By Keith Idec
LOS ANGELES – Robert Easter Jr. deemed Mikey Garcia overrated before their fight Saturday night.
Twelve rounds and one loss later, the former IBF lightweight champion’s opinion obviously has changed.
Garcia dropped him in the third round and soundly defeated Easter in a lightweight title unification fight that drew an announced crowd of 12,560 to Staples Center. Each of the three judges gave Garcia credit for beating Easter in their 12-round bout.
Larry Hazzard Jr. scored Garcia a 117-110 winner. Edward Hernandez had Garcia ahead 116-111 after 12 rounds, and Steve Weisfeld credited Garcia with a 118-109 victory.
The 30-year-old Garcia, of Oxnard, California, improved his record to 39-0 (30 KOs) thanks to this unanimous-decision win. The 27-year-old Easter, of Toledo, Ohio, lost for the first time in his 5½-year pro career (21-1, 14 KOs).
“I knew he was a tough opponent,” Garcia told Showtime’s Jim Gray in the ring. “He’s a tough warrior. He gave a great fight, but I was the better fighter. I was in control of the fight and I did what I had to do to win.”
By the third round, Garcia got inside the 5-feet-11 Easter’s five-inch height advantage and eight-inch edge in reach to land powerful punches that changed the course of their fight. He dropped Easter with a left hook late in the third round and made Easter respect his power over the remaining eight-plus rounds.
“He had a game plan to use that reach,” Garcia said. “Once I started getting into rhythm, we took control. I just had to wait [for] my time. He has some good hand speed, so I just had to be patient and careful.”
There were times in their fight when Easter seemed like he was merely trying to avoid getting knocked out.
“He was just a better man tonight,” Easter said. “I take my hat off to Mikey. He’s a true warrior. … I just couldn’t find the timing and I just couldn’t let my right hand go.”
The consistent, technically sound Garcia won the IBF lightweight championship from Easter and made the first defense of the WBC lightweight title he won by knocking out Dejan Zlaticanin in the third round of their January 2017 fight in Las Vegas. The four-division champion’s previous two fights were contested at the super lightweight limit of 140 pounds.
He gave up the IBF junior welterweight title he won from Kazakhstan’s Sergey Lipinets to take this fight with Easter. Garcia beat Lipinets by unanimous decision March 10 in San Antonio to become a world champion in a fourth weight class.
Easter had defended the IBF lightweight title three times before Garcia took it from him. He won it in September 2016, when he defeated Ghana’s Richard Commey by split decision in Reading, Pennsylvania.
A regressing Easter hired a new trainer, Kevin Cunningham, before facing Garcia because he wasn’t pleased with his previous two performances. Both of those fights – a split-decision victory over Javier Fortuna and a unanimous-decision win against Denis Shafikov – both came against southpaws.
Easter experienced even more trouble with the right-handed Garcia, who completely controlled the second half of their fight.
Garcia drilled Easter with a straight right hand late in the 12th round. Easter took it well, though, and withstood Garcia’s power until the final bell.
Backed against the ropes, Easter landed a solid overhand right with about 1:10 to go in the 11th round. Easter added another straight right hand later in the 11th.
A left hook by Garcia grazed Easter’s jaw in the 10th round because Easter’s arm partially blocked it. By then, Easter seemed very wary of Garcia’s power and was trying to survive.
Easter essentially took the eighth round off. In the ninth round, though, he let his hands go during an exciting exchange near the center of the ring.
Easter connected with a solid left hook to Garcia’s head and temporarily made Garcia cover up. Garcia began landing heavier shots and Easter eventually had to hold and move away from Garcia’s dangerous shots as best he could.
Garcia spent most of the eighth round chasing Easter around the ring. Garcia didn’t land many clean blows in those three minutes, but Easter wasn’t nearly active enough to have a chance to win that round.
Easter tried to use his jab to keep Garcia out of punching range throughout the seventh round. Garcia got in a right hand around Easter’s guard with about 50 seconds to go in the seventh.
Easter grazed Garcia with a right uppercut with around 30 seconds to go in the seventh round. That punch didn’t land clean enough to affect Garcia, though.
Easter connected with a right hand that made Garcia lose his footing about 45 seconds into the sixth round. Garcia clipped Easter with a left hook later in the sixth, but Easter took that flush punch better than the left hook that dropped him in the third round.
Garcia trapped Easter against the ropes with about 20 seconds to go in the sixth, but Easter mostly made Garcia miss with all the punches he threw at him.
An accidental clash of heads made Reis briefly stop the action and check for cuts at the 1:27 mark of the fifth round. Neither Garcia nor Easter was cut.
Easter landed a right hand toward the end of the fifth round. Garcia countered with a left hook that made Easter back up.
A round after Garcia dropped him, Easter was more mindful of his opponent’s power in the fourth round and tried to re-establish his jab. Garcia maneuvered Easter to the ropes late in the fourth and landed a solid left hook that made Easter hold him.
Easter snapped back Garcia’s head with a jarring jab about 35 seconds into the third round. Garcia landed a right hand that knocked Easter into the ropes later in the third, but Easter responded immediately with a combination and got off the ropes.
Easter landed a short left hook with just under a minute to go in the third. Garcia’s drilled Easter with a much harder left hook that sent Easter to the seat of his trunks with 26 seconds to go in the third.
Easter got right up and Reis realized quickly that he was more than OK to continue.
“He caught me with a good shot and I went down,” Easter said. “But I got up, like a true champion, a true warrior.”
Garcia caught Easter with a straight right hand as Easter moved backward with just under two minutes left in the second round. Easter connected with a stiff jab at about the 1:05 mark of the second round.
Garcia landed a left-right combination that made Easter retreat with under 20 seconds left in the second round. Easter quickly came back with a combination of his own that made Garcia stop punching.
Easter and Garcia spent much of the first round pumping their jabs, feeling each other out. Garcia’s jab knocked Easter off balance with about 50 seconds remaining in the first round.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.