Toledo’s Robert Easter, Jr., is lifted into the air by his father, Robert Easter, Sr., after defending his IBF world lightweight title against Luis Cruz on Friday at the Huntington Center. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
Thinking out loud ...
Say, that boxing was pretty fun.
Let’s do it again sometime.
Toledo did not quite put Las Vegas in its place Friday, but the city proved itself a worthy host for the biggest fight of its biggest fighting star in years.
Almost 10,000 fans packed the Huntington Center to watch Robert Easter, Jr., defend his IBF lightweight championship belt — a homecoming coronation that, for one night, returned Toledo to the center of the pro boxing planet for the first time since the Prohibition era.
This was a big-league event in every way, from, well, the ticket prices ($30 to $200) to the electricity. The place almost came down after Easter (19-0) dropped Luis Cruz (22-5-1) to the canvas in the final round, then climbed atop the ropes to salute the crowd.
Easter pledged Friday was only the start.
PHOTO GALLERY: Friday fight night in Toledo
For his fast-rising career, and his city’s boxing renaissance.
“I said before the fight, and I’m going to keep saying it, I’m here to collect all of them belts,” he said. “I’m not going to pretend to be that guy who doesn’t call out other fighters. I’m calling out Mikey Garcia, Jorge Linares, and Terry Flanagan. I want them to see what we were able to do here tonight, the crowd I pulled in. I’m a superstar on the rise and now it’s time for me to collect my prizes and bring these fights and all of the belts home to Toledo.”
The guys he called out are the title holders of the three other sanctioning bodies that govern pro boxing: the WBA, the WBC, and WBO. (Unlike in other sports, boxing foolishly lacks a single body that sets its rules or looks after its future.)
What’s next for Easter? The who, when, and where remain to be decided.
Easter likely will face IBF mandatory challenger Denis Shafikov (38-2-1) — boxers are required to defend their belts every so often — then laser his sights on the biggest fish of his division.
The bout we want is Easter vs. Mikey Garcia. So does everyone else. Never mind Garcia’s 5-foot-7 frame and 68-inch reach — eight inches shy of Easter’s supersized span. The 29-year-old Californian is 36-0 with 30 knockouts. The countdown unofficially began in January when Garcia knocked out previously unbeaten WBC champion Dejan Zlatičanin at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
For Easter, a fight against Garcia could be his crowning last act as a lightweight. At 5-foot-11, he can realistically remain in the 135-pound-and-under division only so long.
In any case, the boxer and his city are looking forward to the ride ahead, including an encore in Toledo.
Robert Easter, Sr., said the next fight will be at a neutral site, but assured his son’s first title bout back home will not be the last.
That’s great news. It was some kind of fun Friday night.
■ Terms of the fight were not disclosed, but ESPN reported Easter took home $150,000. Cruz earned $40,000.
In the earlier bantamweight title fight, reigning champion Rau’shee Warren pulled in $150,000. Kazakhstan’s Zhanat Zhakiyanov got $30,000.
Zhakiyanov withstood two first-round knockdowns to capture a thrilling split decision.
■ Cruz afterward called Easter the “best I’ve ever faced.”
“He’s a very strong fighter,” said Cruz, who went to the canvas in each of the final three rounds. “I wanted to do more, but he took away my energy late in the fight. The first knockdown took a lot of out me. I felt dizzy but it was important for me to finish the fight on my feet. I never stopped trying to win, but he is a great champion.”
■ Don’t look now, but the University of Toledo men’s basketball team (13-12, 6-6) is tied atop the Mid-American Conference West Division after home routs of Eastern Michigan and Kent State.
Most impressive is the Rockets’ renewed commitment to defense. They held both opponents last week to their second-lowest point totals of the season.
We still question Toledo’s depth. The Rockets should be preparing to win three games in three days at the MAC tournament, and it says here a six-man rotation will make a hard job harder.
But UT coach Tod Kowalczyk isn’t buying it.
“Some people say we’re not deep enough,” he said. “We’re deep enough to win games in this league. With media timeouts and how we call timeouts and how we practice and how we give our guys time away, we’re deep enough to continue to play at a high level. You look at some of the really good teams. Duke, they’re playing six guys. So you can do it.”
■ And we leave you with the four most hopeful words of the English language:
Pitchers and catchers report.
Happy spring, everyone!!