Kevin Lerena pleased with Kucher win, shifts focus to next step
On Saturday, up-and-coming cruiserweight Kevin Lerena widely outpointed Dmytro Kucher over 12 rounds at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The event also saw stablemates Thulani Mbenge, a rising welterweight, and strawweight DeeJay Kriel claim decision victories in WBC regional fights against Diego Cruz and Xolisa Magusha, respectively.
Lerena (20-1, 9 knockouts) pleased his hometown fans by outboxing the more experienced Kucher (24-3-1, 18 KOs) from the beginning. The South African had to fight through a couple of injuries to win a unanimous decision: 119-109, 119-109 and 117-111.
The bout was a good learning experience for the 25-year-old southpaw, although his face told a different story.
“It was a fight that was going backwards and forwards,” Lerena told RingTV.com. “Dmytro Kucher is a tough competitor, I had him hurt a few times and I think that slowed him down a lot, because nobody has really hurt him. I can box and I can hurt guys and I’m happy for the victory and grateful for my team.
“I think I took a bad clash of heads that caused the cut above the right eye in the second round,” he explained. “My nose is broken; I go into fights with a damaged nose. You can flick my nose and it bleeds! I feel a million dollars.
“This is the fight game. I generally don’t get hit that much, but some fights you just get in the moments and go toe-to-toe and it’s one-for-one and he’s two for my four. I’m very happy. He was throwing a lot of pushed punches that were missing. I was hitting him with snap. He’s a tough guy.”
His cut stitched up, “Two Guns” will relax for five days and then return to the gym and begin planning for only his second fight outside South Africa — he was promised an April 28 date with Roman Golovashchenko (19-1, 17 KOs) in Azerbaijan.
Lerena feels Kucher underestimated him and wasn’t focused going into the fight.
“That’s where Kucher made a mistake,” he said. “They said in the pre-fight interview, ‘We’ve seen the next guy we’ve got to fight (after Lerena); we’ll beat him too.’ I said, ‘I haven’t even looked at the guy, I don’t even know his name. I’m focused on Kucher.’ And that’s their biggest mistake. They must focus on me.
“Now I’ll have a look (at Golovashchenko). I’ll be honest, I don’t even know his name. I’ve not focused on him. I was told the fight would be made if I won this one. All I know is it’s in Azerbaijan.”
Lerena is a work-in-progress; he has beaten sturdy veterans Youri Kalenga and now Kucher in his last two outings. Not bad for a fighter with no amateur experience.
He has worked with Peter and Sean Smith since turning professional in November 2011, and Peter Smith is impressed by the development from fledgling pro to someone who is now on the cusp of a world title.
“What I admire about Kevin is he’s a great student of the game,” said Smith, a former cruiserweight/heavyweight in 1990s. “He learns. Kevin’s growth in the game has become phenomenal. Step to step, we’ve nurtured him. Every fight is a different fight. We never go to the next fight with the same plan. He always listens; he’s great at listening. He focuses on the plan and he doesn’t mess around in the ring. He does the job well.
“I knew Kucher was a tough man, (and Lerena) stood the test. Test by test, Kevin is climbing the ladder, and he’s a danger and a force to be reckoned with.”
Promoter Rodney Berman is proud of how Lerena is coming along and expects his charge to continue to impress.
“He’s now had 21 fights, so when you put into perspective what he’s achieved without amateur experience,” said the veteran promoter. “I do believe he’s maturing very well. I know what we have to do and I believe he’s going to be a major force in the division.
“I’m not rushing it; I’m not looking for the top three or four guys. I want to keep him busy and build his confidence.”