When I ask around, I confess, I do not hear a single soul picking Robert Easter to beat Mikey Garcia when they glove up July 28.
Easy work for Mikey, is pretty much the most common synopsis I get from fans and pundit types when I ask them to assess this scrap pitting the IBF 135-pound champ Easter, the fighting pride of Toledo, Ohio, and the Cali-based Garcia, a multi-weight ace who has talked of going to 147 in his next fight, against fellow P4P ace Errol Spence.
But Easter, he hasn’t received the same memos I have and if he has, well, he seems to be putting all into the circular file drawer.
“I decided to go to Florida for a different environment than I usually trained in,” said Easter, a Toledo-native who had trained in his hometown for much of his pro career on a recent conference call. “I needed to be taken out of my comfort zone. At home, I was focused on too many other things. Coming to West Palm Beach has allowed me to focus on nothing but myself and boxing.”
He’s referring to “Camp Cunningham,” the West Palm Beach facility run by the ex cop from St. Louis. Easter saw what Cunningham’s guidance did for Adrien Broner and Gervonta Davis, who both trained with Cunningham leading into April 21 fights on Showtime that saw Broner look as good as he has in years and Davis also returning to a form that had people salivating over him a year and a half ago.
Easter, who often has not used his height to full advantage, said he saw up close the upside Cunningham, who came on radar screens helming Cory Spinks, and then Devon Alexander, was bringing to the table for the Ohioan Broner and the Baltimore-based Davis.
“I was with Adrien Broner and Gervonta Davis every step of the way during training camp with Kevin Cunningham earlier this year,” said Easter. “I saw for myself that it was something I needed to do. I talked with my dad about getting away from the distractions and we agreed this was the right move.”
Garcia is currently a 1/8 favorite with many boxing fans looking to wager on Garcia finishing the fight before the judges have their say. Taking the early finish into mind based on best reviews and best odds available, Garcia is at 1/1 on most books to finish the fight within the distance. Put simply, Easter hasn’t been wowing anyone of late. His KO of former champion Argenis Mendez in 2016 drew praise, and he deserves props for beating Richard Commey later that year in an entertaining battle to capture the lightweight belt.
Easter’s last defenses, against Luis Cruz, Denis Shafikov and Javier Fortuna, didn’t wow the critics. In fact, the critics column grew more dense. He wants to get back career momentum, and start using his attributes to best effect. That is a tall order against the 38-0 Garcia, who lost more rounds than he’s been accustomed to in his last outing, against rugged Sergey Lipinets. That was at 140, and it’s thought that he’s better suited to 135, Easter’s hood.
“People are paying attention to my last couple of fights when I wasn’t using my height and reach,” said Easter. “I can improve on that by taking it back to what I had been doing before. I was knocking people out fight after fight.
“If you’re looking at just my last two fights, you aren’t giving me credit for everything I bring to the table. I faced two tough southpaws recently but on July 28 I’m going to show everyone what they’ve been sleeping on and why I’m a world champion.”
Easter is 27, should be near or at or coming to his athletic prime. Expect Cunningham to have him popping a jab, working to keep the fight at an advantageous distance.
“What I have to do is go in there and impose my attributes on him. My height and reach are my advantages, but also my speed and power,” Easter said. “I just have to combine all that and focus on my footwork.”
Easter will be fighting in Garcia’s hometown of Los Angeles, but he says he’s treating that fact like those memos we spoke of earlier…
“It doesn’t matter to me where we fight,” said Easter. “None of the fans can help him fight. It’s only about me and him in that ring together.
“My first pro fight was at Staples Center and even though it was early on an undercard, I still felt like there were 10,000 fans watching me. I just fought my fight. It’s all about staying focused. There will be no excuses on July 28.
My three cents: You have to like what you hear from Easter. But what will we SEE? He’s been doing his thing as a pro since 2012, which means yes, his habits are entrenched. But maybe not so much that this change of guidance counselors isn’t actually meaningful. I suspect we see a better Easter than we have in awhile…but that will not perhaps be enough, because Garcia is a seasoned operator whose instincts in the ring are as good as exist within the pro sphere. He’s seasoned and smart and Easter will need to be on his best behavior as a pugilist, and fighting better than he ever has, to spring the upset.