The undefeated "Cool Boy Steph" already believes he's the world's best super bantamweight -- and is willing to prove it on enemy ground.
Crazier things have been uttered, but one can’t help but feel a bit concerned for Stephen Fulton when he starts sounding off on some of his future plans.
After all, boxing is a grueling, hardscrabble pursuit with financial prospects not dissimilar to that of a scratch-off Lotto ticket.
“When I get a world title, and they want me to defend at home, well, I don’t want to defend at home.” Fulton, 25, said recently from his stomping grounds of West Philadelphia. “I wanna defend it at whoever-I’m gonna-fight’s’ hometown.”
So much for home-canvas advantage.
It’s good to have ambition. But why would anyone in the right mind try to make it any harder than it has to be? Fulton, a rising junior featherweight contender, apparently doesn’t subscribe to that thinking. He swears by his own peculiar (some might say perverse) logic, one which could lead him to trading punches somewhere in the Yukon or, who knows, in Kuala Lumpur.
And no, it’s not the cabin fever talking, says Fulton, who, like everybody else in the world today, is cooped up indoors as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Last checked, though, they don’t serve hoagies in Malaysia.
“Well, here’s the thing, I’ve been setting up milestones and stuff for myself,” Fulton, 18-0 (8 KOs), began. “These are the things that I want to get down. These are the things that I need to do to be better than the next man. I feel like I have to be setting up these (goals) for me to complete.”
One of those “milestones” includes facing undefeated fighters, which Fulton is quick to point out he has done successfully seven times. And not all of them against schlubs with padded records. In fact, a few of those wins seemed to have aged relatively well. Joshua Greer has worked his way to a top spot for a 122-pound title and Adam Lopez turned heads last November when he gave former featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez fits for a few rounds.
Fulton owns decisions over both of them.
“I felt like I had to face an undefeated fighter,” explained Fulton, who was last seen notching a solid points win over then-unbeaten Arnold Khegai in Brooklyn on Jan. 25. “Boom, I did that. Now that I did that, I maxed out that (goal). I beat seven undefeated fighters (in all).
“But it wasn’t just because they presented me with these guys. It became a thing for me. I started wanting them. I know I can beat them, and I had to find a way to stand out from others. I’m not fighting nobodies.”
After a while, though, an overachiever like Fulton needs a new source of motivation, a new challenge. Hence, the generous offer he is extending to his future title-challenger-to-be.
“I feel like as a fighter, you have to fight in somebody’s backyard,” he said. “I feel like doing that would be crazy. Like, me winning a title and not defending it at home, but whoever I fight’s backyard. I’m defending, while giving them the opportunity to do something major, and that’ll be crazy and bring the fans out and everything.”
Confidence is perhaps the most important quality that a prizefighter needs to succeed. (The other is a sturdy chin, although the jury is still out on that). It also doesn’t hurt that Fulton knows he can stand his own ground against world-class fighters in the gym, like one Carl Frampton, for whom he served as a sparring partner last November.
“I feel like I’m always going to outsmart everyone at this weight class,” Fulton boasted. “I’m going to outsmart all of them. I got the power, I got the skillset, the best jab, the best footwork in this division.”
“ I feel like I’m always going to outsmart everyone at this weight class. ” Undefeated Super Bantamweight - Stephen Fulton
And yet, all these wishes will be moot so long as the coronavirus continues to have its way. Fulton would know. His mother and younger sister were diagnosed with Covid-19. Fortunately, their symptoms are on the mild side.
Still, “this was an eye-opener,” Fulton admitted. “But they’re both coming along good. I’m not trying to let it affect me as much.”
So far it hasn’t affected his training. With gyms in Philadelphia shuttered for the time being, Fulton hits the payment each day for his four-mile jog, supplemented by several rounds of shadowboxing. Fulton says he’s not worried about being overweight once the boxing schedule resumes. Plus, with Ramadan now in full swing, that means Fulton will be fasting for the next month, thereby safeguarding him from the pitfalls of quarantine bingeing. (Fulton is a devout Muslim).
“(Ramadan) helps me out,” Fulton said. “I like fighting during the month…my mind gets clear and it gets me ready for the fight.”
If only he had one lined up. That said, a fight date could loom closer than anyone expects. Recent scuttlebutt has it that promoters are looking into staging in-studio fights closed off to the public for the mid-summer. Fulton is hearing the same things, too.
“If I do compete, it may be in late June,” Fulton mused. “I’m just always told to stay ready, just in case it happens that we fight without a crowd. Either way, I’ll be ready. I can adapt to it.”
The sooner boxing recommences, the sooner Fulton can start delivering on all that sweet talk, lest his gabbing starts to overtake his actual track record. Fulton, after all, still needs to, well, win a title first. At the top of his hit list is Emanuel Navarrete, the WBO junior featherweight titleholder
“I want Navarrete, he’s got the belt,” Fulton said. “I’m the #1 (contender) for that belt. So either he moving up or he has to fight me. Either way it goes, I need that belt. I don't care about anything else but that.
“Once I get that, then we can unify. There's no need to wait around. None of that. After I get that belt, I want Rey Vargas.”
He’ll have to dig up his passport and brush up on his Spanish, if that’s the case. The rangy Vargas is the longtime WBC 122-pound titleholder who fights out of Mexico. He recently joined the PBC stable, which should increase the likelihood of a Vargas-Fulton fight down the line.
“That fight’s a no brainer,” Fulton quipped. “That's a lot of money we gonna make too. We gotta make that happen.”
Make no mistake, though. For all of his visions of fighting on the road, Fulton hopes to make his mark in the very city that formed him. In case you haven’t heard, Philadelphia could use a world champion these days. The last denizens to hold a title, Julian Williams and Tevin Farmer, were knocked off their pedestals earlier this year.
“I feel like that’s always going to be a part of my life, picking up where somebody left off,” Fulton said. “Having to take everything and just put the whole city on my back, be the guy that steps up. I’m not downplaying anybody, but I feel like I’m going to be the one that's going to get the job done. I feel like I have to do all that.”
It’s just a feeling, but who’s to tell him otherwise?
For a closer look at Stephen Fulton, check out his fighter page.
- Stephen Fulton