Nigel Collins sits with Stephen Fulton, the mischievous and charming super bantamweight who warns, ‘You can’t sleep with him.’ He’s a pressure fighter who creates hitting angles’
IMAGINATION is something magical, especially when you are a child and everything seems possible. Imagine a little boy sweating, kicking his feet, swinging his pipe arm, and dreaming of becoming a boxer. It was young Stephen Fulton’s way of temporarily shutting out the rest of the world and channeling his anger toward something he loved.
“When I shadowboxed as a kid, I did it with a great imagination. I imagine my opponent is in front of me. That’s where my style comes from. It’s just me being ‘Cool Boy Steph,’ putting a lot of flair into my style, “said the No. 4 super bantamweight and WBO belt holder, as we sat on a bench, side by side, inside a small locker room, the only place to escape the din of the gym on the other side of the door.
Fulton has a casual charisma, a 27-year-old whose childhood excitement still dances in his eyes. Cool Boy Steph is his nom de guerre, but everyone who knows him calls him Scooter.
Imagination has a way of withdrawing from everyday life, but not always and not for Fulton, a boy with a hole in his back, a father behind bars, and a mother with a substance abuse problem.
The hole was an arrowhead-shaped congenital defect, a consequence of the lumbar muscles that were not fully developed. The undiagnosed condition gradually healed on its own over time, thanks in large part to her older sister, Ilyana Moore, who regularly bandaged her wound. Fulton grew up in “The Bottom,” a notorious West Philadelphia neighborhood where success stories are few and far between and life is cheap. In a Showtime promo video for Fulton’s title fight with Angelo Leo, Stephen points to a wall across the street where he grew up.
“There is a mural up there that you can see. They all died there. They killed them, they all died. None died of natural causes ”.
Fulton knows he could have been among those faces if not for boxing, a cliché made true by a boy who found his calling when his father was released from prison. Before that, he had fought most of his fights at school.
“After my father came home, we met with a family friend [Hamza Muhammad] We knew that for a long time, “Fulton said.” My dad looked at me and said, ‘Do you want to box?’ I said ‘I don’t care’, but when I started I liked it.
“I weighed 75 pounds when I had my first amateur fight, which I lost. I blocked all his punches, but didn’t let go of my hands enough. In my fourth fight I beat the guy I had lost in my first fight. “
After an amateur career of more than 80 bouts (he’s not sure the exact number), Fulton joined the now-defunct World Series of Boxing in late 2013. “It was great,” Fulton said. “I wanted to do that because it would give me a little more leeway to see what the pros were like. I lost my first fight because I was out of shape, so I came back and won two. “
After stopping Issac Badger in the second round of his pro debut on October 4, 2014, Fulton kept busy, fighting mostly on billboards in casino ballrooms. When 2017 came to a close, he was unbeaten in 12 bouts and would soon be on his way to Manchester to work with Carl Frampton, before the Irishman’s match with Nonito Donaire.
“I think someone suggested me to spar because I could imitate Donaire’s style. I trained when Carl trained. Instead of going back to my room after training, I figured if he was training for a fight, I might as well.
“I liked Manchester, the hotel, everything. They took me to an Anthony Joshua fight [against Joseph Parker] and to a soccer game. I also went out and enjoyed the nightlife before I left. “
Five fights later, Fulton won a unanimous decision over previously undefeated Leo to win the WBO belt, a significant achievement that took more than a few experts by surprise. With only eight wins within range in 18 bouts, the general feeling was that Fulton would box from the outside against the aggressive Grinder Leo, but the regulars in the 1v1 Gym knew better. They had seen Scooter train with his coach, Wahid Rahim, preparing to beat “El Chinito” at his own game.
The Fulton-Leo fight, on January 23 at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, was fought at a dizzying pace in front of Showtime cameras and a group of people scattered within the bubble. Both fighters seemed convinced that they would prevail and fought accordingly, bombarding each other’s flanks with blows that landed like ax blades gnawing at a tree.
Midway through the 12-round round, Fulton took the lead and dominated down the stretch with an exuberant freeform performance. According to CompuBox, they combined to land 1,933 hits, with Fulton landing 364 and Leo 262.
