By Steve Kim
Denis Shafikov gets his third crack at a lightweight title this Friday night at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio, when he faces IBF lightweight belt-holder Robert Easter.
And after falling short against the likes Miguel Vazquez and Rances Barthelemy, Easter might be Shafikov's most difficult assignment to date.
"It's extremely tough," admitted Abel Sanchez, who trains Shafikov (38-2-1, 20 KO's) in the mountains of Big Bear, California. ''We're well-prepared, we had a great camp, no injuries everything is on plan but Easter is a very good champion, very tall, very rangy, very long, great right hand. So we've got a fight on our hands."
So has Shafikov grown from those past losses?
"I think he has grown in both of those fights but I also think he grew in the (Richard)Commey fight. In camp he just seemed like a more determined guy that understands this could be his last opportunity. So he understands exactly where he sits in the lightweight division. He's 31 years old so this may be his last chance at it,"said Sanchez.
Like Vazquez and Barthelemy, Easter is a tall and rangy fighter with good reach. It's the type of stature that troubles Shafikov, who is listed at 5'5. The game plan is very simple - pressure and smother Easter.
Sanchez states - "Denis is always going to be the shorter guy with anybody. He's the shorter guy, period. His style is to come forward and throw punches and smother trying to do what he did against (Jamel) Herring, try to do what he did against Commey and hopefully we can wear him down, catch him with a shot and put him out. It's going to be tough coming out with a decision in Toledo. So Denis understands that, we have a very experienced guy that's going into a fight who knows what he's up against."
Steve Kim is the news editor for BoxingScene.com.