Johannesburg - Such is the fanatical support Kevin Lerena enjoys at Emperor’s Palace that promoter Rodney Berman will spare no cost to ensure the popular southpaw’s challenge for the WBC bridgerweight world title takes place at the East Rand arena.
Lerena earned the right to take on champion Lukasz Rozanski of Poland for the famed green and gold belt via a unanimous points victory (118-110, 115-113 and 116-112) over Belgian Ryad Merhy on Saturday.
As is always the case for his fights at the casino resort near OR Tambo International Airport, Lerena was backed by a sold-out and vociferous crowd that had dug deep into their pockets for the Golden Gloves Promotions ‘box and dine’ event.
Berman, the veteran promoter who owns Golden Gloves, said after the fight that he would do everything it takes to ensure that Lerena enjoys home advantage for what would be the biggest fight of his burgeoning career.
“We saw a really great fight tonight, but we are going to see the world title bout in this country, I am not going to let it go to Poland, whatever it takes we will raise the money,” Berman said.
“When you have a fight of this magnitude that is so close and two brilliant fighters in the ring, you need that crowd to lift you up and that is what they did tonight. They are a great force, the Lerena army, they are great supporters. South African supporters are great.”
Berman has previously hosted much bigger world title fights and is likely to live up to his promise to have Lerena take on Rozanski on home soil.
Kevin Lerena 🇿🇦 (29-2) wins the WBC bridgerweight title eliminator against Ryad Merhy 🇧🇪 (31-2) in Kempton Park, South Africa.— Permante (@PermantexG) May 13, 2023
The verdicts were: 118-110, 116-112, 115-113. pic.twitter.com/SJgkxLf3iH
It will be a huge advantage to the popular southpaw to battle it out for world glory in front of the ‘Lerena Armada’.
They were in their element on Saturday as Lerena produced a smart fight plan against a dangerous opponent to get back to winning ways following his heavyweight defeat to Daniel Dubois in December. And the Under Armour boxer acknowledged his fans.
“Thank you to all these fans. I did that for them tonight. That’s the Lerena army,” Lerena said.
“The tickets were expensive, but they still turned out. I am grateful for my Lerena Armada.”
Though victorious and en route to becoming only the third South African after Thulani ‘Sugar Boy’ Malinga and Dingaan Thobela to become a WBC world champion, Lerena appeared to still be in disbelief as to the route his career has taken.
“It is surreal. I come with no amateur fight, just a great team, a great trainer and great sponsors. I am just grateful to be here. It is very surreal for me. This is a Cinderella story.
“Don’t let anybody in life tell you that you can’t do it because I am testament that, yes you can,” Lerena said as the crowd responded with a loud cheer.
The cheering is likely to be the kind that could tear off the roof of Emperor’s Palace should Berman live up to his word and bring the world title fight here, and Lerena deposes Rozanski as WBC bridgerweight world champion.