Kevin Lerena dumps bridgerweight plans, faces Ryad Merhy at 200 pounds on July 17
The Ring No 5 rated cruiserweight, Kevin “Two Guns” Lerena, is set to take on Ryad Merhy over 12 rounds in the latter’s backyard of Brussels, Belgium on July 17 at the King Baudouin Stadium, it was announced this week by Lerena’s promoters, Golden Gloves Promotions. Merhy represents the biggest challenge in a long while for the South African whose career has been treading water as of late.
Ranked No. 2 in the WBC’s new bridgerweight division, a division as yet unrecognized by the other three major sanctioning bodies as well as The Ring, Lerena (26-1, 13 knockouts) and his team have decided to stick to cruiserweight, after initially chasing a fight for the green belt at the higher weight. “We looked at it, being the first to fight for that title but it wasn’t to our liking. There was too much negativity in terms of getting the big names to fight. We were offered to fight Oscar Rivas but then they sidetracked us to go for Jennings with us slated to fight the winner. Then we heard Jennings pulled out and we decided, ‘Stuff it, let’s just stick to cruiserweight.’ We don’t know where this bridgerweight thing is going. It might even spoil opportunities that may be there at cruiserweight,” explains Lerena’s trainer, Peter Smith.
Is the 200-pound weight limit becoming an issue? “No, Kevin is a disciplined professional. He is already on his diet. He doesn’t let himself go between fights.”
They are not underestimating Merhy whose sole loss came when he was stopped on his feet in the 11th round against current WBA titlist Arsen Goulamirian in 2018. The Ivory Coast born Belgian has won five bouts on the trot since that loss culminating in a seventh-round knockout over then-undefeated Imre Szello in October 2019. “I know he is going to come to fight. He has a good name on the European circuit,” Smith acknowledges. “He fought a good, tough, fight against Goulamirian. In the end Goulamirian edged it but he (Merhy) is one of the danger dogs in the division. Now we have the opportunity to show what we can do against him,” says an excited Smith.
Merhy will be in familiar territory, having had almost all his fights in Belgium. With 24 knockouts included in his 29 wins, he has more than decent power and quick hands for a big man with a sneaky, short left hook thrown into mix.
Lerena, for his part, brings an awkward rhythm coupled with a southpaw stance and is an athletic sort who likes to explode with combinations. He is not a stranger to fighting on the road either, having tasted victory before in Germany, Azerbaijan and Denmark.
How does the 29-year-old Lerena feel about his upcoming foreign assignment?
“Listen, we’re blessed to get this fight, especially during the pandemic. At the end of the day, I always stayed in decent shape. We must work hard for every fight, regardless but we have a different strategy for everyone we fight and that is where Peter comes into play. Merhy is a good opponent for me in the sense that he comes to fight and that is what I really like. Some guys fight on the backfoot or they don’t engage as much. I am not going to have that problem with him. Beating him will open doors for me for other big fights because Yuniel Dorticos will then be my mandatory (the fight is for Merhy’s WBA “regular” as well as Lerena’s IBO belt, titles not recognized by The Ring). I am not underestimating him. He is a tough fight, but I have what it takes to beat him. We are going to work hard for the next 11-12 weeks and we’ll see what happens on the 17th of July.”
Does he want to make a prediction?
As always, the talkative South African does not mince words. “I am going there to knock him out. I am going to his home country. I want to put it on him, honestly, wholeheartedly and put him on the backfoot. May the best man win but surely, I am going for the knockout. In my last five fights, only one went the distance. I want to go for the stoppage again. The more you do that, the more your share price climbs, the more notoriety your name gets. I am not going to look for it (the knockout), but that is what I am going for in this fight.”
Lerena has the activity advantage going in, having managed to see action twice in 2020, stoppages over ex-WBA titleholder Firat Arslan and journeyman Patrick Ferguson, whereas Merhy had to sit the year out. He does, however, have the home ground advantage that has often proved so crucial when fights go to the cards.
Whatever happens, stylistically it looks like a fight that will deliver and Golden Gloves promoter, Rodney Berman, is banking on his charge to pull off another victory. “With cruiserweights there is a lot of interest in Europe and that gives the potential for big international TV coverage. If we can get them aboard, I would look at giving Kevin a big homecoming in December, should he win.”
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