By Keith Idec
LOS ANGELES – Robert Easter Jr. reiterated Thursday that he considers Mikey Garcia to be overrated.
Easter emphasized during their final press conference that other than Adrien Broner, Easter’s close friend, Garcia doesn’t have a noteworthy win on his perfect record. The unbeaten IBF lightweight champion obviously is entitled to his opinion of what Garcia has done on his way to winning world titles in four weight classes.
It is Easter, however, who has much more to prove in their 135-pound championship unification fight Saturday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Handicappers have installed Garcia as a 10-1 favorite over Easter in part because Easter hasn’t looked particularly good in his last two fights. That means oddsmakers consider Easter as much of a longshot as they rendered Jeff Horn entering his ninth-round technical knockout loss to Terence Crawford in their WBO welterweight title fight June 9 in Las Vegas.
The 27-year-old Easter is a better boxer than Horn, yet barely beat Javier Fortuna in his last fight, January 20 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Easter defeated Fortuna by split decision in a 12-round fight he made much more difficult by giving away his height and reach, something the 5-feet-11 Easter has done all too often.
The Toledo, Ohio, native will take a five-inch height advantage and an eight-inch edge in reach into his fight against Garcia (38-0, 30 KOs). Kevin Cunningham, Easter’s new trainer, has hammered home throughout their first training camp together the need for Easter to consistently use his two primary physical advantages to keep Garcia at distances that favor this big underdog.
If Easter follows Cunningham’s game plan, his trainer is confident Easter can make matters more interesting than former IBF junior welterweight champ Sergey Lipinets did during his unanimous-decision defeat to Easter on March 10 in San Antonio.
“Well, from a fundamental standpoint there wasn’t any major changes,” Cunningham said during a press conference Thursday at The Conga Room. “Robert’s always been a tremendous fighter. He’s an excellent boxer when he wants to box. Basically, we just put extra emphasis on how we wanna fight Mikey Garcia. And I think he has the natural skill and ability and, like you said, he’s a 6-feet tall lightweight, long reach, and, you know, we are prepared to dictate the tempo, control distance, range. And everything that we really wanna do, he’s done it the last 10 weeks in camp. And I think he’s gonna do it on Saturday night.”
If Easter executes that strategy, he’ll have a chance to upset one of the best boxers, pound-for-pound, in the sport. If Easter gives away his height and reach and grants Garcia opportunities to succeed inside, the biggest fight of Easter’s career likely will amount to little more than a relatively easy victory for Garcia that’ll keep him busy before he pursues bigger fights against IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. and WBA lightweight champ Vasiliy Lomachenko.
“Look, there’s always risk in any fight,” Robert Garcia, Mikey Garcia’s trainer and older brother, said Thursday. “But we’re very well-prepared. Mikey’s mentally ready for a big challenge. And, you know, there’s always risks. This guy’s very tall. I’m sure he’s gonna try and use his reach and try to fight on the outside. But we’re ready for whatever he brings.”
Robert Garcia and Mikey Garcia expect Easter (21-0, 14 KOs) to be better than he was while barely beating Fortuna. Easter won his previous fight, a unanimous-decision defeat of Denis Shafikov, more comfortably, just not as easily as the scorecards indicated almost 13 months ago in Toledo (120-108, 120-108, 116-112).
“Look, I didn’t even see those last two performances,” Robert Garcia said. “We’re ready for the best Robert Easter. You know, mostly everybody thinks he lost against Fortuna. You know, so that’s not the fight that interests me to watch. I wanna see the best Robert out there. You know, there’s very few fights out there where I could really see the best out of him. But, you know, we’re ready.”
Easter feels he is readier than ever because he spent 10 weeks training at the no-nonsense Cunningham’s gym in West Palm Beach, Florida. According to Easter, distractions in Toledo hurt his preparation for each of his last two victories over the Dominican Republic’s Fortuna and Russia’s Shafikov.
Those training struggles, along with how Broner and Gervonta Davis looked in their respective first fights with Cunningham on April 21, led Easter to hire Cunningham. It often takes longer than one training camp for a boxer and a new trainer to make permanent improvements, but Easter envisions shocking the boxing world by upsetting Garcia in the main event of a Showtime tripleheader (10 p.m. ET).
“You’re gonna get a lot of action, a lot of excitement July 28th,” Easter said. “And just expect the unexpected.”
The 30-year-old Garcia expects Easter to follow Cunningham’s instructions at least until the midway mark of their fight. By then, Garcia figures Easter will begin engaging and making this the type of battle that favors the Oxnard, California, native.
However their fight unfolds, Garcia respects Easter, even though the WBC lightweight champion has spent plenty of time recently discussing possible future fights against Spence and Lomachenko.
“This is the first time I’ll have a title unification match,” Garcia said. “It does mean a lot, facing another undefeated champion in the same weight class. You know, it will definitely help my legacy and help my career. I feel that this is the best option, the best fight for me right now. I’m taking the proper steps to move forward and, like I always say, cement my name, cement my career for the ages. And there isn’t another fight in front of me that does that, other than a Robert Easter fight. Right now in my career, I’m all about taking the biggest fight, the biggest challenge.
“And that’s why I’m taking this. I feel that Robert Easter is a tough, undefeated champion who is coming with everything he has. This is also his biggest fight. So him bringing the best out of him will only allow me to bring the best out of me. And that’s why I really asked for this fight. That’s why I wanted this. We were looking at options, but nothing else interested me or nothing else excited me enough like this fight.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.