Stephen Fulton’s new life has led to better things—like world titles
Stephen Fulton Jr. was having a tough time, no way in control of his situation. Put a pair of boxing gloves on the 27-year-old Philadelphia junior featherweight star, place him in the ring with anyone in the world 122 pounds or so, and he’s able to do amazing things.
Place a crying four-month-old baby boy in his arms and it’s another story.
Fulton is a changed man over the last two years. In July 2020, he was pounding the back seat of a car with a shirt pulled over his head when a title shot was yanked from under him after he tested positive for COVID-19, blowing a chance at the vacant WBO junior featherweight title.
In January 2021, he won the WBO title he knew was his all along. In July, he welcomed his second son into the world.
What a difference.
On Saturday, Fulton (19-0, 8 knockout) will try and add another title when he takes on undefeated WBC junior featherweight titlist Brandon Figueroa in a unification bout from the Park Theater at Park MGM, in Las Vegas, on Showtime Championship Boxing (10pm ET/7pm PT) in a Premier Boxing Champions event.
“I have my four-year-old son, and now my new son, and this has made me more serious, especially with what’s happened to me the last two years,” said Fulton, ranked No. 3 by The Ring at 122, while Figueroa (22-0-1, 17 KOs) is ranked No. 4. “Don’t get me wrong, I still intend to have fun in the ring, and try and steal Brandon’s hat again (laughs).
“But, yeah, I have a new level of seriousness. A few years ago, I learned all of this could have been gone in the blink of an eye. When I had COVID, and I love food, I couldn’t taste the hot sauce on chicken. When I got COVID, I remember getting kicked out of that hotel, and it’s things like that you never forget.
“I learned it takes only one small mistake to open other things up, and you’re nothing. I kept thinking my boxing could be taken away. It made me grow up. It did. It made me appreciate my sport and those around me who have love for me.”
“Cool Boy Steph” also admitted he took his health for granted. He doesn’t anymore. When he was afflicted with COVID, his back, his arms, his knees, his legs ached, compounded by headaches. It was as if every part of him hurt. The day he woke up without the headaches was the day he knew he beat COVID.
This past training camp was grueling for Fulton, who had the best sparring he’s had in a while.
That told him he’s ready.
Figueroa, 24, will be the fourth-straight undefeated fighter Fulton will be facing, and the ninth undefeated overall on his resume. So far, he’s 8-0 against the previous eight.
Fulton will be giving up considerable size to Figueroa, who is listed at 5-foot-8, with a 72½” reach to Fulton’s 5-6½ and 70½.” What Fulton has over Figueroa that “Heartbreaker” will need to figure out is exceptional hand speed and quickness.
“I think my speed, my skills, my defense, and my ability to adapt are all advantages,” Fulton said. “I have more ways to beat him than he has ways to beat me. But I’ll admit something: I’ve been dealing with messed up hands for years, but I never would say anything, because I never wanted to make excuses.
“I’m not about excuses. This is the first time anyone has ever heard that. I’ve been fighting in pain. My hands feel good now. It was a matter of balling my hand up the right way. I would say I was fighting at 75-percent, because of the situation with my hands. I have a lot more that no one has ever seen.
“I’m at the stage where I just want to fight. I won’t ever take boxing for granted again.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.