Australian heavyweight Justis Huni (right) moved to 9-0 with a win over South African Kevin Lerena. Image by HANDOUT/MATCHROOM
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Justis Huni survives last-round scare to win in Saudi

March 9, 2024

A British blockbuster awaits heavyweight hope Justis Huni after he survived a last-round scare against an emotionally charged opponent to keep his unbeaten record intact with a points win in Saudi Arabia.

The 24-year-old Queenslander, taking on his biggest test yet on the undercard of the money-spinning Anthony Joshua-headed show in Riyadh on Friday (Saturday AEDT), found himself on the receiving end of a barrage of blows in the 10th round of his contest with Kevin Lerena.

The 31-year-old South African had decided to go ahead with the fight despite having announced on the eve of the contest his mother had recently died.

After putting up a solid display but clearly going into the last round behind on points, Lerena had been urged by his corner to “do it for your mother” and he responded to the exhortation by piling into a last-gasp attack on the unbeaten Australian.

But Huni managed to hold on, despite being seriously wobbled with one left hook, weathering the storm to deservedly land his ninth-straight victory with a unanimous points decision, being awarded the verdict 96-94, 96-94 and 98-92 on the judges’ cards.

Huni was left relieved, saying in the ring afterwards: “I’ve done all the hard work in the gym and I’m glad my legs were strong enough to stick it out.”

 Justis Huni is in line for another high-profile Saudi appearance after moving to 9-0. Image by HANDOUT/MATCHROOM 

The former amateur star felt he had the measure of the former IBO cruiserweight world champion, controlling most of the exchanges throughout the contest until Lerena’s fiery last stand.

“I was expecting him to be tough when I came out here, but it was just a matter of time until I adjusted to him,” said Huni.

Huni’s manager Mick Francis told AAP British title-contending pair Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois were both targets on another high-profile Saudi card on June 1.

“I’m always up for the challenge and I’d love to be part of one of those cards,” Huni said post-fight.

It’s clear his British promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom has big plans too and wasn’t overly concerned by the late scare.

“He’s progressing well beyond his years and he wants to move quick,” said Hearn.

“I think sometimes a lot of the strengths and attributes he has is negated against a smaller guy like Lerena, so I’d like to see him in with a big heavyweight where he can use his speed and his movement a little bit more effectively. 

“But that was a massive learning fight for him. He was hurt badly in the 10th round but, luckily, was fit enough and strong enough to come through. 

“So he must improve against the better level of opposition and particularly the big boys, but I like the way he’s developing, and be sure that when the tests come nights like that will make him ready.”

Lerena, too, paid tribute to the Australian after his own traumatic week.

“He’s a good competitor,” said Lerena.

“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 he’s a tough competitor.”