break his rhythm.”
“I’ve never fought a guy like that. He was quite calculated. I had to think . . . my fight IQ went up around 20 percent.
“He never hurt me once. He caught me with a good body shot where I felt a bit of a sting, but that was it. He was smart: when I was jabbing to the body, he was throwing the right lower, making the right changes. It was like a chess match . . . his ring IQ was good too. He’s a very smart fighter, but I made him miss a lot.”
Lerena said he tried as much as he could to follow the game plan, making adjustments along the way, but the cut he received on his right eye early on forced him to recalibrate.
“My team did a good job, but my vision was affected after the cut and I couldn’t see, so my timing was off. He controlled the early part with his jab, which is unusual because I usually establish my jab. But I wasn’t worried, I stuck to my guns.”
Promoter Rodney Berman was delighted. “I’ve never had the issue with Kevin that I have with other boxers, who reject opponent after opponent. Kevin says ‘bring them on’ and gets the business done. That’s the mark of a true champion. He’s young, still learning, but his attitude is first class. I’ll continue to chase the big fights for him.”