By Lyle Fitzsimmons
There are myriad elements to a boxing match.
Winners – and, on the highest level, champions – are typically the fighters that have the better skill sets, the greater power punches and the bigger hearts to get them through adverse competitive situations.
But if you ask Robert Easter Jr., there’s something else that’ll matter come July 28.
The 27-year-old Ohioan insists his lightweight unification that night with four-division claimant – and consensus favorite – Mikey Garcia will be determined not just by his own acumen, strength and courage, but also by the fact that he’s leaning more on single-mindedness this time than ever before.
“Everything is going great. Camp is going tremendously,” Easter told Boxing Scene on Monday.
“We’re working harder than ever, sharpening up on a lot of things. And the biggest thing is staying focused. This is a fight I always wanted. It’s finally here. I chose to come into camp for it instead of staying home. To pretty much get away from all the distractions that have been going on at home. It means I’m staying focused and worried about boxing instead of everything else.”
A native and resident of Toledo, Easter will put his IBF title up against Garcia’s WBC strap at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, in the main event of a Showtime broadcast set to begin at 10 p.m. ET.
He broke from his recent hometown prep routine and headed 1,250 miles south to a gym run by high-profile trainer Kevin Cunningham – who relocated from St. Louis to West Palm Beach, Fla., and has worked with champions Cory Spinks, Devon Alexander, Sakio Bika and David Diaz.
Easter captured his championship 22 months ago after climbing off the canvas to win a split 12-round decision over Richard Commey. He’s defended with three more scorecard verdicts, including unanimous nods over Luis Cruz and Denis Shafikov in Toledo and another split nod over Javier Fortuna in Brooklyn.
He’s now 21-0 with 14 KOs, compared to Garcia’s 38-0 slate with 30 stoppages. And he’ll enter the ring with a five-inch height advantage – 5-foot-11 to 5-foot-6 – and an eight-inch edge in reach, 76 to 68.
Greater concentration, he said, will help him give those dimensions a practical purpose.
“There have been a lot of distractions during my training camps back at home, therefore I knew I had to go out of town,” Easter said. “This fight is different. There were certain things we weren’t working on and focusing on that I knew I had to, but really wasn’t. I was really going into them fights fighting off talent, just fighting off talent. Coach Kev really broke down the science to me.
“He said, ‘This is what you haven’t been doing. You’ve got all the skills, but you don’t make the most of them.’ He made me understand that and that’s where our focus is at, sharpening up the skills that I haven’t been doing in those fights. (It) would have made them easy, but I’m fighting like I’m 5-foot-4 or something, fighting on the inside and making the fights harder.”
Boxing Scene chatted further with Easter about his assessment of Garcia as an opponent, why those people picking Garcia to win are incorrect and what things will look on fight night in California.
Boxing Scene: What was your reaction when the fight was made? How good a moment was it?
Robert Easter Jr.: It was a relief finally getting the fight that I wanted. I was very excited but I knew it was time to go to work. I knew it was going to happen sooner or later, though.
Boxing Scene: Look at him as a fighter. What do you notice right away?
Easter: You know you’re in front of a really sound guy. He boxes well. He’s very patient. He’s a smart fighter. He finds flaws in opponents after a few rounds and he makes some adjustments. He’s a smart fighter.
Boxing Scene: Fighting a guy like Garcia, you don’t believe you can get away with that?
Easter: If I fight his game, then that’s when I make the fight harder for me. When I go in the ring I don’t believe anybody can beat me no matter how I fight. I don’t believe they can beat me or outwork me. But if I go and fight another man’s fight, then I make the fight way harder than what it really should be. But by using my height advantage and my skills and my boxing ability, I make it easy.
Boxing Scene: How do you make it a Robert Easter fight instead of a Mikey Garcia fight?
Easter: Just going in there and being myself. Using my boxing abilities. Using my reach and my height. That will all make this a Robert Easter fight instead of banging inside trying to hunt him down and punch hard and knock him out every round.
Boxing Scene: Garcia said you’re his toughest opponent? Is he right, and is he yours, too?
Easter: Of course. I’m the best fighter because my hunger, my skills. Of course, he’s one of the best lightweights at this weight division as well. He has the belt to prove it. He has the title to prove it. And the name that proves it as well. Mikey’s been winning world titles for a long time now. He’s highly skilled and probably one of the best fighters I’ve faced.
