Mikey Garcia’s homecoming developed into a thunderous success, both in the ovation he drew and the punches he threw.
Dominating his lightweight-title unification with Robert Easter Jr. on Saturday night at Staples Center, Garcia stripped Easter of his height and reach advantages with supreme movement and crisp boxing to claim a unanimous-decision victory. The judges scored it 116-111, 117-110 and 118-109 for the Oxnard native.
“He gave a great fight, but I was the better fighter,” Garcia said, appearing at Staples Center for the first time in seven years and headlining his first card there. “I was in control and I did what I had to do … I’m more experienced. I’m a hungrier fighter. I’m better than ever. I’m in my prime.”
Garcia (39-0) added Easter’s International Boxing Federation belt to his own World Boxing Council 135-pound belt, and called out unbeaten welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr., who was sitting ringside, for a showdown later this year.
“It can be made … that’s the next big fight coming up,” Garcia said. “I feel I have the power and the skillset to compete in any division up to welterweight. [Spence is] the toughest guy at welterweight, so I want to face him.”
Said Spence: “Definitely I want the fight. … Mikey Garcia showed his ability. He wants to be the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter and so do I. He’s technically sound in the ring and it’s the best fight I can get right now. I’ll take on the challenge.”
Over 12 rounds, Easter (21-1) found all of his pre-fight enthusiasm drained by Garcia. Easter started the fight smartly by relying on his speed and eight-inch reach advantage, jabbing and finding early openings. But the four-division champion Garcia calmed Easter’s effectiveness with confounding head movement and more powerful blows. That adjustment set up Garcia’s third-round knockdown of Easter.
As the harder shots landed, Garcia moved in and found Easter with a hurtful right to the head that caused the Ohio fighter to slip his head into range for a hard left that sent him down as the crowd of 12,560 cheered.
“He had a good game plan to use that reach. Once I started getting into rhythm, we took control,” Garcia said. “I had to be patient and careful.”
Easter’s wariness of those punches was palpable in the following rounds and Garcia sent several reminders to define the middle rounds, including two pounding rights that sent Easter backward toward the close of the seventh.
By the eighth, Easter’s retreat was so obvious it drew harsh jeers.
“I just couldn’t find the timing and I couldn’t let my right hand go,” Easter said.
Easter tried a final stand in the ninth with an impressive combination, but it was quickly reduced to an afterthought thanks to a slew of body shots and blows by Garcia that again backed up Easter and brought the crowd to roar “Mi-key!”
Final statistics showed Garcia landed 99 of 264 power punches he threw while Easter landed 40 of 164 as his whopping 343 jabs were minimized.
“This was a great experience for Mikey,” his brother and trainer, Robert Garcia, said. “Now he has unified and he is calling out the best fighters in the world. It is awesome to have my younger brother accomplish so much.”
In the co-main event, Cuban heavyweight Luis “King Kong” Ortiz unleashed a thunderous overhand-right to the head and powerful left to the nose of Razvan Cojanu to record a knockout just 2 minutes 8 seconds into the second round.
Ortiz (29-1, 25 KOs) was fighting for the first time since he nearly defeated World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder before succumbing to a 10th-round stoppage in March.
Ortiz’s one-two dropped Cojanu (16-4) to both knees. He tried to rise but wobbled down to find his neck propped up by the bottom rope before staggering again to force the stoppage.
Ortiz said he feels as if he’s overcome the mental toll of the Wilder loss.