Let's start off with some positives. Robert Easter, Jr. cuts an imposing figure in the ring. At 5'11" with power and athleticism, it will take an excellent lightweight to beat him. He possesses a solid jab, a cracking right hand and a developing left hook. He seems to be a well-conditioned athlete. Even though he already has a title belt, at 26 and with only 19 professional fights, there still exists the possibility that he hasn't reached his ceiling.
If Easter is content with his existing level, the "titleholder" one, then his current efforts will suffice. However, if Easter wants to make the jump to the elite echelon in the sport, he must improve in a critical area: he has to learn how to finish fighters.
As I noted after his last fight, Easter almost dropped a decision to Richard Commey because he couldn't put his opponent away. Easter landed a devastating right hand at the beginning of the final round; Commey was essentially out on his feet. Yet, Easter couldn't finish Commey off. He smothered himself along the ropes and couldn't find the appropriate distance to land a finishing blow. He allowed himself to get tied up and consistently sailed right hands over Commey's head. Eventually, Easter would win the fight by a split decision but by being unable to end Commey's night, he left the decision to the judges, placing himself in danger of losing the fight.
On Friday, Easter dropped an undistinguished foe, Luis Cruz, three times. In the 10th and 12th rounds, Easter had more than half the round to work with to finish Cruz off and yet the same issues that manifested in the Commey fight returned. With an opponent ready to go, Easter again misjudged distance and couldn't find the range to finish Cruz, who was offering essentially nothing in return. Swinging wildly at certain points and smothering himself at others, Easter, because of his inadequacy in finishing a fighter, allowed Cruz to survive.
If I'm being particularly hard on Easter it's because the ability to close is a skill that can be taught and learned in the gym. It's not that Easter lacks the power or offensive arsenal to stop opponents; however, he completely loses form in these potential fight-ending scenarios. This is a skill that Easter will have to acquire for the next level. Commey, a limited banger, dropped Easter and found him repeatedly with right hands. What I'm getting at is that it's not as if Easter is so dominant that he'll never need to stop an opponent to win a fight.
With excellent talents such as Mikey Garcia, Jorge Linares and Terry Flanagan in the division, Easter can't always guarantee that he'll be up on the cards. A 10-8 round is fine but that's not enough to ensure a victory (see my comments below on Rau'shee Warren's fight on Friday).
From range and in the middle of the ring, Easter is certainly an imposing fighter. However, an inability to finish fighters could be his fatal flaw. Hopefully Easter's team drills him on the fight-ending scenario. It could be the one thing holding him back from being elite.
To say that things were going swimmingly for Rau'shee Warren in the first round of his fight against Zhanat Zhakiyanov would be a massive understatement. Warren, an athletic southpaw who won a bantamweight title last year, had a fantastic opening to the fight, dropping his foe twice. It looked like the early knockout was just one or two punches away from happening.
However, Zhakiyanov found a way to stick around. And by the third round, he started to time Warren with right hands from distance. Even though Warren had significantly faster hands thank Zhakiyanov, his offensive attack was becoming predictable. With Warren beginning exchanges with a single lead left or a right hook, Zhakiyanov made the necessary adjustments. In addition, Warren, who possessed superior foot speed, remained in the pocket when not throwing, enabling Zhakiyanov to land with off-angled right hands.
As the fight progressed, Warren let Zhakiyanov march right into close range without worrying about return fire. Warren's jab stayed holstered. His legs were often an afterthought. He countered here and there but by the middle of the fight it became clear that Warren would have trouble overcoming Zhakiyanov's offensive surge.
This bout was essentially won/lost in the respective corners. Zhakiyanov, trained by former champion Ricky Hatton, didn't let his early adversity dissuade him from sticking to his game plan. He fought from the right range, trapping Warren along the ropes and hammering him to the head and body with power punches. Warren, trained by Barry Hunter, didn't use his feet enough to evade his opponent and rarely bothered to jab or throw combinations, tactics that would've helped keep Zhakiyanov at bay.
Zhakiyanov wound up winning a split decision. He certainly deserved credit for persevering after a rocky start. However, Warren just as much lost the fight as Zhakiyanov won it. Having a four-point advantage after two rounds, Warren refused to play to his strengths, which allowed for his lead to be whittled away. A stronger corner would've re-emphasized what Warren needed to do to secure the win, but that didn't happen. Now Warren and Hunter will be left to ponder how they let a fight that they should've won slip away.
