When it comes to the lightweight division, most of the conversation usually centers around world titleholders Mikey Garcia and Jorge Linares, their exploits and whether they will fight each other. They both say this summer is a good possibility if they get past their upcoming assignments.
If the conversation is not about that wish-list fight, then there is usually a mention of junior lightweight world titleholder and pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko and when he might move up in weight to join them at 135 pounds and go for a world title in a third division.
Far less often do you hear about world titleholder Robert Easter Jr., one of boxing’s best young fighters, who possesses a tremendous combination of size (5-foot-11, which is very tall for a lightweight), skill and power.
Easter’s fights haven’t been as high profile as those of his counterparts, but he said he does not feel like the division’s forgotten man. More like the avoided man.
“I wouldn’t actually say I’m the forgotten guy. I’m just the guy they don’t want to fight,” Easter said. “You heard these interviews, these guys talking. They always bring up everybody else names except for mine. You cannot forget about me.
“I’m tallest in the weight class, maybe the fastest and probably one of the strongest. Of course, they’re not going to mention my name because they don’t want to fight me. I’ve been calling these guys out. I know they see that. So how can they not acknowledge that? Jorge Linares and Mikey Garcia, they’re doing their thing. They’re winning these fights like champions (are) supposed to. But it’s time we unify these titles like I’ve been trying to do.”
Easter (20-0, 14 KOs) thought he might get a chance to unify belts with Garcia next, but Garcia opted instead to fight at junior welterweight for a second consecutive bout and will challenge Sergey Lipinets for his world title on Feb. 10. Linares, who was never a real possibility for Easter’s next bout, will defend his title against massive underdog Mercito Gesta on Jan. 27.
But Easter is not about to wait around for a unification fight and will defend his title for the third time when he takes on former junior lightweight titlist Javier Fortuna on Jan. 20 (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Easter-Fortuna is the co-feature on the card headlined by welterweight world titleholder Errol Spence Jr. (22-0, 19 KOs), who traveled to Kell Brook’s hometown of Sheffield, England last May and impressively stopped him in the 11th round to win the title, making his first defense against former two-division world titlist Lamont Peterson (35-3-1, 17 KOs).
Easter, a heavy favorite against Fortuna, hopes that one of the other titleholders will seek to unify titles after this round of bouts. Easter has steadfastly said he is ready, willing and able. A fight with Garcia shouldn’t be tough to make given that they both work with adviser Al Haymon.
“When I win this fight, I don’t know,” Easter said of landing a major fight. “I’ve been calling these guys out for a while. It’s kind of up to them. I’ve been sitting back, taking these mandatory fights and fights that really don’t make sense like unifying the titles will. Hopefully, all the champions meet up and fight. So when I win this fight, hopefully.”
One thing Easter, 26, of Toledo, Ohio, said he doesn’t plan to do is move up in weight any time soon despite his size.
“I can hold it (135 pounds) just as long as they want me to,” he said. “But like I said, I’m trying to unify these titles and then move up after that (after) my goal is reached. For now, I’m going to be at 135, giving these guys trouble.”
Before the fight with Fortuna (33-1-1, 23 KOs), a 28-year-old southpaw from the Dominican Republic, was finalized, there was talk of a Garcia-Easter unification fight. But Garcia ultimately decided against it. He said it made more financial sense to fight Lipinets and that he also wanted to go for a world title in a fourth weight division — though Garcia has also said repeatedly that he wanted to unify belts at lightweight.
Easter said he isn’t buying what Garcia is selling.
“I wanted to fight. It was serious on my side. I wanted to fight. I didn’t care where at. I don’t care about any of that. I wanted to fight,” Easter said. “At first (Garcia said) I didn’t produce enough fans or the fight didn’t make sense, which that didn’t make sense, and some other excuses the guy came up with. But like I said, I was ready to fight whenever, whatever, how much. It didn’t even matter.
“That’s just a lame excuse to say when I fight I don’t produce enough fans. What does Lipinets do? No disrespect to him, but come on now. Everybody knows that is not true. I have fans all over. My fan base is big, and it doesn’t matter we if we fought in a room with nobody. It shouldn’t even matter to both parties. Is the money good and the contract’s good? Then we should fight. I wouldn’t care about fighting in front of nobody because I know what I’m going to do.”
Easter drew strong crowds for his first two title defenses, dominant decision wins against Luis Cruz last February and Denis Shafikov in June, both of which were in Toledo.
Easter can’t make the other top guys in his division fight him but he can make sure he fights well against Fortuna, who has won four fights in a row against lesser opposition since suffering his only defeat, an upset 11th-round knockout to Jason Sosa that cost him his world title in June 2016.
“Of course, I’m the favorite. I’m the champion and he’s a former world champion,” Easter said. “These guys haven’t faced nobody with the skills of mine so you’re going to see another great performance from me in this fight. I would like to make the same statement I’ve been making and that’s why these guys are scared to fight me.”
Fortuna said he has no fear of Easter, has predicted he will win by knockout and is motivated by his status as the underdog.
“That does motivate me much more. It gives me the opportunity to concentrate that much more,” Fortuna said. “I’ve been the underdog a few times. Like the Omar Douglas fight (in 2016), I surprised everybody in his hometown. I would have liked for this fight to be in Ohio. That would have been much better for me because I perform better under pressure.
“I figure he’ll be a little better now because if he comes the way he fought his last fight, he won’t reach the fifth round. He’s got to reinvent himself because if he doesn’t, he won’t go far. I’m just trying to get in position to fight Garcia. Jan. 20 there will be history made (for) the Dominican Republic.”
Easter brushed off Fortuna’s KO talk.
“Those are things he’s supposed to say,” Easter said. “He’s supposed to hype himself up, and he’s supposed to hype the fight up. But he and his camp know the truth. They know what they’re getting themselves into. I don’t really have to trash talk. My work is done in the ring. Jan. 20 we’re all going to see that.”
And then he hopes to move on to a unification fight.
“I’m hoping we can face off one day — not only Mikey though. You still have Jorge. You still have him. He’s still a champion as well,” Easter said. “I’ve been ready to unify these titles for so long. I’ve been sitting back waiting not only on Mikey, but the other champions.”