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Newly crowned 122-pound champion Stephen Fulton eager to unify belts

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·4-min read

Stephen Fulton grew up in an area of South Philadelphia known colloquially as The Forgotten Bottom. His father was in prison when he was born, and he grew up with his mother and three sisters where the sound of gunfire at night was the background noise of choice.

He’s one of the many who credits boxing for saving his life.

“There’s no doubt about it that boxing saved me,” Fulton told Yahoo Sports. “There was so much violent crime where I grew up. When I finally got into boxing, I got away from it. I would hear that something happened and if I hadn’t been at the gym training, or on the road at a tournament, I’d have been right there with them guys. It would have been me.

“But once I found boxing, it took over and I committed myself. And so I wasn’t around when the trouble was happening and that really saved me. It gave me the opportunity to do something.”

The most significant thing he’s done is to win the WBO super bantamweight title in a compelling bout Saturday on Showtime against Angelo Leo. Fulton threw more than 1,000 punches and while Leo never quit, the nonstop pressure Fulton applied gradually wore him down.

It was a redemption of sorts for Fulton, who struggled both mentally and physically after getting COVID-19 and having his first shot at the title postponed.

He was supposed to fight Leo on Aug. 1, and he was taking all the necessary precautions. But a member of his team that he would not name did not do the same, and the result was that Fulton tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Physically, it messed my body up,” Fulton said. “My lungs, it was rough breathing. It was just rough all the way around. Mentally, it was just depressing. That was one of the lowest moments of my life. Mentally, it was hard to get myself back together. Physically, I knew I had to relax and take some time off and then slowly and surely work my way back. But mentally, it was hard. For so long, I had worked toward this goal and then I get this [virus] and it just plays tricks on your head.”

He took his time and eventually recovered and turned his attention toward winning the title.

And while he was impressive in besting Leo and capturing the belt, there is plenty of competition at 122 pounds. The good news is that unifications shouldn’t be difficult. WBA champion Brandon Figueroa, WBC champion Luis Nery and IBF champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev, are all, like Fulton, with the Premier Boxing Champions.

All are also unbeaten with a combined record of 79-0-1 with 54 knockouts.

Fulton said he’ll do whatever he can to unify the belts.

“I want to unify and be undisputed, and I don’t want to just fight anyone,” he said. “I want the best fights. This is the time to make my mark.”

He made his mark on those who saw him on Showtime on Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Connecticut. There was no crowd in the audience because of the pandemic, though had there been fans, it would have been roaring.

Fulton managed to get around even the lack of fans.

“I use my imagination so much and so what I did was I got into that zone and I imagined there was a crowd there,” he said. “Honestly, it felt like there was a big crowd there. I don’t know if it was the media team or the crew or what, but they made me feel like it was filled and there was a big crowd. I know they would have been standing if they’d been there, but it felt to me like it was.

“They would have had one hell of a night, but there are going to be more of those down the road.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 25:  Stephen Fulton looks on during his WBO Intercontinental junior featherweight championship bout against Arnold Khegai at Barclays Center on January 25, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Stephen Fulton looks on during his WBO Intercontinental junior featherweight championship bout against Arnold Khegai at Barclays Center on Jan. 25, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

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