Rising lightweight star Robert Easter Jr makes the second defence of his IBF world title belt in front of his home crowd at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio, against Russian contender Denis Shafikov on June 30th.
Unbeaten with a record of 19W-0L Robert Easter Jr has become one of the breakout names in boxing over the last year. At 5ft 11 inches tall his lean long limbed frame cuts an imposing figure at lightweight. He cracks his shots like a whip and has proved he has a good chin too. He brought a good wealth of amateur experience to the pro ranks and it has served him well so far.
He is in a stacked division with the other beltholders being the Jorge Linares and firecely reputable Mikey Garcia. WBO beltholder Terry Flanagan perhaps represents the only weak link amongst the beltholders despite being no easy task. No doubt with a bit more experience he will look to unify the division and he could have the potential to move up a weight as well.
He takes on Denis Shafikov, a well travelled experienced Russian who is having his third crack at world title glory after losing to Miguel Vasquez and Rances Barthelemy for the IBF lightweight belt over recent years.
A recent common opponent of both is Ghanain fighter Richard Commey who both men beat by a split decision. If this is anything to go by then we could have a close fight on out hands. However styles make fights and there may be a case to state that Easter Jr has the tools to fend off Shafikov if he executes a good gameplan.
With considerable height and reach advantages Easter Jr has the potential to make this look easier than it is if he is able to control with the jab. He is sometimes found guilty of neglecting these attributes though and opting to get on the inside and trade. He could make this into a difficult nights work if he tries to go to the inside too often as that is effectively where Shafikov is strong. The Russian will no doubt try to draw him into that type of fight.
Shafikov is an inside fighting southpaw who likes to throw short hooks to body and head. He is a compact, strong fighter with decent power but he isn’t considered as a knockout artist. The Cuban IBF Super Featherweight world champion Rances Barthelemy stepped up a weight division and outboxed him over the distance to win via a unanimous decision victory.
I would lean towards Robert Easter Jr. He is the is the younger fresher fighter on the up and he is still improving with each fight. Against a shorter fighter who will be coming forwards he will be looking to whip in the uppercuts. Uppercuts could be key to him really stopping Shafikov in his tracks.
He still has work to do tightening up his defence as he gets hit clean probably more than he should for a man who has great height and reach. This could be really problematic if he was to face a knockout artist like Mikey Garcia. However he seems to be improving all the time and trainer Mike Stafford will be looking to make the adjustments necessary to bring him to the top level.