Although Robert Easter Jr. will officially be facing a former champion for the first time in his career when he takes on Algenis Mendez on April 1, the experience will be nothing new in the eyes of the 135-pound prospect.
That’s because Robert Easter Jr. (16-0, 13 KOs) has been preparing for Algenis Mendez (23-3-1, 12 KOs) in Washington, D.C., at the Headbangers Gym of Barry Hunter, trainer of former 140-pound champion Lamont Peterson and his brother, 135-pound contender Anthony Peterson.
Not only has the 25-year-old Easter sparred with both Peterson brothers at Headbangers, but he previously got some ring time with current 140-pound champion and fellow Ohio native Adrien Broner. Easter is supremely confident that working with such quality fighters will serve him well when he meets the 29-year-old Mendez in a scheduled 10-rounder at the DC Armory in the nation’s capital (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET/PT). The bout will lead into Broner's 140-pound title defense against Ashley Theophane.
“Those sparring sessions are highly-skilled, world-class work,” says Easter, a native of Toledo, Ohio. “Sometimes, you go head up for 12 rounds straight. All of them know when to bring it, when to box, when to bang.
“You’re getting different looks, styles and have to be sharp and on you’re A-game.”
Easter, who will be gunning for his fifth consecutive stoppage victory when he faces Mendez, says the Peterson brothers are sharpening his game both in and out of the ring.
“They’ve been in this position in the past leading up to their first title fights when they were up-and-coming contenders,” Easter says, “so they always give me pointers after sparring, which is a big help coming from those guys.”
As friendly and helpful as they are to each other in the gym, the sparring sessions are far from casual workouts.
“The other day it was me and Robert. We did 33 minutes straight, no break,” says Anthony Peterson (36-1, 24 KOs), who will be looking for his fourth straight stoppage win against an opponent to be determined on the Broner-Theophane undercard. “It was straight guerrilla style, so much so that you would think that we were beefing with each other.
“Emotions run high, but that’s just the competitive spirit that we need. Blades sharpen blades. We develop a bond with each other. At the end of the day, it’s love.”
Perhaps, but there definitely will be no love lost between Easter and Mendez, the latter of whom is coming off a unanimous-decision victory over former 135-pound champion Miguel Vazquez in October. That was preceded by a sixth-round stoppage of Daniel Evangelista Jr. in February 2015.
Those two victories followed Mendez’s unanimous-decision loss to then 130-pound titleholder (and current 135-pound champ) Rances Barthelemy in July 2014. That bout was a rematch of Mendez's controversial second-round knockout loss to Barthelemy in January 2014, which was later overturned and ruled a no-decision after it was determined that Mendez was hit after the bell.
A 29-year-old Brooklyn resident by way of the Dominican Republic, Mendez certainly hasn’t shied away from tough competition in recent years: His last five opponents had a combined record of 117-10-1. Now he’ll try to deal Easter his first career pro defeat.
Easter, of course, has other plans. After putting in all the long, tough hours sparring with the Peterson brothers, he feels like he’s close to taking that critical step from budding prospect to legit contender—but to do that, he knows he must take care of Mendez.
“Being in with guys like the Petersons, it’s really given me an opportunity to get well prepared and ready for this fight,” says Easter, who went 4-0 last year, all stoppage victories, the most recent a third-round TKO of Juan Ramon Solis in October. “With the Mendez fight, I’m going to truly prove that I belong up there with the elite.
“I’m going to go in there, do what I do best and get this guy outta there. I can make it look easy.”
For complete coverage of Easter vs Mendez, check out our fight page.