Robert Easter Jr. promised to steal the show Friday, and he did just that.
He engaged in a terrific fight with Richard Commey and eked by to win the vacant IBF lightweight title via split decision in the co-feature on Spike from Reading, Pa. One judge scored for Commey, 114-113, overruled by tallies of 115-112 and 114-113.
The fight was on the table in the 12th round, but Easter left no doubt with a dominant frame where he did everything but knock Commey down.
Easter, fighting in front of a boisterous partisan crowd that made the approximately 500-mile trip from Toledo, Ohio, drilled Commey with an overhand right in the final round that buckled both knees, but somehow, the Ghanaian never hit the canvas.
Easter (18-0, 14 KOs) followed up with an onslaught, but Commey (24-1, 22 KOs) bravely held on, and was even countering off the ropes in short bursts moments later, only to clinch again.
Despite suffering a flash knockdown in Round 8 (Easter’s glove touched the canvas but he insisted the short right hand didn’t hurt him), the 25-year-old had enough rounds in the bank to pull it out.
He impressed with his educated jab and sense of range throughout the bout, even though the matchup featured plenty of savage in-fighting. With a career-best victory and now his first world title, Easter is a player in a suddenly resurgent 135-pound division.
“This fight wasn’t easy at all,” Easter said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Richard Commey is a tough, tough competitor. He made me fight each and every round, but we did it.
” … I want more straps. I want more belts. This is huge for my city. It means a lot. It’s bigger than me. I wanted to give them something to believe in.
“All this hard work we had to put in for this fight, we had to dig in deep. I did this for my city and Toledo came out for me tonight.”
Commey, fighting on U.S. television for the first time, certainly only improved his stock in defeat. The 29-year-old had never faced an opponent of note before, but proved on this night he can hang with the best.
He marched forward all fight and brought the action, traits that should help secure him a meaningful bout in the near future. Naturally, he wants the rematch, and the close result and entertainment value offered merit a return encounter.
“I feel like I won this fight,” Commey said. “I did everything that I could. I landed the more accurate shots. I come from very far and it’s hard to win here versus an American. I deserve a rematch.
“I was very devastated when I heard the scores. I knew it was a close fight. He went down and I didn’t.
“I want to be a world champion. Even if he doesn’t want to fight me, I want another opportunity. I can fight at the highest level in the world. We worked so hard to get to this stage. I want to stay at this level. I’ll keep improving.”
The lightweight division is rejuvenated, and you can now add Easter and Commey to a group of stalwarts that include Mikey Garcia, Dejan Zlaticanin, Anthony Crolla, Jorge Linares and Terry Flanagan.