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Robert Easter Jr. to defend title against Javier Fortuna

Lightweight world titleholder Robert Easter Jr. came close to landing a title unification fight with Mikey Garcia. But now that Garcia has opted to challenge Sergey Lipinets for a junior welterweight title on Feb. 10, Easter will defend his crown against Javier Fortuna.

The fight, an open secret for the past couple of weeks, was formally announced Friday and will take place Jan. 20 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The bout will air on Showtime (9 p.m. ET) as the co-feature to the previously announced fight between welterweight world titleholder Errol Spence Jr. (22-0, 19 KOs) and former two-division world titlist Lamont Peterson (35-3-1, 17 KOs).

Robert Easter Jr., right, punches Luis Cruz on his way to a unanimous decision victory to retain his lightweight title last February. Leo Wilson Jr./Premier Boxing Champions
Easter (20-0, 14 KOs), 26, claimed a vacant world title by surviving a knockdown and winning a hard-fought split decision against Richard Commey in September 2016. Easter has defended the 135-pound belt twice in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio, unanimous decisions against Luis Cruz in February and Denis Shafikov in June.

"When I first won the title I knew that many obstacles would be thrown at me, but that's what the game is all about," Easter said. "I've successfully overcome them and defended the title in some tough fights and on Jan. 20 we're looking to do the same thing. I believe every fighter can give you problems, but professionals make adjustments and take over the fight. That's what I'm going to do.

"I know [Fortuna is] a former world champion looking to regain a title, but this time he signed up for the wrong guy. We always work hard and we've turned it up a notch since we found out who the opponent would be. I'm just excited. I'm ready to go today if I have to."

Fortuna (33-1-1, 23 KOs), 28, of the Dominican Republic, won a vacant secondary junior lightweight belt by unanimous decision against Bryan Vasquez in May 2015 and made one successful defense before Jason Sosa scored an enormous upset win to take the 130-pound belt in June 2016 in Beijing. Fortuna was ahead on all three scorecards and outboxing Sosa when Sosa rallied for an 11th-round knockout victory. Fortuna has since moved up in weight and has won four fights in a row.

"I'm just very gracious, appreciative and honored for the opportunity to fight for the world title again," Fortuna said. "I feel really good about this fight. With God first I will be a world champion again. Easter is tall, active and he's strong. But I feel like I'm stronger and I can punch much harder. Training is going smooth now, but the intensity will pick up as we get closer to the fight."

Showtime also announced that it will stream two additional bouts from the card, both scheduled for 10 rounds, on the Showtime Sports YouTube channel and on the Showtime boxing Facebook page.

In one bout, light heavyweight contender Marcus Browne (20-0, 15 KOs), 27, a 2012 U.S. Olympian from Staten Island, New York, will face Francy Ntetu (17-1, 4 KOs), 35, a native of Congo fighting out of Quebec.

Browne, a southpaw, was supposed to meet Russian Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs) in a title eliminator for the right to challenge world titlist Artur Beterbiev, but Mikhalkin withdrew a week or so ago when he was offered a March 3 shot at Sergey Kovalev's 175-pound world title.

In the other bout, heavyweight contender Adam Kownacki (16-0, 13 KOs), 28, a Poland native fighting out of Brooklyn, will face Iago Kiladze (26-1, 18 KOs), 31, a native of the Republic of Georgia also fighting out of Brooklyn.

Author: Dan Rafael, ESPN

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