Robert Easter Jr.: Mikey Garcia is on my hit list

Image: Robert Easter Jr.: Mikey Garcia is on my hit list

By Dan Ambrose: IBF World lightweight champion Robert Easter Jr. (19-0, 14 KOs) put on a punching display last Friday night in beating contender Luis Cruz (22-5-1, 16 KOs) by a 12 round unanimous decision at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio. Easter Jr. gave the 31-year-old Cruz a methodical beating in knocking him down twice and winning by the scores 119-106 118-107 ad 117-108.

After the fight, Easter Jr. said that he has WBC lightweight champion Mikey Garcia (36-0, 30 KOs) and WBO champion Terry Flanagan on his hit list. Easter Jr. says he wants all the superstars in the lightweight division. There are really no superstars in the division other than Mikey. Flanagan and WBA champion Jorge Linares are both flawed champions that have a lot of holes in their games. You can’t call Flanagan and Linares superstars.

Easter Jr. said this to after his win over Cruz last Friday night:

When asked what he wants to do next with his boxing career, Easter Jr. said, “More titles. I need the superstar fights. Mikey Garcia, he’s on the hit list too. [Terry] Flanagan, he’s on the hit list too,” said Easter.

Mikey looks very hard to beat right now, especially after the way he destroyed previously unbeaten WBC champion Dejan Zlaticanin (22-1, 15 KOs) by a 3rd round knockout on January 28 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Easter Jr. needs to make more improvements in his game before he faces a well-rounded fighter like Mikey Garcia. Cruz was able to hit Easter Jr. all night long with left hooks and straight hands. The 5’11” Easter Jr. made it easy for Cruz by getting in close and trying to fight him on the inside. Easter Jr. was fighting like that in almost every round.

It was a foolish way for Easter to fight, because he was giving away all of his natural height and reach advantages to Cruz. Easter Jr. has great boxing skills to go along with his size. It’s unclear why he chose to fight in close. Whatever the reason it is for him to fight like that, Easter Jr. is going to need to stop doing that if he wants to have a chance of beating Mikey Garcia in the future. Right now, Mikey is probably too good for Easter Jr.

Easter Jr. looks good enough to beat Jorge Linares, Anthony Crolla and Flanagan. As I mentioned, Mikey looks too skilled and powerful for Easter Jr. to beat right now. That doesn’t mean that the 26-year-old Easter Jr. can’t develop his game enough to beat Mikey.

I think he can. If Easter Jr. learns how to fight strictly at the distance, using his size and reach and not letting his shorter opponents get near enough to land, then I think he would have a very good chance of beating Mikey.

The 5’11” Easter Jr. would have a four-inch height and reach advantage over the 5’7” Mikey Garcia. That’s a considerable advantage of Easter if he uses it. Last night, Easter Jr. didn’t use his size advantage over Cruz and he made the fight much more competitive than it should have been if he’d stayed on the outside.

Easter’s face was lumped up after the fight. He shouldn’t have been lumped up at all if he’d fought smart and used his size to defeat Cruz. You have to remember that Cruz was picked from the bottom of the International Boxing Federation’s top 15 ranking to fight Easter Jr. This wasn’t supposed to be a competitive fight. It was supposed to have been a shutout with Easter Jr. winning every round before knocking out Cruz. That didn’t happen though, because Easter Jr. chose to fight Cruz on the inside too much rather than staying at a distance to get maximum power on his shots.

Easter Jr. will likely defend his IBF title against his No.1 IBF mandatory challenger Denis Shafikov next. That’s going to be a tough fight for Easter Jr. because Shafikov is a pressure fighter with heavy hands, and he’s coming off an impressive win over Richard Commey. Shafikov did a better job beating Commey than Easter Jr. did.