by Cliff Rold
The question is cliché but it is the question nonetheless:
Is the third time the charm for Denis Shafikov?
The Russian challenger for the IBF lightweight title this Friday (Bounce TV, 9 PM EST/6 PM PST) has already had two cracks at the belt. In both attempts he fell short but gave game effort. Slick boxers Miguel Vazquez and Rances Barthelemy were perhaps less willing to engage then the man he faces this time.
Robert Easter can box when he wants to but shows tendencies towards battle. He doesn’t just rely on decided advantages in height and reach over most lightweights. He looks to land big. Against Shafikov, it could mean fireworks.
Put two top ten lightweights in the ring and let them at each other. That’s plenty for a solid main event.
Let’s go the report card.
?Current Title: IBF lightweight (2016-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 134 lbs.
?Hails from: Toledo, Ohio
Record: 19-0, 14 KO
Rankings: #3 (Ring, BoxRec), #4 (BoxingScene, TBRB, ESPN, Boxing Monthly)
Record in Major Title Fights: 2-0
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Argenis Mendez TKO5
?Current Titles/Previous Titles: None
Weight: 134 ½ lbs.
?Hails from: Miass, Russia
Record: 38-2-1, 20 KO
Rankings: #4 (Ring), #5 (BoxingScene), #6 (Boxing Monthly), #7 (ESPN), #8 (TBRB), #9 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 0-2
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Miguel Vazquez L12; Rances Barthelemy L12
Pre-Fight: Speed – Easter A-; Shafikov B
Pre-Fight: Power – Easter B+; Shafikov B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Easter B; Shafikov C
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Easter B+; Shafikov B+
The size difference just jumps off the page in this one. Seeing them next to each other at the weigh in, Easter looked all of the six or so inches taller than Shafikov he is. Couple that with an eight-inch reach advantage and superior speed. Easter has the tools to box at range and rack up rounds on the way to a win.
Does he have the temperament? As was seen in his title winning effort against Richard Commey last year, Easter isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He is a tall fighter who sometimes gives up his size and works down hill towards his foes. A war broke out in Commey and he met it every step of the way. For the Russian southpaw to have his best chances here, he needs it to get gritty.
Shafikov can help himself get there by doing what he does well. He is a clever pressure fighter with a bit of a sudden quickness and timing. He jabs to the body and gets low, forcing opponents to punch down and give him chances to come up with thudding shots. His own wins over Commey and former Olympian Jamel Herring showed how tough an out he can be and earned him this third title shot.
Neither man has ever been stopped or found their final ceiling amongst boxing’s best. Shafikov can be outboxed but he’s hard to outfight. Easter is still getting his feet wet in the pool of tested contenders and we’ll know that much more about him after this one.
It’s hard to overlook the total package of advantages Easter has here. He’s steadily improved and, when tested, risen to the occasion on each step of the way. Shafikov is a critical step on his way to getting some of the bigger names in and around his weight in the ring. For instance, if Mikey Garcia defeats Adrien Broner next month, a unification showdown at lightweight under the Al Haymon umbrella isn’t impossible to imagine. Many are looking at this as a hard fight for Easter. That makes it an opportunity. The expectation here is we see the best Easter we’ve seen to date, using his jab and underrated body work to stifle Shafikov for an impressive victory.
Report Card Picks 2017: 17-10
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]