Azerbaijan in Eastern Europe concocts an air of mystery. Blending ancient and modern, it is a country with a long history and, even now, few outsiders know much about it.
Not that Kevin Lerena has any such concerns. He has just arrived in Baku, the capital, to fight Roman Golovashchenko, who holds no mystery to him. He won’t wander far from the city hotel, preferring to stay close to his training team and family, who have also made the trip.
In some ways, it’s a novelty for Lerena, who only once before has boxed outside South Africa. Europe is where it’s at for the world’s elite cruiserweights, so this weekend’s fight is an important step towards making a name for himself beyond SA.
He’s excited, believing that travelling for his second title defence will force him out of his comfort zone.
“I’m convinced it will bring the best out in me. I want to put on a big performance,” he said.
As he must. Promoter Rodney Berman has made it clear that anything less than a major win, preferably shot through with excitement, will be a failure. Lerena can’t afford to go through the motions and win a lackluster decision.
“I hope to win by stoppage,” said the IBO champion. “It’s long overdue. But at the top it’s hard; I’m not fighting easy opponents. I must chop away, break him down, be smart, pick my punches. I can’t disregard his KO ratio – 17 stoppages in 19 wins – but I don’t worry. My ring IQ is good, I know what must be done.”
Happily, the elbow injury that force a postponement from the original fight date is a thing of the past. It has healed and Lerena has all the leverage he needs.
The remainder of the week will be spent on light workouts and careful food intake to ensure he has no issues with the weight. The hard work is behind him. Now he must package it all together to produce the quality performance he is capable of.