Which 135-pound champion emerges victorious from Saturday night's lightweight title unification on Showtime could very well come down to how each titleholder handles Easter's height and reach advantage.
Saturday night, headlining a three-fight Showtime-televised card (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT) from STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, undefeated world champs Mikey Garcia and Robert Easter Jr. will meet in a lightweight title unification bout filled with strategic intrigue and the potential for big drama.
Four-division champion Garcia (38-0, 30 KOs) has become a fight fan’s fighter with his flawless technique and no-nonsense steely-cold demeanor in the ring. The reigning WBC 135-pound champ has walked down and often walked through a wide array of opponent styles and temperaments, from tough guy battlers like Orlando Salido and Sergey Lipinets to mega-talented athletic boxers like Adrien Broner and Juan Manuel Lopez.
The 30-year-old Moreno Valley, California native has a simple one-two-three style built around, perhaps, the sharpest, most accurate jab in the game. A unique presence in the sport today, Garcia’s brilliance is not based on athletic prowess or any one particular physical attribute.
Instead, his dominance can be attributed to mastery of basic boxing fundamentals.
Garcia is efficient, focused, and has tremendous balance. His footwork is nothing flashy, but it’s perfect for his particular style, allowing him to cut off the ring well and, when paired with his jab, maintain the ideal distance for his offense.
IBF lightweight champ Easter (21-0, 14 KOs) is nowhere near as accomplished as Garcia and also not as technically perfect, but, to be fair, he’s just approaching his prime as a fighter. The upside to what Easter can do and be is tremendous.
The 28-year-old from Toledo, OH is long and lean at 5’ 11” and, when fighting at 100% capacity, a brilliant long-range fighter with solid, often jolting power.
Dominant performances against former world champ Argenis Mendez and Luis Cruz showcase Easter at his absolute best, utilizing his 76-inch reach to full benefit and controlling the space and pace of the contest with his physical presence and athleticism.
On the flip side, less-than-stellar recent showings against Denis Shafikov and Javier Fortuna have shown Easter at his worst. A willingness to abandon his ideal fighting distance in favor of inside skirmishes had the defending champ at a distinct disadvantage and, at least in the case of the Fortuna fight, fortunate to hold on to his belt.
“ People are paying attention to my last couple of fights when I wasn’t using my height and reach, I can improve on that by taking it back to what I had been doing before. On July 28 I’m going to show everyone what they’ve been sleeping on and why I’m a world champion. ” IBF Lightweight World Champion Robert Easter Jr.
Easter, however, armed with the guidance of new trainer Kevin Cunningham and a supreme confidence in his abilities, is not overly concerned about those performances against a pair of awkward and tenacious southpaws.
“People are paying attention to my last couple of fights when I wasn’t using my height and reach,” Easter said. “I can improve on that by taking it back to what I had been doing before. I was knocking people out fight after fight…on July 28 I’m going to show everyone what they’ve been sleeping on and why I’m a world champion.”
What makes Garcia-Easter especially intriguing is that both fighters basically aspire to execute a similar jab-based game plan, using a jarring left hand to allow for proper distance and as a table setter for their power shots.
And, while Garcia may be more skillful and consistent in his ability to execute that plan, Easter’s physical advantages may cancel out some of Garcia’s edge. A 5-inch height and 8-inch reach advantage is nothing to regard lightly, especially when the two combatants would like to employ fight-at-arm’s-length strategies.
Garcia, who is trained by older brother Robert Garcia, is typically low key about the task of facing a fighter like Easter.
“We work on a lot of different things in the gym, different strategies, different techniques,” Garcia said. “We have sparring partners that can challenge me in different ways...We have tall sparring partners to help me adjust to the height and reach...I think his height and reach is what he's going to try to use, I'm just going to be ready to do whatever it takes to win.”
The book on Easter is that he can be lured out of position and lulled into periods of inactivity. He also has lapses in focus where opponents can win large chunks of rounds with aggression and by exploiting his willingness to fight on their terms and at their best distance.
As for Garcia, the playbook on beating him is similar to the one applied to Easter. An opponent needs to keep Garcia from establishing his preferred distance. Ideally, they’d get inside, then overwhelm with bullying and mauling tactics in order to nullify his pristine technique and cool, calm demeanor. Lipinets, for instance, used feints and timed aggression to put Garcia off his game—and it worked to a degree, but obviously not enough to deliver defeat.
The difference may come down to the fact that Garcia’s weaknesses are pure theory at this point. Up until now, nobody has been able to push him off course and away from the attributes that have made him a consensus top 5 pound-for-pound fighter.
But if anyone WERE able to stop Garcia from being Garcia, it would be someone like Easter with the height, reach, and athleticism to, literally, beat him to the punch. This is why Garcia-Easter is a compelling match-up and must-see TV.
For a complete look at Garcia vs Easter, check out our fight page.