Unbeaten lightweight world champion Robert Easter (18-0, 14 KOs) will return to his hometown of Toledo, Ohio to defend his title against hard-hitting Puerto Rican Luis Cruz (22-4-1, 16 KOs) Friday, February 10 in the main event of Premier Boxing Champions: The Next Round on Bounce TV live from the Huntington Center.
Televised coverage on Bounce TV begins at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT and features bantamweight world champion and three-time U.S. Olympian Rau’shee Warren (14-1, 4 KOs) battling once-beaten contender Zhanat Zhakiyanov (26-1, 18 KOs).
“Being able to headline a big fight in my hometown after winning a championship is a dream come true,” said Easter. “My first dream was to win the world title and now I get to defend it in front of my people. I had great fan support at my last fight in Pennsylvania and I know everybody is even more excited to see me at home. A lot of people felt involved in helping me win that world title, and now we get to have a homecoming celebration. This is going to be big for the city. I can’t wait to showcase my skills.”
“This is a great opportunity for me and I’m planning on putting on my best performance,” said Cruz. “I am going to fight for my home of Puerto Rico and become another world champion from the island. I know that Easter is a good fighter and he will have the fan support, but I am already training harder than I ever have. This is going to be an exciting fight, but I don’t expect it to go the distance.”
“I’m ready to get back in the ring,” said Warren. “I’m happy the fight is three days before my birthday because defending my title for the first time and winning will be the best birthday present. We’ve been checking out Zhakiyanov. I think it’s going to be a good show because he definitely isn’t a slouch. I’m just going to enjoy being a champion, defending my title and showing what I’m capable of.”
“I’m very happy to be fighting in the U.S. with a chance to become a world champion,” said Zhakiyanov. “I want to thank Warren for taking this fight, but it will be a big mistake. I’m coming to win and win impressively. This is going to be my statement that I am one of the best fighters in this division.”
Toledo’s Easter and Cincinnati’s Warren will both look to show the Ohio crowd the skills that have made them world champions and potential big stars in the sport. Both fighters are making their first world title defenses and will do so in the friendly confines of the Buckeye State.
An accomplished amateur who was a 2012 U.S. Olympic alternate, the 25-year-old Easter picked up five-straight victories dating back to the beginning of 2015 before earning his world title opportunity against Richard Commey in September. Easter was successful in holding off the unbeaten Commey as he was able to earn a split-decision victory in a memorable fight. Now, Easter will step into the ring as the fighting pride of his hometown for the first time, with his sights set on an impressive performance.
Representing Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, Cruz’s last fight saw him in an entertaining back-and-forth scrap with lightweight contender Ivan Redkach in April that saw both men hit the canvas on their way to a narrow split draw. Cruz owns victories over Martin Honorio, Antonio Davis and Hevinson Herrera in a career that saw the fighter win his first 19 professional bouts.
A three-time Olympian, Warren competed for the U.S. in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 games before turning pro. The 29-year-old picked up victories over veterans Jose Luis Araiza, Javier Gallo, German Meraz and Jhon Alberto Molina leading up to his first world title shot in 2015. After dropping a controversial split-decision in their first fight, Warren defeated Juan Carlos Payano by majority decision in the rematch in June and became the first member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team to win a world title.
Fighting out of Petropavl, Kazakhstan, Zhakiyanov has won his last 21 fights since his only professional loss in 2008. Most recently he picked up an interim bantamweight title via a decision victory in 2015 over once-beaten Yonfrez Parejo. No stranger to fighting on the road, Zhakiyanov’s U.S. debut on February 10 will mark the 12th country that he has fought in as a professional.