LOS ANGELES — Mikey Garcia had won world titles in four weight classes, risen near the top of boxing’s pound-for-pound list and put himself in position for any number of major fights. But one thing had eluded him — a unification fight.
Until Saturday, that is, when he put on a dominating performance, dropping Robert Easter Jr. and easily outpointing him to unify two 135-pound world titles before an adoring crowd of 12,560 at the Staples Center.
Garcia, who now has his eye going up to welterweight later this year to challenge world titleholder Errol Spence Jr., won going away on the scorecards 118-109, 117-110 and 116-111 in a fight in which he knocked Easter down in the third round. ESPN also scored the fight for Garcia 118-109 in the 10th lightweight title unification fight in history and first since Juan Manuel Marquez defeated Juan Diaz in the 2009 fight of the year.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Garcia said of unifying belts. “Now we’re back. I told you guys I was coming for bigger things and now we’re one step closer to achieving that. I knew he was a tough opponent. He’s a tough warrior. He gave a great fight, but I was the better fighter. I was in control of the fight and I did what I had to do to win.”
Garcia did it in front of Spence, who was ringside on a scouting mission.
“It’s a big fight. It’s the biggest fight I can get right now,” Spence said. “It’s a huge fight. It’s an easy fight to make. Showtime is on board. Our management is on board. This year, hopefully, November or December.”
Garcia has won world titles at featherweight, junior lightweight, lightweight and in February outpointed Sergey Lipinets for a junior welterweight belt to join only legends Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez in winning world titles at 126, 130, 135 and 140 pounds.
But Garcia quickly vacated that title to return to lightweight for the unification opportunity against Easter, who was making his fourth defense.
“This was a great experience for Mikey,” said Robert Garcia, Mikey’s older brother and trainer. “It is the first time Mikey ever unified. It was a great fight against a very difficult opponent. Robert had the height and reach advantage and it was pretty difficult. Mikey fought the fight that he needed to. He applied pressure. There were rounds that were a little bit difficult, but Mikey dominated most of the rounds and did what he needed to in order to win.”
Garcia was making the first defense of the title he won 18 months ago by starching Dejan Zlaticanin with a highlight-reel knockout in the third round in January 2017. Some questioned whether he would be able to comfortably make 135 pounds after having had two fights in a row in the junior welterweight division, but he appeared strong and fast against Easter.
“He was just a better man tonight. I take my hat off to Mikey,” Easter said. “He’s a true warrior. Whenever we step in the ring, we are both putting our lives on the line and tonight Mikey was victorious. I just couldn’t find the timing and I just couldn’t let my right hand go.”
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Garcia landed 176 of 555 punches (32 percent) and Easter landed 129 of 507 (25 percent). Of Easter’s total, 89 of 343 were jabs, but the output fell in the later rounds.
Easter, in his first fight with new head trainer Kevin Cunningham, showed exactly what his game plan would be from the opening bell, which was to use his 8-inch reach advantage to keep Garcia at the end of his jab and also go to the body, which he did effectively early on.
Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs), 30, of Moreno Valley, California, picked up the pace in the second round as he tried to crowd the taller Easter and work him on the inside, but Easter (21-1, 14 KOs), 27, of Toledo, Ohio, was able to mostly keep him at bay with his jab. But he could not keep that going for the duration of the fight.
“I like to stay patient early on. He had a good game plan to use that reach. Once I started getting into rhythm, we took control. I just had to wait my time,” Garcia said. “He has some good hand speed, so I just had to be patient and careful. I’m more experienced. I’m a hungrier fighter.”
Garcia was having a very good third round and it got even better when he connected with a three-punch combination — jab, right hand and a hard left hook — that dropped Easter with a few seconds left. He beat the count but took a few more shots as the round ended.
“He caught me with a clean shot and I went down, but I got up like a true champion,” Easter said. “We go back to the drawing board. Whenever we win, lose or draw, we go back to the drawing board and we work hard.”
Garcia continued to assert himself in the fourth round, forcing Easter back and working him over with an assortment of combinations. The fight was even after five rounds on two of the three scorecards, but then Garcia took over.
As the fight wore on, the steam on Easter’s jab waned and he became a more stationary target. Garcia moved forward nonstop and bounced jabs and right hands off Easter, who went into full retreat mode in the eighth round.
The ninth round brought the crowd to its feet as the two traded hard punches during an extended and fierce exchange that saw Garcia land some punishing left hooks to Easter’s body while Easter forced his left hand down the middle as the crowd chanted “Mikey! Mikey! Mikey!”
Garcia pounded Easter in the 10th round. He rocked his head back with flush jabs and forced him to the ropes before landing combinations upstairs. It was more of the same in the 11th round as Easter languished on the ropes for long stretches and took punishment.
“The difference was this was Robert’s first really big fight,” Cunningham said. “Mikey Garcia is one of the best fighters in the sport. There are some things that need to be tweaked. This was my first camp with him and there are still some things that need to be worked out and smoothed out. I think he will be champion again.
“Some nights are better than others. He is young. He will be back. He showed a lot of heart tonight.”
After the 11th round, Robert Garcia told his brother not to do anything stupid in the final round, and while he didn’t take any gambles, he did take it to Easter and landed more clean punches while Easter showed no urgency. Garcia outlanded him 95-34 in total punches over the final four rounds.
With the belts unified and no other major lightweight or even junior welterweight fight available to him, Garcia is adamant about going up in weight to face the dangerous Spence (24-0, 21 KOs), 28, of DeSoto, Texas, also one of boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighters.
“I’m better than ever. I’m in my prime.” Garcia said. “I’m here for the biggest challenges. I don’t know if there is anyone that is a bigger challenge than Errol Spence. I know he’s up to fight everyone, so let’s make it happen. I think it can be made. I think that’s the next big fight coming up.
“I feel I have the power and the skill set to compete in any division up to welterweight. He’s the toughest guy at welterweight so I want to face him.”