The undefeated super bantamweight prospect has risen from humble beginnings and is now on the cusp of a world title at 122-pounds.
The poorer end of West Philadelphia, in the lower-number section of addresses where hope is a dream, gun fire often crackles through the darkness. Stephen Fulton Jr.’s feet would hunch over the scattered empty crack vials on the sidewalk going to school each morning. Before he reached 15, Fulton knew five friends that were killed. This harsh, blighted area is famously called “The Bottom” because it can’t get any worse.
The Bottom is a human sinkhole that consumes everything and everyone around it.
Everything and everyone, except Stephen Fulton Jr.
Boxing was Fulton’s way out. If can you survive The Bottom, you can survive anything. It’s what shaped “Scooter” into who he is, what he’s done in the ring so far and what he expects to become.
The 24-year-old Fulton is 15-0, with 7 knockouts. At 5-foot-7, with a 67-inch reach, he’s a terror at 122 and 126 pounds. What’s more impressive is that five of his first 15 pro victories have come against undefeated fighters. He’s tentatively scheduled to fight on the Danny Garcia-Adrian Granados April 20 show on PBC on Fox.
“It’s funny, they don’t call Philadelphia a gang city, not like they have on the West Coast and in the South, but in a lot of ways, it is a gang city,” said Fulton trainer Hamza Muhammad, who is 36 and was the one who first got Scooter involved with boxing when Stephen was 12. “Your neighborhood and your block is treated kind of like a gang. You have to represent.
“If you’re from 49th street, you may have to fight someone from 45th street. That’s what Stephen grew up around. One of the kids Scooter came up with is in jail right now for a very long time. The others left the sport. One is working, and the other still fights, but they’re nowhere along where Stephen is. From my original crew, Stephen is like the last of the Mohicans.”
It all started one summer Friday afternoon.
Stephen Fulton Sr. had a problem. He just got out of the penitentiary for a bank robbery and he was trying to reconnect with his son, Stephen Jr., who he hadn’t seen for the first 10 years of his son’s life. Stephen Jr., then around 12, was considered a nuisance to many. He was the type grade school teachers seem to have that uncanny, extra-sensory nerve radar for; the sort who can’t sit still and incessantly agitate.
Father and son had just finished prayer services at a local mosque when they saw Muhammad standing in front of a Muslim restaurant across the street. Stephen Sr. and Muhammad were catching up on old times when Hamza mentioned to him that he was training young kids.
“My father looked down at me and asked, ‘You want to box?’” recalled Scooter, who has a two-year-old son. “I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t care. I was what you would say a rambunctious kid anyway. I would get in trouble in school here and there. Hamza and my dad agreed that Hamza would pick me up to learn how to box the following Friday.”
“ Moving forward, this will be a big year because a lot of people are starting to notice me. ” Undefeated Super Bantamweight - Stephen Fulton
Except for one thing.
“Hamza never showed up,” Fulton Jr. said, laughing at the memory. “I wasn’t too happy at the time. I was looking forward to it. I was sitting there waiting for him, going in and out of the house. I’d walk through the living room, back to the porch, then back to the living room. I think there was some type of miscommunication.”
The following Friday, Muhammad was there to start Scooter. They went to the legendary Champ’s Gym, on 27th and Huntington in North Philly. The boxing enclave has no ventilation, and an inhuman odor that oozed from the bricks. But it was where future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins trained for much of his career. And it’s where many Philly legends honed their skills.
That first week, Fulton Jr. was told to work on his footwork.
“I actually was a little frustrated because as a little kid, you want to punch, you want to hit something,” Fulton Jr. recalled. “Everyone was hitting the speed bag all pretty, doing crisscrosses through their legs with the jump rope all pretty. I wanted to do what they were doing. I wanted to rush the process.
“But I wanted to be better at what everyone else around me was doing.”
That could be Scooter’s mantra: “Be better than the next guy.”
“I was always that kid, ‘Watch me win this tournament,’” Fulton Jr. said. “When I was 13, I won the Ringside Tournament. That was my first belt. I was looking at the 2012 Olympics, after winning the junior Golden Gloves. Once I started getting bigger, I decided to turn pro in 2014, at 19, and signed straight with PBC.
“My mother worked two, three different jobs when I was growing up. My older sister (Iyana Moore) was the one who changed my diapers and things like that when she was seven. My family were all scared when I decided to fight for a living. It’s what I wanted to do. No one was going to talk me out of it.”
This is a big year for Fulton Jr. He’s working his way towards a title shot, he hopes.
“I feel very good and I’m in a nice comfortable spot, and I want to do it at 122, then 126,” Fulton said. “I’m not going to rush going up in weight. Losing the weight is not that hard for me right now. I know how to do it and I feel good at 122 or 126. This April fight will be the second time I’ve been in a scheduled 10-rounder.
“Hamza is like a big brother to me. He’s had my back through everything. Moving forward, this will be a big year because a lot of people are starting to notice me. I’m beating undefeated fighters.”
He came from The Bottom. Can he rise to the top?
For a closer look at Stephen Fulton, check out his fighter page.
- Stephen Fulton