Justis Huni Survives Tumultuous Final Round To Outscore Kevin Lerena

Australian heavyweight contender Justis Huni escaped by the skin of his teeth with a 10-round win over South African southpaw veteran Kevin Lerena.

With 90 seconds remaining in their 10-rounder, Lerena smashed home a heavy left hook and Huni wobbled across the ring, in real jeopardy. Lerena ploughed in behind, trying to finish the job, but Huni managed to weather the storm and remained upright until the final bell.

“I’d done all the hard work in the gym and I’m glad my legs were strong enough,” said Huni, afterwards, who knew he was in for a rough night.

“That’s what I was expecting when I came out here, it was just a matter of time until when I adjusted to him.”

Lerena was the sentimental favorite, having lost his mother earlier in the week and dedicating his performance to her. He was disappointed, but respectful towards Huni.

“He’s a good competitor,” Lerena said. “There’s no such thing as good timing when someone dies, emotionally it’s tough, but back to the drawing board, when I had him hurt, I should have finished him but kudos to him, he stayed up like a tough lion. He boxed better tonight, I probably had him hurt more but tough competitor.”

Two scorecards had it 96-94 while the third marked 98-92 for the Australian unanimously as they opened up the PPV undercard at the Kingdom Arena in Saudi Arabia.

Lerena, 30-3 (14 KOs), from Johannesburg, South Africa, made a fast start. The South African looked compact and focused and he had success with several short left hands. Huni did not look flustered, however, and he started to open up the distance and fired in some long lefts and rights.

Lerena thudded home a crisp left hand to open the second, and while the Australian took it well enough, he acknowledged it with a shake of the head.

Lerena, however, kept swarming forwards and buzzed the youngster again before Huni started to assert himself as the lively session progressed.

The pace slowed in the third, and that suited Huni more because the Australian was able to keep the South African at range.

Former amateur star Huni, 9-0 (4 KOs), who lives in Brisbane, Australia, made himself difficult to hit in the fourth and started trying to line Lerena up with heavier shots, but Lerena was defensively cute, and the veteran started to do well with his lead hand in the fifth, trying to disrupt Huni’s rhythm.

Neither were able to establish a clear dominance and both were having their moments, although Huni had a solid sixth and was able to land several times, including a short left hook that caused Lerena’s nose to gush with blood.

Still, Lerena opened round seven well, crashing home a straight left, but Huni ate it, stood firm and then retaliated and as the fight wore on, Huni started to appear put some daylight between himself and Lerena. A left-right-left hook from the bigger Australian cuffed Lerena around the side of the head in the ninth and, before the 10th, Lerena was urged to give it everything he could.

For the first 90 seconds, the established pattern remained. Then, from almost nowhere, Lerena landed a booming left hand and Huni was all at sea. His legs wobbled and he involuntarily danced backwards. Lerena bulled forwards, Huni was still hurt, but Lerena could not apply the finishing touches and Huni saw out the round and the fight.

Huni said he could be back in Saudi Arabia next time, either on the Warren vs. Hearn 5×5 bill or on the Artur Beterbiev-Dmirtii Bivol bill on June 1.

Huni’s promoter Eddie Hearn called it “A massive learning fight,” for the Australian.

“He’s progressing well beyond his years and he wants to move quick… I like the way he’s developing and when the big nights come, fights like tonight will mean he is more than ready. Tonight was a big box ticked against a world-class fighter.”