Easter relishing champion status
One of the rising stars of the Premier Boxing Champions set-up, IBF lightweight champion Robert Easter Jr (18-0, 14 KOs), returns to the ring on 10 February and, as he tells James Oddy, he's focused on "unifying these titles"...
Toledo, Ohio native Robert Easter Jr is set to make a triumphant homecoming next month following his world title victory against talented Ghanaian Richard Commey in a September 2016 fight of the year candidate. Whilst Easter rocked his foe on a few occasions, Commey stuck at it to hear the final bell in an enthralling shoot out.
“I wouldn’t say he [Commey] was better than I expected.” Easter told Boxing Monthly via telephone. “He was just awkward. It wasn’t hard to land shots on him but he was so awkward it threw my timing off. At the end, everything played out…I figured him out.”
The split decision win for Easter was met with a memorably emotional response from the largely pro-Easter crowd. The result was a culmination of a tough journey for the 25 year old.
“It feels great to finally be able to call myself a world champion. I worked a long time for it. I began my boxing career at the age of ten. I started my professional career in 2012 [after] I fell short of making the Olympic team. But once I started my pro career, I never looked backed”
Since turning over, Easter has developed a reputation for hellacious punching power and stinging combinations. As with everything else about his career, it’s the product of hard work.
“We work on finding those big shots, [we work on] the techniques in the gym. The aim is to hit these guys and finish them with one shot. That comes naturally after working in the gym.”
That work has produced a versatile boxer-puncher. I asked how he would describe himself for those who have yet to see him fight. “I’ve got various styles," he replied. "I can box on the inside and out. I can bang it out. I can use my speed and my quickness. You never know what I could come out and do.”
Easter Jr is trained by his father Robert Easter Sr, as well as Mike Stafford. I was curious how they functioned as a team. “Your father, he knows you in and out," the 25-year-old explained. "He knows what’s best for you. He just knows, from being your father. Plus my dad, he used to box as well. He actually knows and has experienced what I’, going through.
“Mike Stafford is one of the best boxing coaches in the game as well. He’s got three champions under his belt, me, [WBA super lightweight champion] Adrien Broner and [WBA super bantamweight champion] Rau’shee Warren. Not to mention his amateur background as well, he’s had many fighters go to Olympics.”
Warren, Broner, the Easters and Stafford are part of a rich boxing tradition out of Ohio. The state has produced many world champions, such as James 'Buster' Douglas, Kelly Pavlik, Shawn Porter, Tony Tubbs and Aaron Pryor.
I asked Easter why his home state is so good at producing talented fighters and what that heritage means to current Ohio boxers. “A lot of us look up to older boxers," he told me. "I believe that’s keeping the tradition of Ohio boxing going. It’s the drive. [It’s] that competitiveness in Ohio [boxing].”
Easter’s next opponent is against solid Puerto Rican Luis Cruz. “The preparation is going well," Easter replied when asked about his training. "We are in an intense training programme. We working hard. I’m training three times a day. We are just getting started. We are preparing, staying sharp. We are ready for anything, anything Cruz has to bring…I’m very excited to be back in my hometown, bringing a big event to Toledo, Ohio. I’m just as excited as the people to showcase my skills.”
The Cruz fight is the first stage in Easter’s new focus. “[I’d like to fight] everybody at the top with the straps. I’m going to have to see them sooner or later. I am trying to get those belts. All those top guys. I don’t have an order, I just want them all [the belts].”
A rematch with Commey, who lost to Denis Shafikov in December 2016 in another fun fight, doesn’t particularly appeal, however.
“I’m not interested in it," Easter declared. "If the price is right we’d be able to fight again. [But] I want to move onto the next man, bigger and better things. I want to snatch those titles up.”
One of those titles is held by undefeated Mancunian Terry Flanagan, who holds the WBO lightweight strap. The UK is also home to former WBA champ Anthony Crolla, who is fighting again for the belt in March against Jorge Linares.
I asked if Easter would be willing to make the journey to these shores to take on either of these two highly ranked Brits. "We can meet in neutral grounds if it’s a big deal [where it’s held]. But I don’t see none of those guys beating me, no way.”
The 5’11 frame of the Ohio man is big for the weight, but, ominously for the rest of the division, he isn’t planning on moving up anytime soon. “Right now I’m focusing on lightweight. Unifying these titles.”