IBF lightweight titleholder reflects on he and his father's journey to become a world champion and how even bigger goals lie ahead for the Easter team once he defeats Mikey Garcia July 28 on Showtime.
Robert Easter Jr. still gets excited when he reflects on his father’s brief professional boxing career in the 1990s.
The sights and sounds of the gym where his dad trained, the thrill of fight night, the people and energy that surrounded the elder Easter seemingly all the time. It left a lasting impression on Robert.
“I knew that would be me one day. I wanted to be a world champion,” he said.
So he would be. Easter fulfilled his stated destiny by outpointing then-unbeaten Richard Commey to win the vacant IBF 135-pound title in September 2016 and has successfully defended three times.
Now, at 27, he’s considered one of the best lightweights in the world and a rising star. And he has a defining challenge in front of him: He faces WBC titleholder and pound-for-pounder Mikey Garcia in a unification showdown on July 28 at Staples Center in Los Angeles and live on Showtime (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT), which is an opportunity for Easter to reach rarified air.
“Everything I dreamed of, everything I envisioned has happened,” he said. “I knew I’d get big fights. I knew I’d fight in front of big crowds. That’s what I’ve worked so hard for since I was a kid.
Easter has worked hard and long.
He spent his early childhood in a rough part of Toledo, Ohio. And even when the family moved to a better neighborhood, young Robert had a rude awakening. “The first week,” he said with a laugh, “my bike was stolen.”
Robert Easter Sr. wouldn’t leave the fate of his children to chance, though. He didn’t allow them time to find trouble. Robert Jr. was required to maintain good grades in school and he took part in a variety of sports and activities, which filled is days.
The elder Easter’s plan evidently worked.
“My dad stayed on top of me,” Junior said. “He taught me responsibility and the consequences of certain actions. No matter what, I had to stay busy. I was a bike racer, I played football, I boxed. I did a lot of things.
“I pretty much always stayed busy to stay out of trouble. And no matter what I did, my dad was always my coach.”
Robert Sr. coached his son into one of the best amateurs in the United States going into the 2012 Olympics, although he fell just short of qualifying for the London Games. Robert traveled to England as an alternate.
He didn’t have time to dwell on the disappointment, though. He turned pro in November 2012—with dad as his trainer—and set about realizing his dreams.
He had the tools to do so. Easter is unusually tall for his weight, 5 feet, 11 inches, which allows him to pound his opponents from a distance. He’s also quick and athletic, as well as a powerful puncher.
In other words, he’s a complete fighter. Thus, no one was shocked when he knocked out his first eight opponents and won a major title in only his 18th pro fight.
“ When I beat Mikey Garcia, people will quit sleeping on me. They’ll realize that I’m the best in the 135-pound division. ” IBF Lightweight World Champion Robert Easter Jr.
“Any time you have a kid who is 6-feet tall, with long arms, lots of raw, natural boxing ability and is fighting in the lightweight division, there’s a good chance he’s going to be successful,” said Kevin Cunningham, his new trainer.
“And he’s an extremely hard worker. He’s totally dedicated.”
Of course, no run to the top comes without bumps in the road.
Easter legitimately won his three title defenses but had to work harder than some people—including Easter himself—had anticipated in his last two, against capable opponents Denis Shafikov and Javier Fortuna.
Easter (21-0, 14 knockouts) was pleased to have his hand raised in both cases but knew he could do better. And he took corrective action, hiring the highly respected Cunningham to work with him, moving his training camp from his hometown to Cunningham’s gym in West Palm Beach, Florida, and refocusing on the task at hand.
“I didn’t stick to the game plan,” said Easter, referring to the difficult fights. “I fought the other fighters’ fights, which made it a lot harder than it should’ve been. I got too busy thinking I can knock everybody out instead of setting it up.
“That’s why I moved my camp. Toledo is a small city. I have a lot of family and friends there. Everybody knows where my gym is. I had to leave town to stay focused. Now I’m focused on me and boxing instead of being focused on everybody else. I pretty much got out of my comfort zone.”
Cunningham said Easter’s problem in those fights wasn’t complicated: He didn’t use his height and reach advantage. The titleholder fought down to the level of his opponents, putting him in precarious positions, instead of keeping them at long arm’s length.
That’s what trainer and fighter have been working on in camp. And if Cunningham is right, the fans will see a somewhat different Easter on July 28.
“There’s a proper way to do things,” Cunningham said. “Like I said, when you have a height and reach advantage and you don’t use it, that’s something you need to work on until the fighter executes it properly.
“… I’ve worked on him controlling range, distance and balance. And he’s really picked it up. If he follows the game plan, I think he has the height and reach to make it really difficult for Mikey.”
Cunningham said a victory over Garcia (38-0, 30 KOs) would be “life changing” for Easter but the fighter said he’s approaching the showdown as if it were any other bout. At the same time, he understands that success would raise his profile just as big wins have done for a close friend from his amateur days — welterweight star Errol Spence.
“Every fight is big, every fight you put your life on the line,” he said. “Spence is doing his thing. He’s one of the most talked about boxers right now. When I beat Mikey Garcia, people will quit sleeping on me.
“They’ll realize that I’m the best in the 135-pound division.”
For a closer look at Garcia vs Easter, check out our fight page.