135-pound champion has sights set on unification bout vs Mikey Garcia or Jorge Linares, but must first take care of business against Javier Fortuna this Saturday night on Showtime.
Weight isn’t an issue for Robert Easter Jr.
Even though the 5-feet-11 Easter is unusually tall for his division, he continues to make the lightweight limit pretty comfortably. Between bouts the IBF 135-pound champion walks around at approximately 145 pounds, thus Easter doesn’t need to lose much weight once he begins training camp for a fight.
The wait is much more bothersome to Easter than the weight.
The Toledo, Ohio, native has owned the IBF lightweight crown since September 2016 and wants nothing more than to face WBC champ Mikey Garcia or WBA champ Jorge Linares in a title unification fight. An Easter-Garcia showdown was discussed by their handlers as late as last month, but Garcia chose to remain at 140 pounds for a second straight fight to challenge IBF junior welterweight champion Sergey Lipinets on February 10 in San Antonio.
The 26-year-old Easter instead will make the third defense of his title against Javier Fortuna on January 20 in Brooklyn, New York. Showtime will air Easter-Fortuna as the opener of a “Premier Boxing Champions” doubleheader from Barclays Center (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
The Dominican Republic’s Fortuna, 28, is a former featherweight and super featherweight title-holder, but Easter admits he felt deflated when Garcia went in a different direction.
“Those are the fights not only the fans wanna see, but [me] as well,” Easter said. “I’m a champion, Mikey’s a champion, Linares is a champion. These are fights that make fighters great, so fighting these fights that you really didn’t ask for or look forward to, it’s kind of like, ‘OK, he’s just somebody in the way that I’ve gotta train six, seven hard weeks for and fight this fight.’ And we’re gonna see what happens after that.
“That’s instead of fighting the fights that you really want to and really bring the fun back in boxing. I feel like that’s taking the fun out of boxing, champions ducking other champions.”
Easter (20-0, 14 KOs) hasn’t allowed that frustration to hurt his preparation for Fortuna (33-1-1, 23 KOs). He realizes that if he doesn’t defeat this smaller southpaw, the stardom Easter seeks outside of his hometown will become an unrealistic aspiration.
“I don’t overlook no opponent,” Easter said. “I wouldn’t call Fortuna a lesser opponent. He’s a two-time former world champion, so he has experience as well. He’s just not a champion now. He’s trying to get back there, but unfortunately, January 20th it’s not gonna happen. It’s frustrating a little bit, but at the end of the day you still have a job to do and a goal to reach, and this is just a steppingstone you have to get past to get where you wanna be.”
“ I feel like that’s taking the fun out of boxing, champions ducking other champions. ” 135-pound World Champion Robert Easter Jr.
On the other hand, Fortuna feels Easter is overlooking him. The challenger has expressed confidence that he will pull off an upset on the Errol Spence Jr.-Lamont Peterson undercard, and went as far as to predict the referee will need to step in to save Easter from taking a beating.
Easter laughed off Fortuna’s tough talk. The defending champion considers Fortuna’s provocative comments a way to “hype himself up,” not things he truly believes.
“Him and his camp, they didn’t even wanna take this fight and they know it,” Easter said. “I’m a tall fighter, a power puncher and it’s a big risk for anybody to step in that ring with me. So like I said, they’re hyping themselves up. They have to do this, and January 20th they’re gonna see why they shouldn’t have taken this fight.”
Looking ahead, Easter expects to box better than he did during his last title defense June 30 in Toledo. He encountered a short southpaw that night as well in mandatory challenger Denis Shafikov.
Easter regrets how he fought Shafikov. The rugged Russian never stopped coming forward, no matter much Easter hit him. He didn’t use his six-inch height advantage, significant edge in reach, his jab or and overall superior boxing ability to keep Shafikov at his desired distance.
“I was flat-footed in that fight,” Easter said. “I made the fight a lot harder than what it should’ve been, but I came out victorious. Shafikov was a tough opponent. A lot of dirty blows, though, a lot of back-of-the-head shots that I don’t know how the ref didn’t see. He was landing those as clear as day. But I stuck it out and came out with the victory.”
Easter still won by big margins on all three scorecards. Two judges scored each of the 12 rounds for Easter (120-108), while the other credited Easter with a seemingly more reasonable 116-112 victory that sent his fans home happy from the Huntington Center in downtown Toledo.
His victory marked the third straight fight Easter has won by decision. He wants to knock out Fortuna, but is most concerned about impressive performances that could lead to securing more meaningful fights against Garcia, Linares or even WBO super featherweight champ Vasyl Lomachenko.
“That’s what I’m looking forward to, getting these fights that I want, unifying these titles, taking my career to the next level,” Easter said. “I wanna put these belts on the line in fights with other champions, fights that make sense. That’s what’s gonna take my career to the next level.
“But other than that, I’m gonna keep performing great, I’m gonna keep getting these guys out of there, keep getting these victories and my career is gonna be great.”
For a complete look at Easter vs Fortuna, visit our fight page.