Before Robert Easter Jr. and Rances Barthelemy met for a vacant secondary lightweight world title on Saturday night, Easter predicted, "This fight is going to be a lot of action and I don't think it's going to make it to the final bell."
He was wrong on both counts, as the former world titleholders turned in a dismal Showtime main event that ended in a split draw at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. One judge scored the fight 115-113 for Easter, one had it 115-113 for Barthelemy and one had it 114-114, meaning the 135-pound belt at stake will remain vacant.
Virtually nothing happened for 12 desultory rounds in a match between boxers who have often made for entertaining fights. But their styles simply did not mesh in a bout that began slowly and never caught fire.
According to CompuBox statistics, Easter landed a mere 54 of 415 punches (13 percent) and Barthelemy connected with just 52 of 328 (16 percent), abysmal numbers for a lightweight bout.
Astonishingly, neither fighter landed double-digit punches in any round, which is extremely rare. Easter landed a fight-high eight punches in the second round. Barthelemy landed as many as six blows in four different rounds. But both fighters felt that they deserved to win.
"I figured it was close, but I figured I edged it at the end. He really wasn't committing to doing nothing," Easter said. "I applied the pressure and the judges seen it a different way. Rances Barthelemy is a crafty fighter. He stayed away from my power. I was smart, too, on my end and I didn't take that much punishment."
Speaking through an interpreter, Barthelemy said, "It's not the Robert Easter we expected. We expected a fight. We thought he would come in to fight. We didn't see that today and I thought I definitely won the fight. We know that Robert Easter is a fighter that attacks but he didn't attack in this fight. Maybe in the ninth round, once, he came and lunged at me."
Easter (21-1-1, 14 KOs), 28, of Toledo, Ohio, who won a vacant lightweight title in 2016 and made three successful defenses, was trying to rebound from a one-sided decision loss in which he got knocked down and lost his belt to Mikey Garcia in their title unification fight last July.
Barthelemy (27-1-1, 14 KOs), 32, a Cuban defector fighting out of Las Vegas, had won world titles at junior lightweight and lightweight but lost a decision to Kiryl Relikh for a vacant junior welterweight belt in their rematch 13 months ago. After a victory over a journeyman opponent in December, Barthelemy decided to return to lightweight, where he fought for the first time in nearly three years when he faced Easter.
Both fighters came into the bout having made trainer changes. After training for Garcia with Kevin Cunningham in Palm Beach, Florida, Easter decided to return home to train in Toledo, and put his father, Robert Easter Sr., back in charge, while Barthelemy began training with his boxing idol, Joel Casamayor, the former world champion and Cuban Olympic gold medalist.
Both trainers tried to lift their man, pushing them hard to pick up the pace and throw more punches, but nothing worked.
Easter and Barthelemy spent the early rounds feeling each other out with little offense to speak of -- although Easter was busier with his jab to the head and the body -- and not much changed as the fight went on. Barthelemy landed a wild left hand in the fifth round that knocked Easter off balance, but there was still very little offense overall.
After the seventh round, Easter Sr. begged his son to let his hands go, and he did just that at the start of the eighth round, attacking Barthelemy with abandon and landing several punches, including a right hand through his guard. Barthelemy, who switched between right-handed and left-handed stances during the bout, answered with two left hands to the body to drive Easter backward and controlled the rest of the round, but the burst of action quickly subsided.
Easter landed a lunging right hand that caught Barthelemy clean in the ninth round that was his best punch of the fight. He landed two more solid right hands in the 11th round, when they finally began to mix it up, albeit it very briefly.
Before the 12th round began, Casamayor shouted at Barthelemy, "Win this round big! What's wrong with you?"
There was also urgency in the Easter corner, where Easter Sr. told his son, "You need this!"
But the 12th round was another in which neither man did much of anything, and the fight was fittingly ruled a draw. Afterward, each man called for a rematch nobody but the fighters will want to see.
"I want a rematch. I need that belt," Barthelemy said.
Easter shook his hand and said, "We can get it on any time, anywhere."
Postol dominates Mimoune
In the co-feature, former junior welterweight world titleholder Viktor Postol dominated Mohamed Mimoune en route to a one-sided unanimous decision in a world title elimination fight.
The judges awarded Postol the victory by scores of 99-91, 98-92 and 97-93 to put him in position for an eventual mandatory shot at the 140-pound belt held by Jose Ramirez (24-0, 16 KOs).
"I can't say it was tough but the opponent was awkward," Postol said through an interpreter. "I would like to meet Jose Ramirez and fight for the belt again. The only thing I hope is he will fight me."
Trained by Hall of Famer Freddie Roach, Postol (31-2, 12 KOs), 35, a Ukraine native fighting out of Los Angeles, controlled the pace from the outset. He used his jab and movement and never gave Mimoune a chance to get into the fight.
A right hand knocked Mimoune badly off balance late in the fourth round. Postol connected with many right hands while Mimoune (21-3, 2 KOs), a 31-year-old southpaw from France, who was making his United States debut, landed barely anything of consequence because his punches were so slow and wide.
By the eighth round, Mimoune had major swelling over his right eye. He had come into came into the fight having won 10 in a row but he had not faced anyone close to Postol's level.
According to CompuBox statistics, Postol landed 149 of 587 punches (25 percent) and Mimoune landed only 73 of 306 (24 percent).
Ajagba crushes Wallisch
Blue-chip heavyweight prospect Efe Ajagba (10-0, 9 KOs), a 2016 Nigerian Olympian fighting out of Houston, hammered Michael Wallisch (19-2, 12 KOs), 33, of Germany, in a second-round knockout victory.
The 6-foot-5, 241-pound Ajagba, who turned 25 on Monday, opened a cut over Wallisch's left eye in a first round that he dominated thanks to throwing 92 punches -- a huge number for a heavyweight in one round. In the second round, Ajagba dropped him to a knee with a right hand but then he landed another right hand while Wallisch was down. Referee Tony Weeks counted the knockdown but gave Wallisch time to recover, although he did not deduct a point from Ajagba for the foul.
When the fight resumed, Ajagba pounded on Wallisch until Weeks stepped in to stop the bout at 1 minute, 40 seconds. Ajagba has recorded seven first-round knockouts, two in the second round and one in the fifth.
"I took my time in there. I used my jab a lot and it worked," said Ajagba, who is trained by the renowned Ronnie Shields. "When I shot my right hand and he took it, I decided to keep unloading. He was going down before I threw the punch. I kept throwing combinations and I knew I was hurting him, so I kept doing it."
The 6-foot-5, 242½-pound Wallisch, who was fighting outside of Germany for only the second time and in the U.S. for the first time, lost his second fight in a row by knockout, having also been stopped by Christian Hammer in the fifth round in December.