The undefeated super bantamweight's ability to overcome adversity will serve him well when he steps up against former world champion Paulus Ambunda Saturday night on PBC on FOX.
Every time Commaleana Moore looked up, it was cause enough for her to look back down.
Moore couldn’t overcome the short emotional pangs without her hands trembling and her eyes welling up. Only a few feet away was her son, Stephen “Scooter” Fulton Jr. Fulton was shadowboxing in front of over 50 people in South Philadelphia’s Fight Firm Gym ahead of his national TV debut on Saturday, May 11, at the EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia, live on FOX (8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT).
Fulton (15-0, 7 KOs) is set to take on 38-year-old former world champion Paulus Ambunda (27-2, 11 KOs) on the undercard of IBF and WBA super welterweight champ “Swift” Jarrett Hurd’s title defense against Julian “J-Rock” Williams.
Moore is going to try to make the trip down to Virginia, along with Fulton’s three sisters. They all know the path it took their sibling Stephen to reach this stage and it’s sure to bring on a tsunami of dormant passion, as it did Commaleana last week just watching him. They also know about the mark, which today looks more like a birthmark than a birth defect.
On the lower right portion of Fulton’s back is an arrowhead-shaped blotch that through time has healed, though is still noticeable. The muscles in his back were not fully developed when he was born, leaving what was then a gaping wound. His oldest sister, Iyana Moore, used to dress it along with changing his diapers when Fulton was a baby.
Fulton himself wasn’t completely aware of it until he was around 10, becoming so self-conscious that he never liked taking his shirt off outside the stuffy two-bedroom apartment where Commaleana raised her four children in the Richard Allen projects of blighted North Philly.
The birth defect was never formally diagnosed, Fulton said, but doctors did tell the family the hole that was eating at the muscles in baby Stephen’s back would eventually mend.
“I knew I had the hole in my back, I just never knew what caused it until I got older,” said Fulton, who’s one of the best kept secrets in boxing, stopping two of his last three opponents. “My mom used cocaine when she was pregnant with me. When I was a kid, I used to be frustrated that I had (the mark). But as I got older, I had fun with it.
“I also forgive my mom for everything she’s done in the past. I want that out there. She’s a strong woman to overcome what she did. I love my mom. I’m proud of her and how she’s changed herself. My mom has been clean for 20 years. She did her best to take care of us. Cocaine was her escape route. She was a single mother raising four children by herself in North Philadelphia. She had a rough life coming up.”
Iyana Moore, 31, still remembers 12J and 5I. Those were the apartment numbers where the family lived. Apartment 12J was a two-bedroom apartment, and 5I was three bedrooms, with Stephen getting his own room. Iyana was a little woman as a seven-year-old, taking care of Fulton and his younger sister when their mother wasn’t home. Iyana did everything from change his diapers to changing her brother’s back, because it would leak.
“ Ambunda doesn’t know what’s coming at him. ” Undefeated Super Bantamweight Contender - Stephen Fulton
“There was a lot of love there,” Iyana recalled. “But we would hear gun shots in the middle of the night. The night would make me scared, because that’s when everyone came out. But that was my life. I had to take care of Stephen and my sister. We knew my mom used drugs, but she never did it in front of us intentionally.
“My mom also made sure we were always safe. My mom made sure we always had food on the table. I used to play cards with my mom and in the middle of the game, she would leave to do something, and come back to play the hand. I knew what she was doing. The hole in Stephen’s back was far worse than it is now. People would ask him how he got the hole in his back.”
That’s what spawned “the story.”
No one knew Fulton once survived a tiger attack. He began boxing when he was around 12. That’s when the shirt came off, prompting a deluge of inquiries.
“One time, my mom took me to the zoo and a tiger clawed at my back when I standing near the cage,” said Fulton, laughing. “That’s how I got the mark on my back—I survived a tiger attack. That’s what I would tell the other kids, because I didn’t want to tell them what actually happened to my back. I used to tell people that story all of the time, and some believed it.
“I tried to keep a straight face. I stuck with the story.”
The tale circulated throughout the neighborhood boxing gyms: The kid who was attacked by a tiger at the zoo.
Today, Commaleana is getting her GED. She’s been clean and straight for the last 20 years.
“I never thought I would see 50 the way I was going,” Commaleana admitted. “I used cocaine and haven’t done anything for 20 years. It was a fight. Scooter is my inspiration. Iyana helped me out a lot with him. I just can’t believe the people who have supported him. I just don’t know whether or not I can see him fight (in Fairfax). I get too excited. I used to fight in the streets growing up.”
After finishing his media workout last Friday at Fight Firm, Fulton was loosening up when he glanced at his mom standing nearby and smiled.
“I look back over everything, growing up where I did, the hole in my back, everything around me, and sometimes I think I wasn’t supposed to be here,” Fulton said. “I look at myself today and I think I’m really doing it. My back problems didn’t stop me from who I am now. Ambunda doesn’t know what’s coming at him.
“Hey, I survived an attack by a tiger. Do you think (Ambunda) can do anything to me?”
For a closer look at Stephen Fulton, check out his fighter page.
- Stephen Fulton