Fight Focus #7: Boxing WWMFTW

Lightweight champions Mikey Garcia and Robert Easter Jr. square off tonight at Staples Center in a unification bout with real ‘showtime’ implications

Boxing doesn’t always receive praise when a stinker is immediately followed up with a great fight the very next weekend.

And after last Saturday’s Usyk-Gassiev Cruiserweight unification bout turned out to be such a one-sided affair, as many of you may have correctly predicted, we have the next exceptional matchup in Showtime Championship Boxing’s Mikey Garcia vs. Robert Easter Jr. The action gets started on Showtime at 10:00 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.

The winner – and there will be a clear-cut winner – will exit the ring with Garcia’s WBC belt and Easter’s IBF title – potentially setting the table for a Lightweight unification bout with a Beltran/Pedraza vs Lomachenko winner. Come on Winter 2018!

So let’s focus on Saturday.

Can’t start without a couple of caveats. First, this writer hails from Ohio. Second, this writer generally can rock with an axiom frequently used by a fellow Ohioan podcaster: “I’m loyal to my soil.”

The rule applies for boxing, as very few Ohio professional sports teams – or universities – are followed and/or supported. Shouts to the Xavier Muskies and Bob Huggins’ Bearcats!

It is possible to root for a fighter, but be sternly against wagering any money on them. In addition to Easter being from Ohio, there’s nothing to dislike about Garcia as a fighter, a man, and the head of a household. Both of these fighters are very likable men who have chosen to sort out some business this weekend.

Garcia’s a four-division world champion. He’s undefeated in 38 fights, has a KO ratio of 79 percent, his track record warrants him being placed in the higher tier of any current pound-for-pound list and the 30-year-old Oxnard product’s boxing acumen is unparalleled among today’s elite fighters.

Easter is three years younger, 5 inches taller, has a 8 inch reach advantage and he’s publicly sought this matchup for over a year. And, after seeing former Super Featherweight champion Argenis Mendez recently dominate Eddie Ramirez in a Super Lightweight 10-rounder, one can easily see the unbeaten champ from Toledo is a hell of a fighter. Notwithstanding recent dicey outings against a hard-charging Denis Shafikov and the unpredictable Javier Fortuna.

But Easter’s startling revelation while speaking with media this week gives this writer a lot of pause. Even with coach Kevin Cunningham in his corner Saturday night!

Since the fight was announced and Easter’s move to holding his camp in West Palm Beach with Cunningham happened, the young champion has mentioned a major motivation for bringing in Cunningham was to get away from the distractions that plagued him while preparing for bouts in his hometown Toledo. On fight night the effects of those distractions cropped up during some big fights, and more importantly while the champion was facing his toughest adversity.

Easter told media that he couldn’t maintain his focus on the game plan, failed to capitalize on most of his natural advantages in some matchups, and had to endure some tougher fights as a result of him doing so many things his way during training camp. Despite all of this, Easter is 3-0 defending his title over nearly the last two years.

In contrast, over basically the same timelime, Garcia went up in divisions to obliterate unbeaten WBC Lightweight champion Dejan Zlaticanin in three rounds, and then went up to Lightweight to convincingly take 8 to 9 of 12 rounds against former four-division world champion Adrien Broner – obviously Easter’s longtime ‘big brother’ and mentor. After solving ‘The Problem’ (without needing to use an eraser), Garcia hung around at 140 pounds to soundly defeat undefeated IBF champion Sergey Lipinets.

So, is Easter – albeit having a completely different skill set and physical attributes – more talented or capable than Broner and his resume? Is he a better boxer than Broner? Boxer. Not person.

The fight outcome.

Despite recent comments that suggest Garcia is looking past Easter, later this evening Garcia’s full attention will be directed on Easter. Look for Garcia to quickly begin assessing the safest routes and angles to close the distance between him and Easter and the Ohioan’s mix of range and length. Key in on whether Easter elects to be proactive, during any feeling out moments, and make an attempt to ‘take the lead’ – and be first in any exchanges. If so, what confidence or comfort does he exhibit in doing so? Is he successful?

Once Garcia gets his timing together and confirms Easter’s tendencies are what he and his brother/trainer Robert Garcia think they are, Garcia’s superior boxing ability will rise to the forefront. Cunningham’s effectiveness will begin to come in to play. Besides a problem-free preparation for the fight, just what kind of tactical improvements can Cunningham possible achieve in 10 weeks? Those that Easter turns to in the toughest adversity he’s ever faced in a fight.

Once the action moves into the final third of the bout, we will undoubtedly see the main conflict of the fight. As Garcia’s boxing has taken a toll on Easter, does Easter attempt to offset the tactical superiority by turning the action into a fight?

Over the final few round against both Broner and Lipinets, Garcia decided to be more judicious with his power punching and lowered his combination punching. He could do that tonight if he isn’t satisfied with his comfort level inside, but he may press forward for a climax that truly solidifies him as one of boxing’s brightest superstars.

Ultimately, Garcia is proves he’s the better man in tonight’s bout, but hopefully Easter’s performance validates he was deserving of this moment at Staples Center, and that this unification opportunity was well worth the wait.

This Fight Focus is getting up late! For additional commentary and breakdown on Garcia vs. Easter, click here for the debut episode of the Bite Down Boxing podcast. The episode features some Q&A with Easter and trainer Kevin Cunningham, as well as segments with Real Deal Boxing’s undefeated WBC International Super Featherweight champion Alycia “The Bomb” Baumgardner and Cincinnati-based Cruiserweight Santino “Great Gambino” Turnbow. Both fighters are in action today taking on opponents in Louisville, Kentucky and Columbus, Ohio, respectively.

Also, enjoy the other great action tonight with Whyte vs. Parker, Takam vs. Chisora, Diaz vs. Ito on ESPN+ starting at 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 PT, and then also Ortiz vs. Cojanu in the co-feature of Garcia vs. Easter. Remember, the key undercard fights for Garcia vs. Easter will be airing on Showtime Boxing’s Facebook page and YouTube channel┬ábeginning at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. The Christopher Diaz vs Masayuki Ito undercard airs on ESPN+ starting at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 PT – so get your device game together.

All photos by Scott Hirano/Showtime

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