Like Rau'shee Warren, Terrell Gausha was a 2012 U.S. Olympian. However, his career has been much slower to develop than that of his teammate. Even though he's already at the advanced age of 29, Gausha was relegated to the opening bout of Friday's Bounce TV broadcast, against journeyman Luis Hernandez. Gausha's fighting peak should be now and yet prior to Friday he had only recorded 19 professional fights in the four-and-a-half years since the Olympics, including just two in 2016. (Warren had fought even less frequently, but at least he had received title opportunities.)
Many boxing observers have been critical of Gausha's manager, Al Haymon, for not keeping his fighters active enough (and often deservedly so) but sometimes a manager or a promoter knows that he doesn't have the goods. And after watching Gausha get dropped by a third-rate pressure fighter on Friday, you could see why he hasn't been on the fast track.
Even after badly hurting Hernandez later in the fight, Gausha couldn't put his opponent away. Like Easter's foe, Hernandez had no business lasting the distance in the fight.
The junior middleweight division features a number of excellent fighters and it's doubtful that Gausha will be added to that list. Lacking a killer instinct, a consistent work rate or elite-level power, Gausha's future seems to be title "opponent." Yes, he certainly has skills but he'd be a big underdog against any titlist at 154 lbs.
The ShoBox main event on Friday featured a dandy of a match between Ivan Baranchyk, a pressure-fighting knockout artist (an unusual combination) from Russia against Abel Ramos, a boxer-puncher from Arizona. Both fighters had distinct advantages: Ramos – boxing skills, accuracy, a larger punch arsenal and range; Baranchyk – power and conditioning.
Each hit the canvas in a fabulous third round. Baranchyk launched a beautiful overhand right that sent Ramos down and Ramos later connected with a nifty left hook below the neck that dropped Baranchyk. Baranchyk again knocked down Ramos in the fourth and the fight eventually settled into a pattern – one that made for great television viewing. Ramos would pepper Baranchyk in the middle of the ring with stinging combos but by the end of the round Baranchyk would unload on Ramos against the ropes with ferocious right hands and left hooks.
Eventually, Baranchyk's power proved to be too much. Ramos' face fell apart and by the latter rounds, his shots had lost much of their steam. Baranchyk wound up winning a deserved unanimous decision. On one hand, he remains an undefeated, hard-hitting prospect. However, it's become apparent that he'll have difficulty at range.
At just 5'7" and with short arms, Baranchyk has few weapons in the pocket or from the outside. He lacks consistent offense from distance and usually will just eat shots attempting to come forward. That approach is fraught with risk. Granite-chinned pressure fighters can win with that style but Baranchyk has already been down twice in his career; he's vulnerable from the outside.
However, hitting the canvas isn't necessary a death sentence for a fighter. It certainly didn't end the careers of Juan Manuel Marquez or Orlando Salido, both of whom always managed to get back up after being sent down. To this point, Baranchyk has shown impressive recuperative powers after getting dropped.
On the plus side of the equation, Baranchyk features fight-stopping power. At close range, his right hand and left hook are weapons that could take him to the top of the division. If he learned how to disguise those shots a little better, either with feints or by setting them up with the jab, the results could be even more devastating. It will be interesting to see if Baranchyk believes that he needs to round out his offensive skill set. As of now, he's an exciting one-trick pony. And make no mistake; it's a hell of a trick. However, as he's seen in his last three fights, he'll face opponents that can take him the distance and trouble him at range. Having power isn't always enough.
In the opening bout of the ShoBox card, Jon Fernandez, a fluid, hard-hitting prospect from Spain, stopped Ernesto Garza III in the third round. At this level, Fernandez is an exciting offensive talent. His combinations flow seamlessly and he features a menacing right uppercut.
Fernandez's team includes notables such as former middleweight champion Sergio Martinez and promoter Lou DiBella, so there are some significant expectations for him. At just 21, Fernandez is already 11-0 with nine knockouts. As of now, he's fighting around the junior lightweight division but with his 5'11" frame, expect him to grow into his body over the next few years. I wouldn't be surprised to see him settle into junior welterweight in the near future.
It's still too early to project what type of fighter Fernandez will become. He certainly got hit some on Friday. As with any prospect, enthusiasm should be tempered appropriately, but he can punch and he can certainly put shots together. It's a start.
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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