By Keith Idec
Robert Easter Jr. can’t quite identify the reason.
The IBF lightweight champion just knows he hasn’t received the type of credit he feels he deserves for what he has done, particularly in his championship victory over previously undefeated Richard Commey. The unbeaten Easter traded with the hard-hitting Commey throughout their 12-round fight, displayed a reliable chin and won a world title in entertaining fashion.
With his first title defense looming, Easter feels many boxing fans and media aren’t sold on him as an elite lightweight. He intends to add another impressive performance to his resume on Friday night, when Easter is scheduled to defend his IBF 135-pound championship against Luis Cruz in a 12-round fight that’ll headline a Bounce TV doubleheader from Huntington Arena in Toledo, Ohio, Easter’s hometown.
“I still feel like I have to prove myself, even though I’m a champion,” Easter told BoxingScene.com. “So I’m going in here like I’m an underdog, underestimated again, from a lot of people. So I’ve just gotta show my skills and prove everybody wrong once again.”
Cruz (22-4-1, 16 KOs) is a huge underdog, an optional opponent Easter should be able to defeat relatively easily. Not only is this his first title defense, it’s the first time Easter (18-0, 14 KOs) will fight in his hometown since he turned pro in November 2012.
The 26-year-old title-holder knows he has to win impressively not just to satisfy his supporters in Toledo, but television viewers who want to see Easter knock out Cruz.
According to Easter, the fact that he didn’t defeat Ghana’s Commey (24-2, 22 KOs) by knockout is among the reasons his win wasn’t appreciated as much as he believes it should’ve been. Easter beat Commey by split decision (115-112, 114-113, 113-114).
Commey scored a knockdown during the eighth round, when Easter’s right glove touched the canvas after Commey connected with a right hand. A determined Easter also hurt Commey several times during that action-packed fight.
“I feel I don’t get a lot of exposure that I feel I need,” Easter said. “That says to me that I’ve gotta go out with a bang, that I’ve gotta finish these guys. From my last fight, I’ve really gotta finish these guys in style. You can’t go out there and try to get a knockout, but finish him in fashion.”
The 31-year-old Cruz has been knocked out once in 27 professional fights. The Bahamas’ Edner Cherry (35-7-2, 19 KOs, 1 NC) knocked out Cruz in the ninth round of their July 2015 fight in Tampa, Florida.
Bounce TV’s broadcast is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. ET on Friday night. Cincinnati’s Rau’shee Warren (14-1, 4 KOs, 1 NC) is set to defend his WBA super world bantamweight championship in another televised bout, a 12-rounder against Kazakhstan’s Zhanat Zhakiyanov (26-1, 18 KOs).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.