Instead of boxing from range and keeping his distance, as people expected him to, Fulton chose to engage with Leo on the inside, which made for entertaining viewing. The tenacious 26-year-olds combined to throw almost 2,000 punches across 12 lively rounds, with Fulton himself launching over 900 power punches.
Regarded pre-fight as the more aggressive and attack-minded of the two, it was assumed that a close-quarters scrap would favour the defending titlist Leo. As it turned out, the impressive Fulton proved that he is more than capable of going toe-to-toe and fighting fire with fire. After 36 minutes of spirited action, the mandatory challenger was awarded a thoroughly deserved unanimous decision.
With the victory, Fulton confirmed himself as the sole representative of Philadelphia – that famous fight city – who is presently in possession of a world title.
Albuquerque native Leo had won the vacant belt back in August by unanimously outscoring the previously undefeated Tramaine Williams, who came in as a replacement for Fulton, who was ruled out after contracting COVID-19. Later on in the year, Leo also tested positive for the virus. With both boxers fully recovered, their fascinating battle of unbeatens was finally able to go ahead at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.
In the opener, an accidental clash of heads caused a cut to appear over Leo’s left eye. The dogged duo each had success when targeting the body in round two, and some eye-catching exchanges lit up the third and fourth frames.
The Las Vegas-based Leo was warned by referee David Fields for using his elbow in the fifth – a session in which Fulton knitted his attacks together nicely. Making his first appearance in a year, “Cool Boy Steph” exhibited fine variety in the sixth. Sharp lefts and rights smacked into Leo’s head and torso, with a jolting right uppercut from Fulton capping off a strong round for the Philly fighter.
Blows rained in on both men’s bodies in the seventh, but it was Fulton who was in the ascendancy. Despite having to swallow some spiteful strikes in the eighth, Leo continued to press forward and hurl hooks in the direction of his rival. Unfazed by the New Mexican’s pugnaciousness, Fulton was happy to oblige by swapping shots.
It was in rounds nine and 10 that Fulton’s vaunted jab began to fire. Aware that he was in a commanding position on the scorecards, the astute Pennsylvanian picked his punches intelligently in the 11th and took less risks. He employed the same composed approach in the 12th round, knowing that he had the job done.
At the final bell, judges Frank Lombardi and John McKaie both tallied 119-109, while Steve Weisfeld had it 118-110, all in favour of the new champion Fulton.
“It feels good,” said Fulton following his title-winning effort. “I told you that I’d engage more in this fight. I boxed a little but I engaged more to show him that I’m better than him at what he does best. I’m used to dealing with fighting inside the gym and inside the ring. Everyone I’ve fought has tried to bully me. This time I did to them what they try to do to me. And I got the job done.
“I wore him down by attacking his body and pushing him back. I had to change the whole narrative, push him back and drop those uppercuts in. That’s how I got the job done. From like the fifth round, that’s when I knew I was going to take off. I never got tired from engaging. After a year off, I feel I did a good job but I could still be a lot better, a lot sharper.”
Currently, Belfast’s unbeaten Michael Conlan is the highest-ranked contender in the WBO super-bantamweight ratings. However, Fulton has his sights set on his fellow 122lb title-holders. Mexico’s Luis Nery is the reigning WBC king, while Uzbekistan’s Murodjon Akhmadaliev owns the WBA and IBF belts.
“I want all the champions,” Fulton declared. “I want to be undisputed.”
The chief support on this TGB and Mayweather co-promotion saw another pair of undefeated super-bantams square off in the shape of Raeese Aleem (Las Vegas by way of Muskegon, Michigan) and Vic Pasillas (Redwood City, California).
Unlike the main event, this one did not go the distance. Aleem, 30, served notice on the top 122-pounders by emphatically stopping southpaw Pasillas in the 11th and penultimate round to record his seventh straight inside-schedule win.
Pasillas, 28, was dumped on the canvas by an overhand right in the second, before left hooks forced him down in the sixth and ninth. A thumping right-left combination brought about a fourth knockdown in round 11, leading referee Danny Schiavone to terminate proceedings one minute into the stanza.
“I was dominant,” stated Aleem, who now holds the WBA’s unnecessary Interim strap. “I wanted to put an exclamation point with this performance. It just confirms what I knew in my head – that I have elite power. I think a lot of people were sleeping on me and my power. I’m not surprised that I stopped him.
“I’m ready to fight any world champion next. If any of them are willing to fight me, I’ve got the pen, so send the contract.”
THE VERDICT A stellar coronation for the versatile Fulton.
Stephen Fulton (122lbs), 19-0 (8), w pts 12 Angelo Leo (121 1/2lbs), 20-1 (9); Raeese Aleem (121 1/2lbs), 18-0 (12), w rsf 11 Vic Pasillas (122lbs), 16-1 (9); Rolando Romero (134 1/4lbs), 13-0 (11), w rsf 7 Avery Sparrow (136lbs), 10-3 (3) 1NC; Sharone Carter, 12-3 (3), w pts 8 McJoe Arroyo, 18-4 (8).