Fulton is scheduled to face No. 3 super bantamweight Brandon Figueroa on November 27. In his most recent fight, the Texan known as “The Heartbreaker” knocked out Luis Nery to retain the WBA title and win the WBC belt.
Scooter’s mischievous side was evident when he joined Figueroa in the ring following Brandon’s win over Nery, ostensibly to promote their upcoming showdown. In a parody of Jake Paul snatching Floyd Mayweather’s hat at a press conference, Fulton grabbed Figueroa’s cap, said, “I’ve got your hat,” laughed, and quickly replaced it before anyone had a chance to get mad.
Fulton is one of those people who can act arrogant without being obnoxious. Instead of anger, it tends to evoke joy. Even Figueroa seemed mildly amused.
Perhaps that was because Fulton predicted that Figueroa would beat Nery, an opinion that the odds makers and the majority of the betting public do not share. “Everybody underestimated him,” Fulton said. “The thing about Figueroa is that you can’t sleep with him. He’s a pressure fighter who creates angles to hit. “
Nery was ahead on one card and even another when Figueroa made a left to the solar plexus in the seventh round. There was the characteristic delayed reaction created by a ruinous body shot and then Nery doubled over and collapsed on the mat, where referee Thomas Taylor counted it.
Fulton didn’t seem as impressed by Figueroa’s evisceration of the Mexican southpaw as most observers. “He’s a bit sloppy, but he’s good at what he does. I’m just focused on him, not future fights. “
There is an 11-month gap between Leo and Figueroa’s fights, but Fulton is handling it well. He’s been there, done that, enduring a year of inactivity after testing positive for Covid-19 prior to the original July 2020 date for the Leo fight.
Fulton, who had numerous negative tests before the fight, was devastated. Being knocked out by a micro-organism and perhaps losing the opportunity of a lifetime was almost too much to bear. “Most of the time I stayed out of the gym to not think about it,” Fulton said.
When informed that the Leo-Williams winner would have to fight him, Fulton shook off his fear and returned to the gym. He was determined to end Leo’s reign and claim the title that he felt should have been his all along, which is exactly what happened.
Along with welterweight Jaron “Boots” Ennis, Fulton is at the forefront of a new generation of Philadelphia fighters. In recent years, local boxers who won major titles have not been able to hold on to their belts for long. In May 2019, Julian “J Rock” Williams captured two super welterweight belts with a 12-round unanimous decision over previously undefeated Jarrett Hurd. It was an impressive victory, which made Williams’ fifth-round stoppage loss to Jeison Rosario in his first defense even more surprising.
Southpaw Tevin Farmer, who outpointed Billy Dibbs for a vacant super featherweight gong in March 2018, made four successful defenses between October 20, 2018 and July 27, 2019, a breakneck pace by today’s standards, which could have contributed to his downfall. Farmer certainly looked tired of losing a unanimous decision to Joseph “Jo Jo” Diaz on January 30, 2020.
The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted thousands of boxing races, but the various bubbles gave the sport a pulse – a weak one to be sure, but strong enough to keep the lights on. Fulton won the bubble and is glad all the audience restrictions have been lifted.
Meanwhile, Fulton and his girlfriend, Tiffany Jubilee, have drifted away from The Bottom, along with Stephen’s son Abdul Muqtadir, which means the Mighty One. “He is four years old and he loves boxing,” said his father. “When people come up to me and say ‘You’re the boxer,’ he says, ‘I’m a boxer too.’
Scooter’s mother, Commaleana, has been clean and sober for many years, and her father, Stephen Fulton Snr, remains a big part of her son’s life. That skinny kid with a passion for shadow boxing is now just a memory, but he will always be a part of the man, the part that kept him on his feet when things were at their worst. It has always been his best weapon.
Last July, Fulton opened CBS Crabs, a seafood restaurant in Chester, a poor city within the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area. His vision, however, goes beyond the harsh urban landscape of Chester.
“What I want to do is open one in Miami and live there,” Fulton said, as he finished bandaging the hands that he trusts will take him wherever he wants to go.