Tuesday, October 03, 2023  |


Stephen Fulton overcame many challenges to take on Naoya Inoue and a nation

Fighters Network

PHILADELPHIA, PA — Stephen Fulton sat on a leather couch in Danny Garcia’s North Philadelphia gym wearing a blue Philadelphia Phillies t-shirt about two months away from the most defining fight of his life, while recalling a defining moment in his young life. He remembers being around 16 and climbing boxing’s amateur ranks. He goes back to having boxing—and only boxing—when he thought about dealing drugs. He goes back to the time in West Philly when he sat in a dealer’s van with three others making an appeal to enter the street game. The neighborhood knew “Scooter” was a budding fighter.

“I remember I called the guy to make some money, going to him and sitting in his van. He told me he wouldn’t feel right because he knew I boxed, and he didn’t want to mess around with my future,” Fulton recalled. “The guy told me he couldn’t get me involved and that I’m just going to have to be mad at him. I respect him for telling me ‘No’ then. I was that close from dealing (holding his fingers inches apart). Who knows where I would be if the guy did not tell me ‘No?’

“You have to understand, when you are a kid in the ’hood, you risk your life every day. You must live inside of that environment every day to get used to it. You only think about the few inches in front of your face. You don’t think about jail or getting killed. I have been shot at multiple times when I was 16 and again when I was 21 over stupid stuff. The guy told me I would make so much money that I would never want to box again.”

Fortunately for boxing and Fulton, nothing ever came from the interlude in the van. Boxing has made Fulton, 29, a millionaire.

If Fulton, the WBC/WBO junior featherweight titlist and The Ring’s No. 1-rated 122-pounder, beats former undisputed bantamweight and three-weight world champion Naoya Inoue (24-0, 21 knockouts) on Tuesday, July 25, at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo, Japan, he stands to become far richer.

Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs) has a chance to make an eight-figure sum for the fight.

And he knows that no one is giving him a chance to win. The boxing cognoscenti, the fans, he has a whole nation again him.

“Good, I like that,” said Fulton, who is so diligent about his conditioning that he carries a scale with him. “I keep to myself, and I do my thing. My training went great. I feel great. I would say I have 10-percent of people in boxing that believe in me. This is my fourth champion in a row I’ll be facing. I love challenges. My whole life has been a challenge. Inoue is smaller than me, but that doesn’t mean anything. I’m way smaller than (Brandon) Figueroa and look what I did to him (to win the WBC title). I know I don’t get any respect, or not the respect that I know I deserve.

“I don’t get bothered by it because I know myself. I love challenging myself. I’m about to take on Japan. I know there are a lot of people supporting me. I’m going over to Japan, and I know there will be millions in Japan watching me. There is so much ignorance out there that people think Inoue is the champ, but I am the champ. I told you a story about my past that no one knows, until now. It’s because no one knows anything about me. They never bothered to know. This will be the first time I’m fighting professionally outside of the United States. I’m getting more love from Philadelphia, and I’ll always be Philly. I do appreciate the local love I’ve been getting lately. At the same time, I try not to pay too much attention to that. When you want something for so long and do not get it, you learn to close your mind and focus on yourself.

“It makes you stronger. I’m like the song that you skip, and when you listen to it later, you realize it’s fire. That’s me.”

In becoming one of the premier pound-for-pound fighters in the world, gradually moving from 108, to 115, to 118, and now to 122, Inoue “The Monster” has devoured Omar Narvaez (KO 2), Jamie McDonnell (TKO 1), Juan Carlos Payano (KO 1) and Emmanuel Rodriguez (KO 2). Fulton is 10-0 against undefeated fighters. Inoue will be the 11th fighter he’s taken on with a ‘0’ on the right. For all his success, Inoue’s only undefeated fighter on his record is Rodriguez.

“I know I have the satisfaction of true fighters, guys like (Errol) Spence, Tank Davis, Danny Garcia, they know what I’m about and knowing guys like that think you can win means something,” Fulton said. “I’m a smart fighter. A lot of people underestimate my power, too. That changes when they get hit. I’m big for 122 and I’m also faster than he is. We’ll go to Japan, me, Wahid (Rahim, his trainer), Hervi Estrada (his cutman) and my dad (Stephen Fulton Sr.). It’s like us against the world.

“People have not even seen the best of me yet. I have made fights harder than they should have been. I like it like that. I’ve engaged guys when I know I could have boxed the hell out of them. I can outbox anyone. It’s up to me what I want to do. It depends how I will feel the morning of the fight. There is no doubt that I am going to win.”

Back in early June, Garcia was standing nearby, shaking his head, when Fulton was swatting the heavybag.

“I know what people think, ‘Scooter’ has no power, but a lot of people are going to be surprised how strong he is,” Garcia said. “I held the pads for him once. I remember saying to myself, ‘Damn, this guy is a lot stronger than people think. This (Inoue) fight is going to be pretty good.’ Scooter hurt my hands.

“I don’t think he can beat Inoue; I know he’ll beat him. Scooter is a big kid. I don’t even know how he makes 122. Scooter is faster, stronger and if you saw the way Inoue was being hit by Nonito Donaire in their first fight, he’s easy to hit. People are just scared of him. When you are not scared of him, all that goes out the window. Scooter is not scared of anyone.”

Fulton’s priorities are his sons, one seven and the other about to turn two. He is far calmer than he has ever been. He stays more isolated. The discipline has always been there. He is more mature. What also makes Fulton special among world-class fighters is his genuine love of the sport.

Another advantage Fulton feels he has over Inoue is many world-class fighters fight because of the money—not for the passion.

“I’m great because I love what I do,” Fulton said. “I say that a lot because I know there aren’t many world champions who can say that. I’m not going to be intimidated in Japan (in fact, he’s been widely embraced). It is why I keep telling everyone this is not a big deal to me. I was born for this. I’m a fighter. I’m a winner. Winning is what I’m supposed to do.”

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.
Follow @JSantoliquito


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