New kid on the block by Ashleigh Egan

Walking into the gym, one immediately notices the imposing figure pounding
away on the bag in the corner. Every punch he lands looks deadly and everything about him can only be described as intimidating. He is the new kid on the block when it comes to heavyweights in South Africa and his name is Kevin Lerena.

The name Lerena may be familiar to you, the family is well known in the
South African horse racing world. Kevin’s late father Anton; was heavily involved in racing as a trainer.

Kevin’s two cousins Gavin and Brandon are both jockeys; with Gavin being placed 4th in South Africa and Brandon as 24th, their father Tex Lerena is the chairman
of the South African Jockey’s Association. More recently Gavin raced in and won the Sansui Summer Cup that took place at Turffontein Race Course late last year.

Although Kevin is now a boxer by profession, he was a one-time jockey, winning
an amateur race at the age of 14. Kevin attended King Edward VII, considered one of the best boys high schools in Gauteng; he achieved sports honours in both rugby and athletics. In addition, he obtained 3 distinctions in Matric (2010). He went on to play rugby for Lions (under 21) and at Vodacom Cup level, eventually leaving rugby to pursue his boxing career.

Starting his amateur career at 16, Kevin describes how his brother Mike – who once trained with Colin Nathan, taught him to love the sport of boxing. Fighting out of Booysens Gym, he struggled to find heavyweight fights and took part in only eight amateur fights (7-1-0) Kevin now fights out of Peter Smith’s gym in Linden; he was introduced to Peter by his close friend Chris Van Heerden (IBO Welterweight Champion).

The Lerena – Smith combination would prove fruitful when Kevin’s professional debut came on the 30th of November last year at Emperors Palace. He tells me he had trained “flat out” for 12 weeks before the fight and felt more anxious about getting into the ring than nervous about the fight itself. His opponent Justice Salinga had just come off a win but from the start Kevin looked confident. The two heavyweights traded punches, but after knocking Salinga down twice, Kevin finally ended the fight in the second round with a devastating blow that put his opponent down for the count. Anyone who watched the fight would tell you that Kevin looked overjoyed as the referee raised his arm to mark him the victor.

“What’s next?” I ask Kevin, he tells me he wants to go to top, but is going to take
it one fight at a time. His next fight is on the 26th of March but is unsure of his
opponent What Kevin does make clear is that whoever the opponent, he will train
as hard as possible because his motto is “keep winning”. He keeps this in mind as
day after day he takes on the demanding workouts needed to reach his goal. Up
at five each morning he looks forward to coming into the gym, where he and his
fellow fighters have become more like a family.

Other than boxing, Kevin does personal training part time at the Smith family’s
gym in Fourways and produces diet and training programmes for clients. One thing I have learnt from interviewing great boxers like Brian Mitchell is that there is a lot that goes into a champion; 100% dedication to training, a strong desire to win but a champion is also a genuine person. Kevin Lerena displays every one of these qualities.

Not only is he a promising boxer but openly expresses gratitude to those who
help him. These people include trainer Peter Smith, promoter Rodney Berman,
Jeff “Uncle Jeff” Ellis and his entire family. Kevin Lerena is just one of the few up
and coming fighters we have in South Africa at the moment and is definitely one
to watch.