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Fri Apr 18 00:14:34 SAST 2014

Muscleman gives up rugby for the ring

DAVID ISAACSON | 15 January, 2013 06:250 Comments
Kevin Lerena training at Colin Nathan's Hot Box Gym in Kew, Johannesburg

CRUISERWEIGHT prospect Kevin Lerena loves his boxing so much he turned down a professional rugby contract with the Golden Lions.

This mountain of muscle, who is preparing to face a hard-punching Paraguayan next month, has dreamed of ring warfare since he was a teenager, when he first started training in a boxing gym.

But being on the big side meant a nightmare finding opponents, and it was tough building an amateur record of seven wins and one loss.

Lerena then switched his main focus to rugby, playing in King Edward VII high school's first team at inside centre and winning a contract with the Golden Lions. He also scored three distinctions in matric in 2010.

But earning no more than R5000 a month on a junior contract to play in the Vodacom Cup was not enough for this budding entrepreneur, who complemented his income as a bouncer.

"I'm a placid guy - I can count on one hand the number of fights I've had outside the ring, and they were people being stupid, coming at me. Now, I just walk away."

Lerena took the experience he gained at clubs and formed a security company that recently won the tender to work the Justin Bieber concert in Cape Town later this year.

In 2011 he turned his back on rugby to become a professional boxer, and has since built up a record of five fights, all won by knockout.

"I'm a puncher," he explains, "but I want to be a pugilist. Whatever my opponent brings, I want to adapt to that. I'll never be defensive like [Floyd] Mayweather."

Trainer Colin Nathan insists the key is to build Lerena's career slowly.

"He's incredibly athletic and hits very hard, but he is still young and has a lot to learn."

Few musclemen in boxing have risen to the top, with Michael Weaver, the former WBA heavyweight champion, being a rare example.

But Lerena, who fights at 90kg, doesn't view himself as a body-builder type.

"This is me small. When I played rugby I was 110kg, now I walk around at 100kg.

"I will be cruiserweight champion of the world one day," said Lerena, who will fight Javier Corrales, who has a record of seven wins (six by KO), one loss and two draws, at Emperors Palace on February 16.

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