He’s been saying WBC lightweight champ Mikey Garcia fears him, but I believe it’s more about money than anything resembling fear. But I understand why IBF lightweight title holder Robert Easter 20-0 (14) has been spouting off, dropping Garcia’s name. Easter is undefeated, holds a legitimate title, and the only names you hear regarding the elite lightweights are Garcia 37-0 (30) and WBA title holder Jorge Linares 43-3 (27).
Easter, 26, has held the IBF title since winning a split decision over Richard Commey on September 9, 2016. Commey had Easter down in the eighth round but Robert fought his way back into the fight and since then has made two successful defenses, winning both by unanimous decision. Prior to fighting Commey, Easter was riding a five bout knockout streak but has been forced to go the distance in every one of his title bouts. This coming Saturday he will make his third defense against Javier Fortuna 33-1-1 (23) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Before their conference call on January 5th, Fortuna said the referee will need to save Easter from him when they meet. He assured a knockout victory when he challenges Easter and went so far as to say that if Easter performs the way he did in his first two title defenses, he wouldn’t last beyond five rounds. Fortuna is 4-0 as a lightweight since losing his WBA super featherweight title to Jason Sosa on an 11th round stoppage in June of 2016 in Beijing, China.
Easter has been fighting as a lightweight his entire career and at 5-feet-11 is five inches taller than Fortuna with a pronounced reach advantage of nearly eight inches. During the press conference, Easter echoed confidence that he will stop Fortuna because Fortuna has already been stopped when fighting as a super featherweight. And that’s what Easter needs, an impressive showing so he can stimulate boxing fans into wanting to see him against Mikey Garcia. An eye catching stoppage of Fortuna three weeks before Garcia fights Sergey Lipinets for the IBF junior welterweight title will go a long way.
Robert Easter was blessed at birth with height, reach and decent power fighting as a lightweight. His 76-inch reach is greater than some welterweight champions who are considered all-time greats. His problem since he’s stepped up in class fighting as a defending champ, is that he lacks a definitive style identity. He drifts from counter-puncher to boxer and then he’ll fight as a puncher for spurts. In his last fight against the much shorter Denis Shafikov, who mirrors Fortuna in height and reach along with being a southpaw, his left jab was rendered to mostly throw-away punches due to Shafikov’s persistent head movement. Luckily for Easter, Shafikov wasn’t good enough to make him pay for missing and for being tentative with the punch he should’ve been able to use to steer Denis wherever he wanted him to go.
Against Fortuna, Easter should really shine as Fortuna knows, or at least he should know, that he has to try and smother Easter on the inside. He’ll be a sitting duck if he poses and waits from outside and only reacts to what Easter does. Therefore, if Fortuna is pushing the fight, Easter should get in some terrific shots timing him on the way in. If Fortuna’s charge is faster than Shafikov’s, Easter must adjust and step back to give himself room to cut loose without backing too far out of punching range. Sure, much easier said than done, but Easter knows going into the fight that the only way Fortuna can neutralize his long arms is to try and suffocate his offense.
I expect Easter to beat Fortuna and to look relatively good in doing so. And I also expect Garcia to beat Lipinets in early February. Garcia, who is always looking for the money fight with the right opponent, would then consider fighting Easter if the promotional end can be worked out. We know Garcia is looking to meet WBO super featherweight title Vasyl Lomachenko down the road once the fight has marinated enough to the point it’s a blockbuster. But in the interim, after Lipinets, Garcia is going to be looking to unify the lightweight title which will make the Lomachenko bout that much bigger when they meet. And if Mikey doesn’t fight Easter, there’s been speculation he will fight Linares in a unification bout.
That’s why it’s imperative for Easter to capture the fans attention and make them want to see him fight one of the other lightweight title holders. Robert yelling to fight Mikey Garcia is the first step because we know Garcia follows boxing, especially in the division in which he campaigns and does business. The downside to that is that Garcia has paid close attention to Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather, the two best self-managed fighters in boxing history and, in doing that, he’s picked up that fighting the best only suits you when the money is worth your while. Granted, Garcia no doubt wants to prove he’s the best at 135, but his ego won’t lead him down a path to where it’s not worth it financially. In other words, Easter must bring more to the table than just his IBF belt.
Easter needs to finish Fortuna in a way that has fans talking about him after the fight and convinces a few fans that he wouldn’t be a Sunday afternoon jog along the beach for Mikey Garcia. Right now Easter would be a prohibitive underdog against Garcia, but with his height, reach and decent pop, he has a few tools in his box and, if applied right, he could at least make it interesting. Nothing would assure him a fight with Garcia like a show stopping win over Fortuna – and he should be able to get it.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail
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