MICHAEL CONLAN expects the WBO super-bantamweight title to change hands this weekend. Conlan, ranked No. 2 by the WBO at 122lbs, reckons Philadelphia slickster Stephen Fulton (18-0) has the beating of Angelo Leo (20-0) when the unbeatens clash in Uncasville, Connecticut on Saturday (January 23).
As is to be expected, Conlan believes he has the beating of both.
Leo-Fulton was originally set for last August for the title vacated by Emanuel Navarrete. Only days before the fight, Fulton tested positive for COVID-19.
At the time, Conlan was in camp for his fight with stubborn French southpaw Sofiane Takoucht that he won by late stoppage. He has since said that, given an extra couple of weeks’ notice, he would have put himself forward to take on Leo for the belt.
As it was, Connecticut southpaw Tramaine Williams (19-0) pulled out of his clash with Ra’eese Aleem on the undercard of Leo-Fulton to step up.
Leo beat him unanimously, winning by scores of 117-111 and 118-110 (twice) that don’t reflect how competitive the fight was up until the closing rounds.
That made the Floyd Mayweather-promoted Leo the first male world champion from Albuquerque since the late Johnny Tapia. Fulton this weekend can become the only Philadelphian fighter to currently hold a world title.
Fulton is the boxer in this boxer-against-brawler matchup of 26-year-olds. He has ended seven unbeaten records since turning over at 19.
Fulton had more than 90 amateur bouts, including appearances in the World Series of Boxing, and his amateur schooling shows. The jab is his best punch, he moves well and he’s comfortable in the ring.
As a pro, Fulton got a breakthrough when he posted a shutout points win over Paulus Ambunda, a 38-year-old version of the former WBO bantamweight champion from Namibia.
Last time out, he outpointed Arnold Khegai (16-0-1), a fight the aggressive Ukrainian went into as a live underdog.
Fulton said: “I have proved myself” and he regards Leo as “untested.”
That’s not entirely true.
The best win on either fighter’s record is surely Leo’s 11th-round stoppage of Cesar Juarez (25-7) in December 2019.
Previously, only Isaac Dogboe had dealt with Juarez the way Leo dealt with the Mexican, outboxing him at range, outfighting him on the inside and then stopping him.
Down twice in the sixth, Juarez was shaken up again by a right-hand counter in the 11th and Leo jumped through the gears to punch him to his knees. The referee waved it off after Juarez dragged himself up.
That was followed by Leo’s points win over Williams for the vacant WBO title.
Leo had to adjust from facing the orthodox Fulton to a left-hander and after a few rounds of falling short and walking onto punches, he was able to close the gap quicker, get his head on Williams’ chest and set about his body with both fists. By the closing rounds, Williams was feeling the pace and Leo was outpunching him by four or five shots to one. Leo predicts a similar outcome on Saturday night. He believes Fulton “doesn’t have [his] will” and that he can break him down.
Khegai doubtless thought the same before boxing Fulton 12 months ago and Fulton held him off for 12 rounds. Fulton actually pulled away in the second half, when Khegai must have thought he would be starting to get on top. The closest shave for Fulton so far came when Adam Lopez (8-0) took him to a majority over eight rounds in December 2017. Buzzed a couple of times early on, Fulton grew in confidence after a good finish to the third and went on to jab his way to victory, though Lopez had a good last.
This should be a very watchable fight. Fulton is a mover, a punch-picker, while Leo wants to get inside and throw lots of punches. Fulton says he wins fights with intelligence and skills, while Leo relies on his engine and will to win. There could be rounds that are hard to score as Fulton lands eye-catching singles and Leo has spells of pressure when some punches land and some don’t.
The bookmakers go for Fulton, but there’s a chance he is overrated and Leo is underrated. Leo has that stoppage of Juarez on his record, while Fulton’s best wins have come against fighters on the way up, a 38-year-old former champion and, last time out, Khegai. Of the two, Fulton is the more polished. He’s looser around the shoulders and there’s more zip in his punches.
Though it’s likely to be close, we go for Fulton to control the range and pace for enough of the fight to take away Leo’s belt with a points win.
Also on this show at the Mohegan Sun Casino − promoted by Mayweather and TGB, and broadcast by Showtime − Ra’eese “The Beast” Aleem (17-0) and Los Angeles southpaw Victor Pasillas (16-0), ranked No. 2 and No. 8 respectively by the WBA at 122lbs, meet over 12 rounds. Both turned over way back in 2011 and have stopped their last six opponents.
Now 30, Aleem, from Michigan and based in Las Vegas, scored a repeat victory over Mark Bates (11-1-1) last time out − a 10th-round stoppage.
That fight was put together at only a few days’ notice after Williams jumping up to face Leo for the vacant WBO belt left Aleem without an opponent. Aleem had previously outpointed Bates over eight.
Pasillas made a few fans in his last outing − a career-best sixth-round KO of Ranfis Encarnacion. Encarnacion had 13 early wins on his 17-0 record, but had no answer to Pasillas’ skills and was dominated before being blasted out by a 20-punch salvo. The 28-year-old Pasillas posted wins over Jose Ramirez and Joseph Diaz during a 300-bout amateur career, but because of contract disputes, he’s made slow progress in the pros. He didn’t fight between August 2015 and January 2018.
Nevertheless, Pasillas looks a class act and we go for him to win this one on points.
The Verdict A fascinating blend of styles in the boxer-versus-brawler main event.