Kevin “Two Guns” Lerena produced a world class display against Youri Kalenga to capture the vacant IBO cruiserweight title at Emperors Palace on Saturday night.
The exciting southpaw survived an early onslaught to prevail via 12-round split decision. Two judges awarded the fight in his favour – 116-113, 115-113 – while the other had it in favour of Kalenga (117-111).
It was a mature performance by the South African, who boxed smartly on the outside and caught Kalenga repeatedly on the counter during an entertaining fight. The DRC fighter eschewed basics like the jab in favour of wild hooks and swinging shots, but Lerena’s movement was too slick and his defence too tight for it to have a damaging effect.
Kalenga threw a greater volume of punches, but Lerena was far more accurate and made his punches count. He rocked the France-based boxer on numerous occasions, but Kalenga’s strength proved telling as he set a formidable pace through the rounds and withstood the attacks.
Lerena promised to box smartly and so it proved as he wisely avoided mixing inside with the dangerous visitor, who had his moments but lacked the all-round skill to make it count.
In the main undercard bout, SA welterweight champion Thulani Mbenge demonstrated superior all-round skills to dominate Mziwoxolo Ndwayana over 12 rounds, winning a unanimous points decision.
Despite inflicting a heavy knockdown in the first round, Mbenge found Ndwayana a game challenger who never stopped coming forward, but lacked the skills to make it count.
Meanwhile, hot prospect Brandon Thysse found the step up to national level too much as SA junior-middleweight champion Nkululeko Mhlongo taught him a painful lesson to win via 10th-round TKO.
It was a masterful performance by the veteran, whose power and accuracy more than matched Thysse’s lightning speed.
Earlier, cruiserweight prospect Chris Thompson scored a second-round TKO over Antonella Maree and super-middleweight hope Rowan Campbell overwhelmed Benjamin Nhabetse in the fourth (TKO).