After a relatively bleak period in the first 15 years of the millennium (Money Mayweather apart), there has lately been a welcome resurgence in African-American talent with Deontay Wilder, Andre Ward, the Charlo twins and Terence Crawford all exhibiting their brands of black magic between the ropes.

And on Friday night, in his home city of Toledo, Ohio, reigning IBF lightweight boss Robert Easter Jr shall be looking to add his name to that elite roster when he makes a maiden defence against Puerto Rican puncher Luis Cruz. BoxNation screen live from 2am (Saturday).

[Image credit: Premier Boxing Champions]

Formerly a 2012 US Olympic alternate, the lithe and angular Easter, known professionally as ‘Trouble’, has been crucifying 135lb rivals since debuting under the protective wing of lifetime buddy and training partner Adrien Broner in November 2012. Unbeaten in all 18 gigs thus far, the Ohioan’s raking right hands and savage infighting has seen 14 foes fall before the finish.

After a subdued apprenticeship, away from home, down the card and invariably off air, the 26 year old exploded to attention last April when he damn near decapitated ex IBF Super-Feather boss Argenis Mendez with a single right hand bomb on the undercard of Broner’s WBA Super-Lightweight defence with Paddington’s Ashley Theophane in Washington D.C.

And just five months later, Easter Jr was styling himself as world champion after taming 24-0 (22) African beast Richard Commey over 12 ferocious Fight of the Year contender rounds in Reading, Pennsylvania. The Toledo tornado touched down with a glove in round eight after swallowing a monster right hand but stoically regrouped to eke out a razor thin split decision in a classic that enhanced the standing of both principals.

Though Easter lists Ray Leonard as his ring idol, at 5ft 11in tall and with a 76in wingspan that would flatter many cruisers, physically and stylistically he appears to have more in common with the Sugarman’s nemesis Tommy Hearns.

Similar to the Detriot ‘Hitman’, Easter fully capitalises on his advantages to exact crippling leverage to his right hands from range. However, again like Hearns, he is also blessed with a brutal short game that includes rib roasting hooks and scything uppercuts.

[Image credit: Premier Boxing Champions]

And while the one friends call ‘E-Bunny’ appears as though he might get blown away by a strong autumnal breeze, his whiskers, wind and ticker all passed the staunchest of tests against iron man Commey. Trust, this is one tough mudda!

To assist his passage to prominence, the humble, softly spoken Easter Jr has sensibly recruited a stellar support squad. Promoted by Broner’s ‘About Billions’ outlet and advised by the hermitic but hugely influential Al Haymon, he is an important cog in the Premier Boxing Champions movement. Cincinnati veteran Mike Stafford, twice National Coach of the Year and a prominent player in the US Olympic program, fronts a strong coaching team.

A delve into Easter’s background suggests that he was born for prizefighting. One of eight children from a broken home on the rough side of Toledo, his father Robert Sr was a 14 fight ex-pro light-heavy in the 1990s and today helps work his corner. Family lore has it that Jr was sporting boxing gloves for his first photograph, aged three months!

‘I came out of the womb in boxing gloves,’ recalls the ‘Bunny’. ‘My grandpa taught my father and uncles to box and they taught me. Heck, even my aunt boxed! I can clearly recall shadow boxing in front of the mirror, aged just four or five, with Vaseline on my face and toilet paper wrapped around my fists!’

Rockin’ Robert first scaled the steps as a nine year old and embarked on a 230 bout amateur innings (213 wins) that peaked with a brace of National Golden Gloves bronze medals but saw him edged out in the 2012 Olympic Trials by Montana’s Duran Caferro. Dream doused, the regular Broner spar hand accepted AB’s invitation to join his pro team shortly after.

[Image credit: Premier Boxing Champions]

While Easter’s technical excellence was clearly apparent, there was little evidence from his amateur stint to hint of the carnage that was to follow. None of his initial eight opponents made it past round three and five of 14 stoppage victims have heard the full ’10 count’ tolled over them.

Title secured, Easter will now be eager to further advance the ‘Buckeye State’s’ impressive boxing legacy that was constructed by past greats such as Johnny Kilbane, Tony Janiro, Lenny and Ray Mancini, Aaron Pryor, ‘Buster’ Douglas, Tim Austin and Kelly Pavlik, to list but a few.

Shortly after his coronation, thousands assembled in Toledo for a civic parade to honour Easter’s achievement and he was awarded a glass key to the ‘Glass City’ by the mayoress.

And he gets a gilt-edged opportunity to build upon his celebrity tomorrow evening when he makes a first pro start in his home city at the 8,000 capacity Huntington Center. Tickets have been shifting briskly and Bounce TV broadcast live in the US.

His 31 year old voluntary challenger has been halted just once in 27 and promises to provide stiff resistance but all the stars seem perfectly aligned for the Easter man to deliver another Good Friday execution.

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