Robert Easter, Jr., speaks during a news conference for his upcoming title defense against Russian Denis Shafikov, right, at the Huntington Center. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
International Boxing Federation world lightweight champion Robert Easter, Jr., got so much support in his first title defense in his hometown of Toledo it was a no-brainer to return for his next title bout.
After he knocked down challenger Luis Cruz three times on his way to a unanimous decision Feb. 10, Easter, Jr., will be back in Toledo taking on Russian challenger Denis Shafikov on June 30 at the Huntington Center. The fight is the main event of the Premier Boxing Champions on Bounce TV.
“I’m so proud to be back and I’m excited at the same time,” Easter, Jr., said at a pre-fight press conference at the Huntington Center on Thursday. “After seeing the first crowd, I’m ready to see what the second crowd is like. A lot of people are talking about this fight. I’m excited to see all my Toledoans there, as well as all my other fans. People are talking about coming out to this fight, and I’m ready to put on a show for them.”
Easter, Jr., won the vacant IBF world lightweight title by defeating Richard Commey in a split decision on Sept. 9, 2016 in Reading, Pa.
In front of more than 8,000 fans at the Huntington Center, Easter, Jr., passed his first test as world champion with flying colors by taking down Cruz.
Easter, Jr., who boasts a professional record of 19-0, will face another big test in Shafikov.
The 31-year-old Russian challenger is a rugged and experienced fighter with a record of 38-2-1.
Shafikov was unbeaten in his first 34 professional contests, and is coming off impressive wins against Jamel Herring and Commey last year.
“I know that the fight is going to be tough,” Shafikov said through a translator. “But I’m going to do everything in my abilities to be at my best.”
Shafikov has had two title fights in his career, against Rances Barthelemy and Miguel Vazquez, and both went to decisions.
“I know he’s a grinding fighter,” Easter, Jr., said of Shafikov.
“He’s likes to grind, and he’s determined to win. He’s a rough, rugged fighter and he is coming to fight.”
After an intense camp following his last title bout, Easter, Jr., is eager to get back in the ring in front of his hometown fans.
“This camp is going extremely well,” Easter, Jr., said. “But I can’t wait for it to be over. I’m tired of these early mornings waking up and these hard days in the gym. But as you can see it has paid off. It pays off. Hard work, it has never scared me. I’ve never shied away from it.”
For the 26-year-old Easter, Jr., it has been a long road to becoming world champion. But his father Robert Easter, Sr., a former fighter and now Easter, Jr.’s, trainer, quickly saw the potential his son possessed.
“This kid amazes me,” Easter, Sr., said. “When I first took him to the gym, he was just there with me. I never really wanted to take the time out to show him anything. But when I finally put him in there, it was like he had it automatically. He showed his talent from Day 1. Now he’s on the big stage and he has brought boxing back to Toledo. When he became IBF champion of the world, boxing has come back to Toledo.”
The fight will be promoted by About Billions, a Cincinnati-based promotion company, which helped put on Easter, Jr.’s, fight against Cruz as well.
Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said Easter, Jr.’s, first title defense was the most raucous night in downtown Toledo since the Huntington Center was built, and he is hopeful 10,000 fans will pack into the arena for this fight.
“We know what the product is,” Gerken said. “We know we can deliver the building. We know we can deliver the atmosphere. It’s been unlike anything we’ve ever had, and what we did good before we are going to do better this time.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6110.
IBF Lightweight World Champion Robert Easter, Jr., left, faces off with Russian challenger Denis Shafikov, right, as promoter Ravone Littlejohn, center, holds the title belt. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH