By Keith Idec
Robert Easter Jr. didn’t deliver the knockout he promised Friday night, but he still sent his hometown fans home happy.
The much taller, quicker Easter used his skill and athleticism to fend off determined mandatory challenger Denis Shafikov in their 12-round fight for Easter’s IBF lightweight title. Easter won a unanimous decision over Russia’s Shafikov in a competitive main event of a six-bout card at Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio, Easter’s hometown.
The fight included several difficult rounds to score, but two of the judges – Eugene Grant and Jamie Garayua – strangely scored each of the 12 rounds for Easter (120-108). The third judge, Carlos Ortiz Jr., credited Easter with a 116-112 win.
The 26-year-old Easter, who made the second defense of the IBF 135-pound championship he won nine months ago, improved to 20-0. The 32-year-old Shafikov slipped to 38-3-1.
“I rate myself a B-minus,” Easter told Bounce TV’s Austin Trout in the ring following the fight. “I could’ve did a lot more better. Shafikov is a tough opponent. He’s a tough, tough opponent. But, you know, we go the job done.
“I knew he was tough, but I thought I could be the first one to break him. I started off inside, and my team was telling me to box, so later on we got to boxing.”
The 5-feet-5 Shafikov never stopped coming forward and had some success with his left hand, which hit Easter flush numerous times when Easter didn’t keep up his right hand to protect his face.
Ultimately, Shafikov couldn’t overcome the 5-feet-11 Easter’s height, reach, hand speed, combination punching and movement. Easter was especially effective with his right uppercut, which connected clean many times as the short southpaw leaned forward.
Much of the second half of the fight was fought at a close distance, which allowed both boxers to land hard, short shots inside. That type of fight favored Shafikov because Easter was more successful when he boxed and moved away from the rugged Russian.
Easter and Shafikov each landed his fair share of power punches in the bout, but neither fighter seemed to be hurt at any point.
Shafikov secured his shot at Easter by beating Ghana’s Richard Commey (25-2, 22 KOs) by split decision in a 12-rounder December 2 in Moscow. Easter defeated the hard-hitting Commey by 12-round split decision to win the then-unclaimed IBF championship September 9 in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Before falling to Easter on Friday night, Shafikov had dropped only a pair of 12-round unanimous decisions to Cuba’s Rances Barthelemy (26-0, 13 KOs, 1 NC) and Mexico’s Miguel Vazquez (37-5, 14 KOs) during his 13-year pro career.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.