Kevin Lerena Considering Return to Bridgerweight Following Close Loss to Justis Huni

After coming up short in his past two fights at heavyweight, Kevin Lerena says that a return to the relatively new bridgerweight division may be due.

Lerena, a former cruiserweight contender, has given up size but otherwise been competitive in losses to Daniel Dubois in 2022 and then against rising prospect Justis Huni on the March 8 undercard of Anthony Joshua-Francis Ngannou in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Lerena discombobulated Dubois with a left hook halfway through the first round of their fight, and then Dubois, already unsteady, injured the anterior cruciate ligaments in his right leg. Dubois went to the canvas and returned there of his own volition two more times in that round, only to steady himself and stop Lerena in round three.

Lerena again had early success against Huni and wobbled him in the 10th and final round. He couldn’t put Huni away, however, and the scorecards went in his opponent’s favor – two judges seeing the close fight at 96-94; the third judge had things too wide at 98-92.

“I had him hurt in the first or second and the 10th – I should’ve finished him,” Lerena said in a post-fight interview. “But kudos to him. He stayed up like a tough lion; a young lion.”

The 31-year-old from Johannesburg drops to 30-3 (14 KOs). The other defeat came in 2014, down at cruiserweight against fellow South African fighter Johnny Muller.

“Back to the drawing board,” Lerena said. “I could double back at bridgerweight. I’m still the bridgerweight interim champion, I believe.”

Lerena largely called the cruiserweight division his home for most of the 2010s, with a small handful of trips to heavyweight. The past few years have involved him leaving the 200lbs division behind and fighting at heavyweight as well as bridgerweight – a new weight class that the WBC created in 2020 with a weight limit of 224lbs.

In 2022 Lerena fought at heavyweight, knocking out Bogdan Dinu, outpointing Mariusz Wach, and losing to Dubois.

Last year he outpointed Ryad Merhy in a bridgerweight elimination bout and then took a unanimous decision over Senad Gashi for that interim title. The WBC’s actual bridgerweight titleholder is the undefeated Lukasz Rozanski, 15-0 (14 KOs), of Poland.

The opponents will be closer to Lerena’s size at bridgerweight, though the opportunities may be fewer, given that there hasn’t been much buy-in from quality fighters, given that there are already more names and bigger paydays at heavyweight. But those paydays could also diminish at heavyweight if Lerena keeps coming in as the B-side and watching his opponents’ hands raised in the air.

He doesn’t need to make any decision yet, not immediately after a loss, and especially not after a week in which his mother died.

“Look, there’s no such thing as good timing when somebody dies,” Lerena said. “Emotionally it was tough, but you can’t take away any credit from this young man. It has been challenging, but no excuses. My performance tonight isn’t based on the loss of my mom. I came out here for my mom in her honor.”

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2 . His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing ,” is available on Amazon.