By John J. Raspanti
IBF lightweight champion Robert Easter Jr. reminds me of some of the guys that guarded me during my erstwhile high school basketball career eons ago. They were tall and skinny with the wingspan of a Pterodactyl.
Ok, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I’m sure you get my drift.
Four-division world champion Mikey Garcia meets the praying mantis-like Easter this Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. Easter will enter the ring with advantages in height (five inches) and reach (eight inches), but he’ll likely exit it a loser.
Why? Because Garcia is the more talented fighter. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Easter, 27, is 21-0 as a professional, scoring 14 knockouts. His fast hands are a huge asset. He uses his jab to set up his right hand. He’s not a big puncher but can hurt with his right. Easter picked up the vacant IBF strap two years by winning a split decision over Richard Commey. He’s defended it on three different occasions but hasn’t exactly impressed.
His do-or-die war with Javier Fontuna was almost a disaster. Easter won the fight by split decision but was rocked on more than one occasion and in the eyes of many, was lucky to go home with his title. Perhaps the near-loss rocked him in more ways than one. A change was in order. Easter, a Toledo native, hitched up stakes and moved his camp.
“I decided to go to Florida for a different environment than I usually trained in, “said Easter during a media conference call last week. “I needed to be taken out of comfort zone. At home, I was focused on too many things.”
Easter hooked up with trainer Kevin Cunningham, who recently worked with Adrien Broner and Gervonta Davis. Cunningham is a no-nonsense trainer, who managed to coax a good performance out of the mercurial Broner in his last fight.
“Making that move with coach Cunningham, he made me focus on our game plan and nothing but our game plan,” said Easter. “That’s all I’ve been focused on, is boxing, period.”
Garcia, who first tasted championship honors five years ago when he defeated Orlando Salido, hasn’t changed a thing in regards to his camp.
And why should he? Garcia is 38-0 with 30 knockouts.
He added the IBF junior welterweight title to his list of accomplishments by winning a wide 12-round decision over tough Sergey Limpets last March in Texas. Limpets pushed Garcia at times but paid for it when Garcia floored him in the seventh round.
Garcia, 30, has a firm grasp on what to expect from Easter on July 28.
“I know Easter is very tall and has a longer reach than me,” said Garcia. “In the gym, we’ve been working on sparring partners who present different challenges and made adjustments from there. I have to catch him reaching in or put pressure and work my way inside. There are different things that I’m capable of doing.
“I’m pretty experienced from fighting taller guys in the past," Garcia said. "So I don’t think it’s going to make too huge a difference. It’s a disadvantage on paper, but once fight night comes, I’ll be ready.”
I see a tactical fight in the early rounds with Easter doing everything he can to keep Garcia on the end of his long jab. Garcia will look to counter and work angles. Easter hasn’t shown much of a game on the inside. In the trenches, his chin is there to be hit. Garcia will find it. He’s too smart and will exploit Easter’s defensive deficiencies.
As is his wont, Easter will fight back, but the crisper and slicker Garcia will tattoo the straw man with shots. Easter will crumble inside of nine rounds.