by Cliff Rold
It might not be the best fight one could ask for at lightweight but, for now, it’s the best we’re going to get and that’s plenty.
Mikey Garcia returned from over two years off and picked up where he left off. He might even be better. He’s won four straight since returning in 2016, adding titles at lightweight and Jr. welterweight. Heading into the weekend, he’s even saying he has his eye on welterweight Errol Spence for later in the year.
First things first.
Garcia has a chance Saturday (Showtime, 10 PM EST) to unify titles at lightweight. He enters the decided favorite, regarded as one of the best fighters in the world in any class.
Robert Easter Jr. has the chance of a lifetime not only to capture a second belt but also to recast himself as a major player. Easter is coming off two tough outings against Denis Shafikov and Javier Fortuna that raised question marks (and not just because of the scoring of the former). Tall and long for the weight class, he has yet to put all his physical tools together.
Could this be the night?
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: WBC lightweight (2017-Present, 1stAttempted Defense); TBRB Jr. Welterweight (2018-Present, 0 Defenses)
Previous Titles: WBO featherweight (2013, Lost on the scale); WBO super featherweight (2013-14, 1 Defense); IBF light welterweight (2018)
Weight: 135 lbs.
Hails from: Moreno Valley, California
Record: 38-0, 30 KO
Press Rankings: #2 (TBRB, Ring, ESPN, Boxing Monthly, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-0, 3 KO
Last Five Opponents: 122-5-2 (.953)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Mauricio Pastrana KO2; Orlando Salido TD8; Juan Manuel Lopez TKO4; Roman Martinez KO8; Juan Carlos Burgos UD12; Elio Rojas TKO5; Dejan Zlaticanin KO3; Adrien Broner UD12; Sergey Lipinets UD12
Robert Easter Jr.
Title: IBF lightweight (2016-Present, 3 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 134 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Toledo, Ohio
Record:21-0, 14 KO
Press Rankings: #3 (Ring, BoxRec), #4 (ESPN, Boxing Monthly), #5 (TBRB)
Record in Major Title Fights: 4-0
Last Five Opponents: 140-10-4 (.934)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Argenis Mendez TKO5
The Case for Garcia: Garcia has appeared to be even better since returning as a lightweight and higher. Fully mature and with a lifetime growing up in a fighting family, he’s one of the most fundamentally sound boxers around. His balance, timing, and ability to both lead and counter make him a difficult approach. Against Easter, who often gives up his height and fights inside, Garcia can look for opportunities to land between Easter’s long arms. Garcia is strong and appears to be more so as he rises up the scale. If he can stand his ground and dictate the space of the fight, Garcia can land the same sort of flush power shots Fortuna and Shafikov did, but with the added benefit of single shot stopping power. Garcia also attacks the body well, something he’ll want against the long, lanky Easter.
The Case for Easter: Since escalating his quality of opposition, Easter’s knockout ratio has come down but his experience has grown. Were Shafikov and Fortuna a sign of his ceiling or growing pains for a fighter who still needed quality rounds? One thing we can see so far is he isn’t afraid to be in the trenches. Against Garcia, he will want to fight with more care. He is several inches taller, his arms are longer, and if he fights tall and patient he can present a set of challenges Garcia hasn’t seen before. If he opts to bite down and go inside, he can hope to outwork Garcia but the danger of counter shots that arrive before he can adjust goes up.
The Pick: Easter’s propensity to be drawn into fights seems to bode well for Garcia. Ultimately, this feels like a fight as simple as a good fighter versus a much better one. Garcia has faced better, and performed better against them, than Easter has since piquing curiosity in winning his then-vacant title in a very good fight with Richard Commey. Garcia is almost always patient, and painfully accurate. He’ll counter Easter with increasing violence as the fight wears on and Easter will find it hard to force Garcia to his back foot or the ropes. Easter will fight hard but in the end it will be Garcia’s sharper shots and smarter game planning that equal the expected victory in a fight that still exceeds expectations.
Rold Picks 2018: 25-10
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]