Boxing Scene: Most people think he’s winning the fight. What are they wrong about?
Easter: This is funny. I don’t know why boxing reporters or some boxers do it. They may look at the last few recent fights and say ‘He looked bad’ or ‘He made his fights hard,’ so he’s not going to defend. They’re not looking at all the past fights that you had good or when you knocked people out. They’re going to be looking at the latest two. So you’re telling me the last two is how I fought my whole career? That’s not a smart move for people or even Team Mikey Garcia to focus on, my last fight. I don’t even worry about my last fight. I forgot who I fought. I don’t dwell upon the past. If that’s the case, I’d be like, ‘Oh, I knocked my first opponent out in one round so that’s what I’m going to do to my next opponent.’ No. Styles make fights. You’re in there with a different opponent every time. As a matter of fact, my last two opponents were left handed. It doesn’t make any sense. I never watched a fight I had in my career. I never watched any over again. I don’t dwell upon it. You learn from every fight. You go in the gym, you’ve got a different opponent, you’ve got a different game plan every fight.
Boxing Scene: What is it about him that’s going to make you look good? Why will you win?
Easter: Because he’s a boxer just like me. Whenever you have another boxer in there it’s going to be a chess match. You can use your skills. I’m not saying you can’t use them in any other fight, but like I said those other fighters were wild and I lost patience in those fights and fought their game plan instead of sticking to mine. Mikey is a skilled guy, makes you stay sharp and stay slick. That’s going to be the difference in this fight.
Boxing Scene: On July 28, what does it look like? How do I know right away you were right?
Easter: Everything I’ve been telling you. I’ve been working on my patience. I’ve been working on sticking to my game plan instead of fighting somebody else’s fight. Like I said, the skills are going to come out. Everybody’s going to see this fight is everything I said it was going to be and its going to be a win – an easy win – for me.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
WBO mini-flyweight title – Kobe, Japan
Ryuya Yamanaka (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Vic Saludar (No. 3 WBO/No. 21 IWBR)
Yamanaka (16-2, 5 KO): Second title defense; On a nine-fight win streak since 2014 (9-0, 3 KO)
Saludar (17-3, 10 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Lost only career fight outside the Philippines
Fitzbitz says: Yamanaka is another fighter who’s gotten better since becoming a champion, and it ought to continue against a foe who’s never moved the needle on a high level. Yamanaka in 10 (90/10)
Vacant IBF flyweight title – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Moruti Mthalane (No. 3 IBF/No. 12 IWBR) vs. Muhammad Waseem (No. 5 IBF/No. 30 IWBR)
Mthalane (35-2, 24 KO): Eleventh title fight (9-1); Has held IBF and IBO titles at 112 pounds
Waseem (8-0, 6 KO): First title fight; Third fight scheduled for 12 rounds (2-0, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Mthalane is legit and had a pair of titles on his resume. But he’s also 35. so we’ll take a shot in the dark that preparing at Mayweather’s gym in Las Vegas will help. Waseem by decision (55/45)
This week’s bogus title-fight schedule:
WBA super middleweight title – Offenburg, Germany
Tyron Zeuge (“World” champion/No. 14 IWBR) vs. Rocky Fielding (No. 4 WBA/No. 18 IWBR)
Fitzbitz says: The 26-year-old has a pretty record and has maintained his bogus title through several fights, but we’re still waiting for his first win over a Top-10 contender. Sleep easy, George Groves.
WBA welterweight title – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Lucas Matthysse (“World” champion/No. 8 IWBR) vs. Manny Pacquiao (No. 1 WBA/No. 4 IWBR)
Fitzbitz says: Saw that Capt. Water Pressure noticed the WBA’s “title” roster this week, but I wonder how loud the drum-banging will be when it comes to a fight involving Top Rank’s top meal ticket.
WBA light flyweight title – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Carlos Canizales (“World” champion/No. 11 IWBR) vs. Bin Lu (No. 12 WBA/Unranked IWBR)
Fitzbitz says: You want to suggest Canizales is a good young fighter on the rise? Terrific. Just don’t suggest he’s a champion as long as Hekkie Budler has a belt with the letters W-B-A on it.
Last week's picks: None
2018 picks record: 45-20 (69.2 percent)
Overall picks record: 966-324 (74.8 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.