IN a life fraught with challenges this past year has presented Stephen Fulton Jnr with something new and unexpected. It should have brought nothing but positivity, with those excellent performances in 2021 against Angelo Leo and Brandon Figueroa catapulting him to number one in the junior featherweight division. But boxing fans can be a fickle bunch. While some were talking the American up as a pound-for-pound star and plotting his next big fights others were disparaging of his recent victories. The criticism and belittling of his efforts stung Fulton Jnr, but it also led to him reflecting on who he’s fighting for and why.
“A lot has changed about how I feel about boxing,” he tells Boxing News. “I feel like the boxing world turns their back on you, whether they feel like you lost or you won the fight. They just make you feel like you’re low, at times. And that’s part of the reason why I don’t really care about what anybody feels about me anymore. I don’t care about how they how they feel about the fight. I just care about me right now. I’m just taking care of what I need and I’m gonna fight the way I feel like fighting. I’m not fighting for the fans no more. I’m fighting for myself. Because the fans can easily just shun you away. What they call it? Eat you up and spit you out! And that’s how it made me feel sometimes. So at that point I’m just doing what’s best for me. But my emotions have been all over the place since my last couple of fights. And I can honestly say I’m in a great spot right now. I feel like from the Figueroa fight up until now part of the reason my attitude is the way it is, leading into this fight for me, (is) not caring what Danny Roman has to bring. Because I feel like I’ve fought certain fights to show that I can get down and dirty. I can be versatile. I can fight certain fights. And I feel like people just turned their back on me a little bit.”
Regardless of what boxing cynics think of him the universal feeling is that, on paper, Fulton Jnr’s next fight with Danny Roman can’t help but catch fire. Stylistically speaking it’s a potential Fight Of The Year, and the 27 year old from Philadelphia is full of respect for his opponent. He is, however, as confident as ever.
“He’s a great fighter, skilful, smart. I feel like he has a lot of things that I’m going to capitalise off of as well. I don’t want to give too much away but there’s a lot that I can capitalise off. I feel like I am the better fighter though. And I am the more skilled fighter. I’m the faster fighter. I am the smarter fighter. He is a vet in the game now. 33 fights. Former unified (champion). Can’t take nothing away from him but I’m just a better fighter. I feel like the fans are expecting the fight a certain way. And I’m expecting the fight a different way.”
Training for this fight has coincided with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a period of fasting, introspection and prayer for all Muslims. Fulton Jnr has always remained dedicated to his religious responsibilities, so much so that this last training camp was the fourth he’s embarked upon whilst observing this commitment. It’s a huge undertaking that’s required some logistical changes to his routine, yet Fulton Jnr says he feels tangible psychological benefits that help him through fight night.
“I look at it as a challenge. To challenge myself, challenge my body and challenge my mind. With that being said, I’ve done it before, I can do it again and I can do it again. It’s no different. It makes making weight easier but at the same time it is hard because you know you’re putting a lot on your body at once. You’re not eating as well as trying to make weight. But for some reason the weight was just coming down perfect for me. And as you can see, I’m still energetic right now. So I’ve been doing the right things,” he says.
“I feel like training for a fight during Ramadan gives me the motivation that I need as well as the faith that I need to walk through these type of fights, during these times. Ramadan isn’t optional. Fighting is optional. When it comes to your religion that isn’t optional. And I can honestly say that I lead by example by training and preparing for a title defence against a durable fighter, a former unified champion, and still took care my ultimate job. And it’ll show on June 4th.”
Crucial to his professional success so far has been the relationship with manager and hometown trainer, Wahid Rahim. The two met when Fulton Jnr was just a teenage amateur and Rahim has been much more than just a boxing mentor and sparring partner, helping him to navigate his way to the position he now finds himself in, a healthy young man with money in the bank and a role model to the kids in his community.
“We’ve got a great relationship. He’s helped me a lot financially and everything else outside of the boxing world as well as inside the boxing world. He stayed on me about my taxes and things like that. Buying properties and investments. No one has done that for me. Everyone else was just sitting around, waiting around, just for a cheque or just wasn’t putting the work in. So he’s the only one that has been there putting the work in.”
The neighbourhood from which Fulton Jnr has risen from is known as “The Bottom.” It’s one of Philadelphia’s most deprived and crime-ridden areas, the sort of place where boxing is especially important. With his father in prison and his mother in active addiction growing up the odds were stacked against the youngster. Yet Fulton Jnr used each set of difficulties as an energy to drive him forward, transforming adversity into resilience. He’s certain it’s bolstered his arsenal as a fighter.
“We all need something to feed off in order to get us to that next level and that next stage. And those things that I overcame were those things that I was feeding on in order to get me to the next level and in order to get me to the position I’m in now. In order to allow me to become world champion I had to go through things that made me tougher mentally, and physically and emotionally. To get me prepared for these moments and these type of fights. I’m right there now.”
Fulton Jnr now finds himself within touching distance of the goal he’s set for himself since turning professional, that of winning all 4 sanctioning body world titles. The American has been relentlessly focused upon this ambition, avidly discussing his route to each belt over the years with Rahim and taking the lead with tactics and in-fight adjustments. It all culminates into a sense that Fulton Jnr is a fighter who demands complete control over how his career will be shaped.
“I’ve always been like that. I always speaking things into existence. If there’s something that I want, I’m gonna go for it. I set my mind to do exactly what I want. Just like I’ve been talking about undisputed since 2014, my debut. And I’m right there. I’m close.”