Easter not about to overlook Cruz in first 135-pound title defense

If his opponent’s recent résumé is any indication, Robert Easter Jr.'s first 135-pound title defense could be a quick one. Just don’t expect the new champion to go making any brash early-knockout predictions.

Robert Easter Jr. and Luis Cruz

Robert Easter Jr. (left) will make the first defense of his 135-pound title Friday night against first-time title challenger Luis Cruz at the Huntington Center in Easter's hometown of Toledo, Ohio. (Leo Wilson/Premier Boxing Champions)

Luis Cruz enters his first world title fight with a less-than-stellar 3-4-1 record in his past eight fights. That includes a split-decision loss to Joaquin Chavez, who was 7-13-3 with two knockouts entering their August 2014 bout.

Those mediocre results aside, Robert Easter Jr. (18-0, 14 KOs) insists Luis Cruz (22-4-1, 16 KOs) will have his utmost respect when the two slug it out Friday night at the Huntington Center in the champion’s lifelong hometown of Toledo, Ohio (Bounce TV, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).

At Thursday’s weigh-in, Easter hit the scales at 134 pounds, while Cruz came in at 134½.

“Cruz is dangerous and not to be underestimated,” said Easter, who expects a sellout crowd to be cheering him on in his first fight as a world champion. “Cruz has two fists like every opponent.

“Now, I will say he’s nothing I haven’t seen. But when you go looking for a knockout, that’s when you make a lot of mistakes. I’ll stick to my game plan, and if I do that, a knockout will come."

If I go in there and do what I expect to do, Luis Cruz will be outta there in the early rounds. I’ll do my best to get him outta there, but if I don’t, I’ll certainly outclass him. Robert Easter Jr., 135-pound world champion

Easter is coming off the most significant yet most difficult victory of his four-plus year career.

Facing fellow undefeated knockout artist Richard Commey on September 9, Easter rose from a disputed eighth-round knockdown to eke out a split decision in a Fight of the Year-caliber showdown for a vacant 135-pound title.

In going the distance against Commey, Easter ended a five-fight stoppage streak during which he fought a combined 18 rounds.

Now he’ll face an opponent who has been stopped just once in his seven-year career: In July 2015, Cruz lost by ninth-round knockout to Edner Cherry.

However, the 31-year-old Puerto Rican did get dropped once each in the eighth and ninth rounds of his last fight, a split draw against Ivan Redkach in April.

“If I go in there and do what I expect to do, Luis Cruz will be outta there in the early rounds,” Easter said. “I’ll do my best to get him outta there, but if I don’t, I’ll certainly outclass him.”

Cruz scored 15 knockouts on his way to a 19-0 record that included a unanimous decision over two-time title challenger Martin Honorio (April 2011) and a sixth-round TKO of three-time title challenger Antonio Davis (September 2011).

But then came a slump that saw Cruz lose four of six fights, beginning with a 10-round majority decision setback to eventual three-time title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos and ending with the loss to Cherry.

Cruz has since bounced back with a six-round unanimous decision over Roberto Acevedo and the draw against Redkach. Now, as he gears up for the biggest fight of his life, he said he’ll enter the ring confident, battle-tested and fully prepared for what he knows will be a very difficult challenge in a very hostile environment.

“On paper, Robert Easter is one of the best [I’ve faced] because he’s the champ, but I’ve fought other great fighters like Juan Carlos Burgos, Martin Honorio, Ivan Redkach and Jose Felix,” said Cruz, who dropped Felix in the fourth round of a 10-round unanimous decision loss in September 2012. “I think they’re on the same level or maybe even better than Easter.

“I know that I’m well prepared mentally and physically for this fight. I will not focus on his hometown fans. I will come out with a victory and return to Puerto Rico as a champion.”

For full coverage of Easter vs Cruz, hit up our fight page.

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