As Robert Easter Jr. headed into his lightweight world title unification fight with Mikey Garcia last July, he was brimming with confidence.
He was the bigger man and felt like the move of his training camp to trainer Kevin Cunningham’s gym in Palm Beach, Florida, would be a bonus that would help him achieve a career-best victory.
Then came fight night at Staples Center in Los Angeles, where Garcia knocked Easter down in the third round and won handily by decision, 118-109, 117-110 and 116-111. Garcia had easily taken Easter apart and handed him his first loss.
Now as Easter prepares to return to action, looking to shake off the loss, he has gone back to his roots by returning to train at home in Toledo, Ohio, with his father, Robert Easter Sr., once again, and longtime assistant Mike Stafford also back in the fold.
“Coach Cunningham is like family and we went down there to Florida to get away from the distractions [at home], but I felt like I can still do that back at home,” Easter told ESPN of his reason for going home to train again. “I isolated myself from everything and everyone this camp. Just stayed disciplined. The only thing I did was train and go straight home. I didn’t do nothing else. Train, go home, go to sleep, wake up, train again. That was the whole training camp.”
Easter hopes that dedication will pay off when he meets former two-division world titlist Rances Barthelemy for a vacant secondary lightweight world title on Saturday (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET) at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.
After the loss to Garcia, Easter said he took some time off to decompress — but not for too long.
“Just spent time with my family, my friends and my son [Robert Easter III, who turns 2 in June]. Spent a lot of time with him and then I was right back in the gym before we even had a fight date,” Easter said. “After that loss it made me hungrier. I learned that I’m a true warrior. I can take a loss. I really didn’t take it well because it was my first loss, but your career has to go on.
“I have to put that loss to Mikey behind me until we fight again. I took my first defeat and I got to get that revenge back. It’s a business, so if I don’t get it, I don’t. But that is a fight I would like to get back.” Robert Easter Jr.
“You have to get better, so I went back to the drawing board. I went back to strength and conditioning. I had to get stronger. I felt like I wasn’t that strong in that fight. But I’m not going to make no excuses. Garcia is a hell of a champion. He was the better man that night. He gave me my first defeat, but I went back to the drawing board and worked on perfecting the basics of boxing. I need to use my reach and my height better.”
Said Easter Sr.: “Robert knows how to handle a loss as well as a win. I’ve always taught him to be able to accept it when it does happen. That’s why he was able to be humble after the fight.”
Easter Sr. endorsed his son’s plan to return home to train for the fight with Barthelemy. He has trained his son throughout his life and has a long, close relationship with Stafford. So, they got the band back together for this camp.
“We just going back to doing what we always done,” Easter Sr. said. “And that’s back with me. I’m his head trainer and I brought Mike in. Mike started with me and he’s gonna finish with me. I didn’t like the last camp. I want to go back to the way we did things and that’s training in Toledo. My son thought it over and he just wasn’t happy about [the last camp] and we decided together to continue to have camp at home.”
One of the reasons Easter Jr. moved the last training camp to Florida was because of the steady stream of friends and family at his Toledo house and gym during camp, and that led to distractions.
The decision to return to Toledo has proved to be a wise one. The early weeks of camp were done in seclusion. Easter Sr. said that for about three weeks in the middle of camp, he did allow friends and family to watch his son train in the gym, and then the gym was again closed to visitors for the final few weeks. And Easter Jr.’s home was off limits throughout camp, unless invited.
“He’s a grown man and can do it back at home and stay focused,” Easter Sr. said. “He is focused and he understands that you can change things up to get away from distractions, but this is his job and he will stay focused regardless and we decided to stay home. It worked out great. He felt he had a great camp and he’s real focused on this fight with Barthelemy.”
Easter Jr. (21-1, 14 KOs), 28, said he has not watched a video of the loss to Garcia because he knew what he did wrong, including not using his reach and height to his advantage. He plans on a different outcome against Barthelemy (27-1, 14 KOs), 32, a Cuban defector, who fights out of Las Vegas.
Barthelemy, who is being trained by fellow Cuban and former world champion Joel Casamayor, has won titles at junior lightweight and lightweight, the division he is returning to after having had his previous three bouts at junior welterweight. He won a controversial decision over Kiryl Relikh in a junior welterweight title elimination fight and lost a decision in an immediate rematch for a vacant world title 13 months ago. Barthelemy bounced back with a third-round knockout of journeyman Robert Frankel in December to set up the fight with Easter.
“He’s been a great fighter throughout his career,” Easter said of Barthelemy. “He does give you various styles, but I am prepared for anything. I’m going to go out there and set the tempo, whether he wants to fight or whether he wants to box. I will control the tempo.”
Easter said that with a win he will look for whatever is the biggest fight available to him, even if that means stepping up to junior welterweight. But in the back of his mind, there will always be Garcia.
“I have to put that loss to Mikey behind me until we fight again. I took my first defeat and I got to get that revenge back,” he said. “It’s a business, so if I don’t get it, I don’t. But that is a fight I would like to get back.”