The former world lightweight champion is eager to return to the ring and take on the best in a stacked 140-pound division.
Toledo, Ohio, is much like every other medium-sized city in the USA, indeed the world, battling the scourge of the coronavirus pandemic. The Glass City has been struggling to open back up after much of its business community and citizens have been shuttered the last few months.
Toledoans have been stuck in their homes and are itching to get out and resume normality. They are restless and weary of watching old movies and old sporting events on a TV landscape barren of live sports competition at any level. Ohio is one of those states that absolutely needs its sports. Football, basketball, baseball, hockey . . .
. . . and boxing.
One of the city’s most well-known and beloved athletes is a boxer, and a former world champion, the only fistic champion the city has produced.
But like most every other athlete in Ohio and across the nation, Robert Easter Jr. (22-1-1, 14 KOs) has been kept from pursuing his profession by the nationwide stay-at-home order. It’s been seven months since “E-Bunny” has been in a ring competitively, and Lord knows the next time he will set foot in one.
Easter Jr. and his father and trainer, Robert Easter Sr., are champing at the bit waiting for someone, anyone, to give them the signal to move forward. Meanwhile, they’re doing all they can under the circumstances.
“It’s been very tough, but we’ve been doing what we can do, and that’s running, shadow boxing, hitting the mitts and we got a bag we can hit on, too,” says Robert Sr., himself a former professional boxer. “So we’re doing pretty decent, as far as that goes.”
Easter Jr. agrees on the tough part, but adds, “We’re sticking it out. I’ve been hanging with a lot of family and friends at the house, for the most part trying to stay out of the way, trying [not] to get yelled at by my dad every couple days, if he sees me out doing stuff. But mostly I’ve been sticking to it.”
A typical day for E-Bunny, when he’s not working out, goes something like this: “I’ll be chilling at the house, playing with my (nearly three-year-old) son (Robert Easter III), have a few of my friends over, sitting around watching movies. I go out for a drive sometimes (in his Dodge Ram Special Edition truck) because I can’t stand just being in the house. But I’m always in thought. Always.”
And trying to stay safe and healthy, right? “I don’t like wearing masks, I really don’t,” Easter Jr. admits. “My dad gets on me about that. But I take a lot of vitamins and stuff to keep my immune system up. Just being prepared.”
So how tough is it to get motivated to work hard and stick to it during the pandemic, not knowing when things will start rolling again?
Not that tough, says the trainer. “Truthfully, it’s more motivating like this because we (so badly) want to get back at it.”
Easter Sr., who has trained his son since he started boxing at age 9, has been back as Junior’s head trainer for their last two fights following a failed experiment that ended with Robert’s first and only loss and the loss of his lightweight belt to then-undefeated Mikey Garcia nearly two years ago.
Robert Sr. didn’t really want to let his son head to Florida to train with noted trainer Kevin Cunningham for the July 2018 title unification bout, but gave it his blessing, though he was around from start to finish. “I was there giving instructions and talking to my son every day of the camp.”
“ Very good fighters, they make tough fights, tough opponents, so yeah, all the top guys at 140 I’m interested in. ” Former World Lightweight Champion - Robert Easter Jr.
Was it the wrong decision? “It was very wrong,” Easter Sr. claims, “that was the wrong time to be doing something different, because there was nothing wrong with what we (had been) doing. That’s my son, he’s my fighter and fighters like to try to do something on their own and make decisions, good or bad.
“That being said, I wasn’t the type of person that said, ‘I told you so.’ The fight was over and that was it. Done deal, nothing more to talk about.”
Says Robert Jr., simply: “I went [down] there and things didn’t work out. So the bond just got stronger with my dad and we went to work.” With the help of another Ohio trainer, Cincinnati’s Mike Stafford, who had long worked with the Easters before the Cunningham experiment.
Two more fights followed, resulting in a split draw against Rances Barthelemy for the vacant WBA lightweight title, then a move up to 140 pounds to fight Adrian Granados, who was coming off a KO loss to Danny Garcia, in a 10-round, non-title fight last October. Easter Jr. finally got back in the win column by unanimous decision. He was underwhelmed by his performances in the trio of fights.
“It was difficult taking my first loss, but I stayed motivated, stayed hungry. The draw against Barthelemy was frustrating because I believe I edged it out. He’s a counter-puncher, I’m a counter-puncher, but I feel like I was the aggressor, and I felt I should’ve won that,” the 29-year-old, 5-foot, 11-inch fighter says. “Then I decided to move up, because I felt like making that weight (135 pounds), it wasn’t hard, but once I got down there, I could just feel it in my body. So I decided to move up and feel stronger.”
Now the Easters work out at a private gym in Toledo and wait for the call. Not knowing when he will get back in the ring weighs on Junior’s mind. “Yeah, I do (worry about it), but I spoke with Al (Haymon), and he told me to just stay busy, stay training, and things will be opening back up pretty soon. We’re going to continue to work and be patient until things get back to normal.”
When that happens, the Easters have their minds on some of the big names at 140 pounds. Champions such as Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez, and others, like Regis Prograis and PBC stablemate Mario Barrios, were some names raised. “Very good fighters, they make tough fights, tough opponents, so yeah, all the top guys at 140 I’m interested in,” Easter Jr. says. “Not one specific guy, but any of the top fighters.”
Papa Easter says that they will look at one, possibly even two warmup fights before going full throttle. “It all depends on how the (first) warmup goes. If this pandemic wasn’t happening it would have been a different story,” the trainer insists. “I’ll just leave it at that, that we’re going for a warmup fight then something else might be made.”
When boxing does resume, it will likely be without fans in the stands, at least for a while. That scenario will all but do away with the advantage of fighting in one’s hometown, and could mean large, expensive venues will be bypassed for smaller, cheaper venues.
“We like fighting in front of a crowd, and hearing them cheer,” Easter Jr. says. “But I guess with things like that, hopefully we’ll just have to make the ratings go up, and I think they will because a lot of people at home are going to be watching.”
Adds the trainer: “Just know that we’ll be back soon.”
For a closer look at Robert Easter Jr., check out his fighter page.
- Robert Easter Jr