‘Warrior heart’ Kevin Lerena ‘standing tall in defeat’ despite mom’s passing

SA boxer Kevin Lerena had to put aside the emotion of the death of his mother, Belinda, to fight Australian Justis Huni. Picture: Supplied

SA boxer Kevin Lerena had to put aside the emotion of the death of his mother, Belinda, to fight Australian Justis Huni. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 10, 2024


“Despite the result not being what I had hoped for, I am still standing tall in defeat.”

That was the message from South African southpaw Kevin Lerena after he nearly pulled off a superb comeback in his heavyweight bout against Australian Justis Huni on Friday night.

Fighting at the Riyadh Season ‘Knockout Chaos’ event hosted by DAZN Boxing in Saudi Arabia – on the undercard of the Anthony Joshua-francis Ngannou clash – Lerena had to put aside the emotion of the death of his mother Belinda, who died on Thursday.

The 31-year-old from Johannesburg made the brave decision to continue with the 10-round encounter against the 24-year-old Huni, and produced a courageous performance that earned the respect of the boxing world.

The fact that Lerena has been a cruiserweight for most of his career made the display even more meritorious against the much bigger Queenslander Huni, who was a few kilograms heavier and 8cm taller at 1.93m compared to Lerena’s 1.85m.

Huni finally got going in the third round, where he moved more swiftly and started to dish out some right hands.

Both fighters then got their jabs going, but by the sixth round, Lerena’s nose started bleeding as Huni’s greater power started bursting through the South African’s defences.

Huni’s heavier punches started wearing Lerena down, with the lefthander beginning to hold the Australian with more regularity towards the end of the bout.

But Lerena kept his best for the 10th and final round, rocking Huni with two big left hands to leave the Aussie wobbling.

The South African couldn’t land the knockout blow, but was still a bit unlucky to lose on points.

The three judges scored the fight 96-94, 96-94 and a suspicious 98-92 – Lerena arguably did enough to win 96-94 himself, with some pundits on social media also scoring the fight as a 95-95 draw.

“Credit to Justis – he boxed very well. Good amateur style, like I said. I’m technically a good boxer, but I am more of a brawler. He is a very good, Olympian-style boxer, so it was hard for me in there,” Lerena told promoter Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions in an interview afterwards.

“But the guts and the glory …

I turned him a few times and just needed to follow through, and in the second and 10th, he was hurt.

“But credit to him. He stayed up, and hopefully I made for a good fight, and put on a show for Queensberry, Matchroom (Promotions), DAZN and everybody.

“And obviously seven, eight, nine (rounds), my corner said ‘Are you okay, do you want me to stop the fight?’, and I said, ‘Don’t you dare! Let me stay on until the end – I am a warrior’.

“I said I would go out on my shield – you are going to carry me out of there, or you are going to knock me out or you are going to beat me on points.

“Of course, he was on shaky legs (in the 10th round), but credit to him – he survived well. I was trying my best to just land another shot on him, but he covered up nicely.

“Coming into this fight with emotional bit of damage. But it was no excuse for my performance – Justis just boxed better. Don’t take it away from him … he boxed well.

“Like I said, there is no good timing of death. It happened to me yesterday (Thursday) unfortunately, but well done to Justis – he was the better man on the night in terms of boxing ability. With my warrior heart, I tried my best.”

While his record now stands at 30-3, the South African showed more than enough style and character on Friday to earn some proper fights in the near future – although it might be at bridgerweight (just below heavyweight) first before he gets back into action against the biggest men in boxing.

“I can say back to the drawing board. I’m still the WBC Bridgerweight Interim champion, so I’m going to go down and fight (Lukasz) Rozanski (the 38-year-old current WBC Bridgerweight champion from Poland) and smash him up, and see what the future holds,” Lerena said.

“It has been challenging, but no excuses. My performance isn’t based on the loss of my mom, and I came out here for my mom – in her honour.”