Kevin Lerena’s trainer Peter Smith has challenged the opinion held by a good deal of local fight fans and pundits that his charge is steering clear of the top cruiserweights in the world.
The 27-year-old South African southpaw (27-1-0-11 knockouts) steps into hostile territory on Saturday night when he makes the sixth defence of the IBO version of the cruiserweight title against the 16th-ranked Firat Arslan, a former WBA champion, at the EWS Arena in Goeppingen, Germany.
Mild-mannered as he is, and careful not to undermine the view of boxing lovers, Smith went to great lengths to explain how the chosen route taken by the reigning IBO cruiserweight champion was part of a ‘step by step process’.
“We have ticked boxes and made sure Kevin is worthy of approaching the big boys of the division. He has fought some good fighters to this point and it’s sad that some people hold the opinion they do about what calibre of fighters he’s been up against,” Smith told The Citizen from Germany.
In his two most recent title defences, Lerena gained an easy points decision over Czech journeyman Vasil Ducar and barely had a glove laid on him by the Swiss-based Albanian Sefer Seferi before gaining a third-round TKO.
“It is grossly unfair to claim that Kevin is avoiding the big guns. If you go back to past statements, Kevin said he would fight anyone.”
At first glance, fellow southpaw Arslan’s record looks impressive (47-8-3 – 32 KO’s) and he boasts a high knockout ratio, but he is in the twilight of his career at 49-years-old and if social media engagement is anything of a guide, there is a school of opinion among fans that this may be another ‘hand-picked’ opponent for the popular South African.
“The only reason why people are complaining is because of his (Arslan’s) age. He’s been winning if you look at his record and has been in with some top cruiserweights in the world. So it’s not as if he is off some batterings (sic) in his last couple of fights.
“Kevin has been a worthy champion and faced whatever has been thrown at us in the IBO ranks. We have never avoided any fighters. Right now Kevin’s profile is growing. The higher he climbs, the more in demand he becomes and then the big fighters will all want to fight him,” added Smith.
Should he successfully negotiate this current assignment, Smith says they can chase the big fight options. There is talk of a fight against WBA champion Beibut Shumenoc of Kazakhstan.
Yuniel Dorticos from Cuba holds the IBF belt and SA-based Congolese fighter Ilunga Makabu, trained by Damien Durandt, captured the WBC title last weekend. The WBO belt remains vacant.
Four of Lerena’s five title defences have been at the Emperors Palace gaming resort just east of Johannesburg, while he did venture abroad to face the Ukrainian challenger Roman Golovashchenko in Baku, Azerbaijan, in July 2018.
One thing looks certain though, if Lerena wants to step into the division’s big league he would have to abandon his home comforts and continue fighting abroad.
“Now that we are fighting in Germany, we are putting ourselves out there so we can showcase Kevin and get the big fights. Getting the top fighters to come out to SA and fight us has been difficult because we can’t raise that kind of money,” explained Smith.
“People will have to realise that Kevin’s value is now abroad and his credentials are rising.”
“Arslan is a seasoned campaigner and needs to be respected,” Lerena told The Ring earlier this week. .“However, inside the ring, I lose all respect and look to beat whatever is in front of me. His (Arslan’s) weaknesses will be exposed.”
The tournament will be shown live on SuperSport 8 from 8.40pm.