Monday, May 29, 2023  |


Kevin Lerena vs. Ryad Merhy set for 12 rounds on Saturday

Kevin Lerena (right) takes it to heavyweight veteran Mariusz Wach, who he outpointed over 12 rounds in September 2022. Photo by James Gradidge
Fighters Network

The heat is on for Kevin Lerena and Ryad Merhy.

Emperor’s Palace in Gauteng, South Africa, will be the scene for a clash of former cruiserweight contenders, Saturday, when Kevin Lerena takes on Ryad Merhy in a 12-rounder.

The fight is a WBC eliminator for the sanctioning body’s 224-pound bridgerweight title, currently held by Lukasz Rozanski, in a division not recognized by The Ring or any other alphabet body.

Sanctioning body baubles aside, it is an intriguing matchup. The pair were originally slated to clash back in 2021. That fight would have taken place in Merhy’s home country of Belgium but had to be scrapped when Lerena broke his hand in training.

The hand was surgically repaired and Lerena had a dabble in the heavyweight division. That ended when he got stopped in three rounds by Daniel Dubois in his most recent fight but not before knocking the Brit down three times in the opening round, coming within a whisker of a monumental upset.

Lerena’s trainer Peter Smith likes the fact that his charge will not be at a massive size disadvantage Saturday night. “My thoughts on Merhy are that he is going to be a good opponent but he is not Dubois, a fully-fledged heavyweight. So we are not expecting the danger of a hard hitting heavyweight but we will be expecting a busy fighter.”

Facing a 31-1 opponent with 26 knockouts seems like a tough outing for the South African southpaw after suffering his first inside-the-distance defeat but, again, Smith is not worried. “Am I concerned? No, we have been working incredibly hard. Merhy will be experiencing a hard-hitting, skillful, dangerous Kevin Lerena. Is it gonna be a tough fight? Boxing is a tough game, so Merhy won’t make it tougher than anything we’ve faced. Maybe surprisingly easy!”

Merhy’s only defeat came back in 2018 when he was stopped in 11 rounds by current WBA cruiserweight beltholder Arsen Goulamirian but he was competitive throughout the fight. “What didn’t work was simply a mix of lots of little things that disrupted the progress of the preparation and Ryad’s mind. He was not at 100% of his abilities that day! But as he often says, his loss to Goulamirian made him realize his abilities and what needed to be changed,” explains Merhy’s promoter Alain Vanackère.

He has since won seven in a row, including a seventh round knockout over undefeated Imre Szello, in 2019, that got him the WBA’s interim cruiserweight strap. He weighed 216 pounds for his most recent fight in October of last year, when he stopped journeyman Dusan Krstin in three rounds. What prompted the move up in weight?

“A lot of disappointments in cruiserweight! After I took the interim title, I was full of confidence and then COVID came on and put everything on standby. I gained weight; I became a dad…many changes in such a short time. I am in my 30s and my body has reached physical maturity,” Merhy explains, speaking through Vanackère.

What do they think of the 28-2 (14 KOs) Lerena? Like Smith, Vanackère is not concerned. “He’s a good opponent, good physique, quite explosive. He’s a boxer with good boxing basics. The only thing that will make this fight last is that he is left-handed.”

When pressed for a prediction, he responded, “The only prediction is that it won’t go to 12 rounds.”

In the main supporting bout, Keaton Gomes (9-2, 7 KOs) will attempt to become the first man in a long time to successfully defend the South African heavyweight title. He takes on the former champion Joshua Pretorius (9-6, 5 KOs) over 12 rounds. Four of his predecessors lost the slippery belt in their first defenses.