Easter need not look far for motivation heading into title defense against Shafikov

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Robert Easter Jr. might very well get the toughest test of his career from Denis Shafikov, but the 135-pound champion still promises a knockout performance in his hometown.

Robert Easter Jr. and Denis Shafikov

Unbeaten champion Robert Easter Jr. brings a significant height advantage into his hometown 135-pound title defense against Russian two-time title challenger Denis Shafikov in Toledo, Ohio, on Friday night. (Rachel Nearhoof/Premier Boxing Champions)

Robert Easter Jr. will make his second title defense Friday night against Denis Shafikov at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio (Bounce TV, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT). And while the champ is preparing to perform at home in front of his friends and family for the second straight time, he also has another potential distraction this time around.

Easter’s first child, Robert Easter III, was born on June 6, which also happened to be father and trainer Robert Easter Sr.’s 49th birthday. But even with his son arriving just 24 days before he faces Shafikov, a two-time world title challenger, Easter has remained focused on the task at hand, so much so that he sparred at Toledo’s Glass City Boxing gym just a few hours after his son’s birth.

“I'll be able to fight knowing my son is here,” Easter said. “I'm extra pumped. I feel no pressure. Shafikov is a really tough fighter, but I’m focused on taking control of the fight. I will be the first man to stop him.”

Both fighters came in under the weight limit Thursday with no issues, as Easter hit the scale at 134 pounds and Shafikov checked in at 134½.

Shafikov (38-2-1, 20 KOs) is coming off a 12-round split decision in December over Richard Commey, who Easter also defeated by split decision last September to earn his world title. The 5-foot-5 Russian southpaw wore down Commey throughout the fight to become the mandatory challenger for Easter.

Shafikov, 32, has twice before competed for 135-pound world titles, losing unanimous decisions to Miguel Vazquez in February 2014 and to Rances Barthelemy in December 2015.

“Robert’s almost 6 foot, but he’s not fought anyone with my aggressive southpaw style,” Shafikov said. “This is possibly my last opportunity. I won’t stay outside against Easter. I’ll be in his chest all night long.

“From losing to Vazquez and Barthelemy, I learned I have to work hard for 12 rounds against taller fighters,” Shafikov said. “I’ll attack coming forward, throwing punches and break him down. I doubt he can handle that.”

Robert’s almost 6 foot, but he’s not fought anyone with my aggressive southpaw style. This is possibly my last opportunity. I won’t stay outside against Easter. I’ll be in his chest all night long. Denis Shafikov, on challenging Robert Easter Jr. for his 135-pound world title

Easter (19-0, 14 KOs) returns to the site of his last fight in February, when he scored three knockdowns during a unanimous decision over Luis Cruz. That was his first title defense after beating Commey, who came into their bout undefeated and gained a questionable knockdown of Easter in Round 8 before the fighters engaged in PBC's 2016 Round of the Year in the ninth.

“I beat Commey first,” Easter said. “I don’t see Shafikov as a bigger danger than Commey. On June 30, it’ll be man down.”

Easter, 26, stopped five straight opponents leading up to his two title bouts, concluding with a fifth-round stoppage of former 130-pound champion Argenis Mendez in April 2016. Although Shafikov has never been knocked out in 41 pro fights, the 5-foot-11 Easter said he welcomes that challenge.

“I don't know what kind of power [Vazquez and Barthelemy] have, but I know I have good power,” Easter said. “I'll fight my fight, whether it's inside or on the end of my reach. I’m going to show off my skills and be the first man to stop him.”

The undercard features 154-pound contender Julian Williams (22-1-1, 14 KOs) of Philadelphia against Joshua Conley (14-1-1, 9 KOs) of San Bernardino, California, in a 10-round bout.

Williams, 27, is trying to bounce back from December’s fifth-round knockout loss to unbeaten Jermall Charlo in a 154-pound world title bout, while the 25-year-old Conley is after his fourth straight stoppage victory since losing to Daquan Arnett by split decision in August 2015.

The card also boasts a 147-pound clash between unbeaten southpaw prospects Jamontay Clark (11-0, 7 KOs) and Ivan Golub (13-0, 11 KOs).

For a complete look at Easter vs Shafikov, visit our fight page.

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