Friday, March 24, 2023  |


Robert Easter retains title in slugfest decision over Denis Shafikov


Robert Easter looks like a bona fide talent, but it didn’t come easily — or convincingly — Friday night.

Denis Shafikov, a rugged Russian pressure fighter, gave Easter hell in the champion’s hometown of Toledo, Ohio, and it was clear the challenger was fighting against a stacked deck.

It appeared the fight could’ve gone either way but two judges scored it a shutout for Easter — 120-108 — with a third scoring it 116-112 for Easter, who retained his IBF lightweight title.

“I rate myself a B-minus. I could have done a lot better,” said Easter (20-0, 14 knockouts), who was making the second defense of his 135-pound belt. “Shafikov is a tough opponent, but we got the job done. I knew he was tough. But I thought I would be the first one to break him. … I know that’s a lot of guys’ weakness. When you pressure the tank early, that’s when you see them gas a little bit.”

Easter, rated No. 3 by THE RING, took advantage of his six-inch height advantage by fighting behind a range-finding jab, but eventually Shafikov broke through. He did so with non-stop pressure in the Mexican style taught by renowned trainer Abel Sanchez, with looping left hooks and dedicated body blows doing the damage.

Shafikov (38-3, 20 KOs), THE RING’s No. 4 lightweight, earned his third title opportunity with a decision over Richard Commey in December, the same man Easter topped to win the title.

But once again, Shafikov couldn’t catch a break.

Easter, who fights under the About Billions banner, kept Shafikov at bay on occasion with some damaging right uppercuts and straight punches, but the 32-year-old pressed on and made it a brutal fight on the inside. Round-after-round, Shafikov bobbed and weaved his way inside on the rangy 26-year-old, and was able to stick his head in the champ’s chest to smother Easter’s punches.

Most rounds were difficult to score, with both guys tangling on the inside, but the judges saw it differently.

“Anybody wanna step in there with me,” Easter said, “they call me E Bunny — EB — everybody can get it.”


Mike Coppinger is the Senior Writer for Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger