Robert Easter Jr. didn’t get the knockout he was seeking against Luis Cruz, but he was no less dominant defending his world title in front of a hometown crowd.
Easter capped a commanding performance Friday night with knockdowns in each of the final three rounds as he rolled to a unanimous decision over Cruz and retained his 135-pound world championship at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio.
“It was very important for me to remain focused tonight but also have fun,” Easter said. “My people came out in full force, so I wanted to give them a show, a night to remember. I feel like I did that, even though I wish I could've given them the knockout.”
The 5-foot-11 Easter, an alternate on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, effectively used his jab as he worked the body of his 5-foot-9 opponent during the early rounds.
Cruz, 31, found some success in Round 5 as he caught the champion with a left hook to the head, but Easter started digging in more with his punches in the sixth and pinned the Puerto Rican against the ropes before catching him with a straight right to the head.
Easter, 26, relied almost solely on his jab at times through the middle rounds, but it was a highly effective strategy as he snapped Cruz’s head back in the eighth and denied his opponent’s attempts to get inside.
After Cruz righted himself a bit in Round 9 by penetrating Easter’s defense and landing the more effective punches, the champion squashed any potential momentum in commanding fashion down the stretch.
Easter floored Cruz with a straight right early in the 10th and looked to end the bout, but the Puerto Rican underdog was able to survive the round.
“I admit, I was very surprised that Luis Cruz could take my punches like that and finish the fight,” Easter said. “When I had him down and hurt [in Round 10], I thought he was done. I give him credit, he came a long way and showed a lot of heart.”
“ My people came out in full force, so I wanted to give them a show, a night to remember. I feel like I did that, even though I wish I could've given them the knockout. ” Robert Easter Jr.
The champion continued his dominance in the 11th when he buried a stiff right into the face of Cruz, who stumbled across the ring with his head down before Easter landed a left uppercut to score a knockdown in the closing seconds of the round.
Although well ahead on points entering the 12th round of his first title defense, Easter wasn’t content to coast over the final three minutes. Instead, he looked to put Cruz away and dropped him for the third time with an overhand right.
While it wasn’t enough to finish the job as Cruz danced away from the champion until the final bell, it was more than enough to secure an overwhelming margin of victory.
Cruz suffered his first defeat since he was stopped for the only time in his career by two-time title challenger Edner Cherry in July 2015.
“[Easter is] a very strong fighter. I wanted to do more, but he took away my energy late in the fight,” Cruz said. “The first knockdown took a lot of out me. I felt dizzy but it was important for me to finish the fight on my feet.
“I never stopped trying to win, but he a great champion and the best I've ever faced.”
With the win, Easter retained the title he earned in September with a split decision over Richard Commey in a Fight of the Year candidate in Reading, Pennsylvania.
“I said before the fight and I'm going to keep saying it: I'm here to collect all the belts,” Easter said. “I'm calling out [fellow 135-pound champions] Mikey Garcia, Jorge Linares and Terry Flanagan.
“I want them to see what we were able to do here tonight, the crowd I pulled in. I'm a superstar on the rise and now it's time for me to collect my prizes and bring these fights and all of the belts home to Toledo.”
For a complete look at Easter vs Cruz, visit our fight page.