By Jake Donovan
As Robert Easter Jr. has become something of a one-man pro sports franchise in his hometown, it's only fitting that the recently crowned lightweight champ keeps it local for his first title defense, which will take place January 27 at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio.
The event will double as a birthday celebration for the unbeaten boxer, who turns 26 one day before his homecoming, which headlines the 2017 season premiere of Premiere Boxing Champions (PBC) on Bounce TV: The Next Round.
(Disclosure: Jake Donovan has served - through September 2016 - as a researcher and unofficial scorer for PBC on Bounce, although such information was obtained through other means).
Specifics for the show - including the opponent for his optional title defense - are still being worked out, as sources involved in the show have declined to discuss further details. BoxingScene.com has learned that Easter's stablemates, Rau'Shee Warren and Jamel Herring are also being positioned to appear on the show.
Like Easter, the event will mark the first title defense for Warren (14-1, 4KOs), who came up aces in a hard-fought decision win over Juan Carlos Payano in their rematch this past June to win the bantamweight crown.
Warren - the only U.S. boxer in history to appear on three Olympic teams (2004, 2008, 2012) - fell just short in a questionable split decision loss to Payano last August in what served as the headlining act for the inaugural installment of PBC on Bounce. He now returns to the circuit just two weeks shy of his 30th birthday in an optional defense before moving forward with plans for an oft-mentioned title consolidation bout with Jamie McDonnell.
Herring (15-1, 8KOs) fights for the first time since suffering his lone career loss, a 10th round stoppage at the hands of Denis Shafikov in July. Shafikov is now the mandatory challenger to Easter, earning what will be his third career title shot following a split decision win over Richard Commey earlier this month in Moscow, Russia.
An opponent is still being worked out, as Herring - a decorated war veteran who was recently inducted into the U.S, Marines Boxing Hall of Fame and whom served as team captain for the 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team - was in discussion with former champ Miguel Vazquez and divisional gatekeeper Ivan Redkach. Both boxers expressed interest in the bout but paused when it came time to put ink to paper.
Meanwhile, Easter Jr. (18-0, 14KOs), the show will mark his first ring appearance since his Fight of the Year-level war with Commey to win the vacant title this past September in Reading, Pennsylvania. The lean lightweight brought a healthy-sized crowd from the Rust Belt to watch him overcome a mid-rounds knockdown to claim a split decision verdict in becoming the third boxer from the growing About Billions promotional stable to win a major title, joining Warren and company founder Adrien Broner.
The feat was celebrated by the city of Toledo hosting what it cleverly referred to as "Easter Sunday" during a homecoming parade on October 2. The community now gets to celebrate his first-ever pro fight at home and just his third overall in the state of Ohio, having appeared on two separate Broner-headlined shows in Cincinnati in Sept. '14 and Oct. '15.
The telecast will serve as the first of at least five guaranteed dates for the PBC on Bounce series, which saw a significant ratings spike for each of its past three telecasts. Easter Jr. - who appeared twice on PBC on Spike TV - will make his network debut with his upcoming title defense.