In a clash of cruiserweight contenders, Kevin Lerena won a hard-fought 12 round split decision over Youri Kalenga Saturday night at Emperors Palace in Kempton Park, South Africa.
The southpaw Lerena, who resides in nearby Johannesburg, dictated the pace from the outside, working behind a consistent jab. Kalenga attempted to close the distance by walking Lerena down, throwing punches as he had Lerena pinned against the ropes.
During exchanges, Lerena (19-1, 9 knockouts) connected on the inside with the shorter punches, especially with left hands to the head of Kalenga. The more the fight was tactical, the more it benefited Lerena, who had to deal with blood seeping in his left eye from an accidental clash of heads he suffered in round three.
Sensing he was down in the fight, Kalenga (23-4, 16 KOs), a two-time world title challenger, began to let his hands go more during the middle rounds. He did score with right crosses to the head of Lerena when he initiated exchanges with Lerena.
Even as Kalenga let his hands go, Lerena remained composed, continuing to work behind a jab and scoring repeatedly with left hands to the head.
One judge scored the bout 117-111 for Kalenga, while was overruled by the other two judges, who scored the bout 116-113 and 115-113 for Lerena.
Hard-hitting welterweight Thulani Mbenge (12-0, 10 KOs) won a 12 round unanimous decision over Mziwoxolo Ndwayana (14-4-2, 9 KOs).
Junior middleweight Nkululeko Mhonlgo (16-5, 12 KOs) stopped previously-unbeaten Brandon Thysse (9-1, 8 KOs) in the 10th round.
Rodney Berman promoted the card.
Francisco A. Salazar has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper, RingTV, Boxingscene.com, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing