On Saturday May 11th, Stephen Fulton Jr. (15-0) will aim to become the latest in a long line of world champions to hail from the proud boxing city of Philadelphia when he challenges Paulus Ambunda (27-2) for the IBO world super-bantamweight championship.
His opportunity will come on a special edition of PBC Fight Night – Extra at 11pm ET on FS1 and Fox Deportes following Jarrett Hurd vs. Julian Williams for the IBO, IBF and WBA super-welterweight world titles on FOX. Fulton Jr. took some time to talk with me over the phone ten days ahead of his big night in Fairfax, Virginia.
The history and tradition of world-class fighters from Philadelphia demands that new fighters coming through are of a high quality pedigree. It’s not easy and it’s something that unquestionably separates the men from the boys and those who truly have the heart and determination to make it in the game.
“No, it wasn’t easy.” Fulton exclusively told World Boxing News. “It actually was a little complicated because you have to live up to the Philly legacy and you have to try to maintain and/or do better than the past champions. The ones who created the name for Philly in the sport of boxing.”
It all started at Champ’s gym, for the now twenty-four year-old, at the same place where Bernard Hopkins, maybe Philly’s best ever, spent so many years honing his craft and becoming the living legend that he is today. The gym oozed with experience and know-how of the fight game, somewhere that a good, young prospect would thrive.
“It was good. That was my first gym that I’d been to and stayed at. It was very cold in there in Winter time, no heat. And it was very hot in there in Summer time with no air conditioning. It had that old, gritty, dirty (feel). It was filled with good trainers like Brother Naazim Richardson and good fighters.”
It’s no secret that the mean streets of Philadelphia can be a tough place to grow up. For a young man coming up, it would be quite easy to veer off the right path and find yourself in sticky situations with no direction or goals to achieve. Fulton Jr. was no different from any other young Philly kid. As is often the case, boxing entered his life to bring nothing but positivity.
“Before I was boxing, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was just running the streets and being a typical kid in any neighbourhood, getting into bad things. I wasn’t focused in school and (I was) coming back with bad grades. Plus, I didn’t have my father in my life for the first ten years of my life. So when he finally came home from prison – he was the one who got me into boxing.”
Not only was he inspired by those that rose to greatness before him, in turn the super-bantamweight’s success will hopefully inspire the next generation of Philly youngsters to lace up the gloves and embrace the discipline and competitiveness of the sweet science.
“I believe my success already has inspired a lot of young ones coming up.” he proudly claimed. “A lot of my local supporters and fans that I have now are from social media. A lot of people see me in the streets and acknowledge me. I think they all look up to me and they all will follow up after me.”
May 11th will be the undefeated Fulton Jr.’s first shot at a world title. The man standing in his way, from Namibia, is the IBO 122lb world champion, Paulus Ambunda. Ambunda is fourteen years his senior and has reigned on multiple occasions with the IBO 122lb world title and also held the WBO belt in 2013. He’ll be his toughest test to date, but Stephen holds no fear for his opponent.
“I’ve watched tape, but you know, I only watched it one time. I don’t really get into that because that’s not going to be the same fight that he might fight me and vice versa. Whatever he watched of me – I’m not the same kid or same guy I was a few fights ago or in my last fight. I look at some flaws and I look at his good fights and his bad fights. I love to watch the good ones because whatever he does that’s good, I’ve got to take that away from him.”
So far, he’s faced some competition that has looked to simply survive and engage infrequently, at best. It’s probable that as his opposition improves – it will bring the best of him.
“That’s why this fight will be a great fight because he fights back and he actually applies the pressure and wants to fight and wants to engage in the fight. This, right here will show my talent, it will show my stamina, it will show everything I have.”
Despite that, no less than five of his wins as a professional have come against undefeated fighters. That’s a surprising statistic when compared to the majority of fighters with fifteen fights on their sometimes padded records. I pondered if Stephen had deliberately wanted to match himself tough.
“It wasn’t always up to me. I never got anything easy. I’ve always fought top competition. I never fought any easy fights. I got everything hard and I’ve dealt with what’s in front of me. I’ve mastered what’s in front of me.”
Fulton Jr. has spent the entirety of his career with one trainer, Hamza Muhammad. I get the impression they have a very strong bond and bring the best out of each other. Naazim Richardson, former trainer of Philly greats – Bernard Hopkins and Steve Cunningham, has also been in the Fulton Jr. corner and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience.
“Naazim always was around. When we trained at Champ’s, he trained there. Now we’re at (James) Schuler’s (Memorial) gym, he has guys there. So, he’s always been around, always gave us tips and advice and if we needed him – he was always there. I brought him into my camp two fights ago, but he won’t be working with me this fight. Someone like a brother (to me) stepped up to the plate, Wahid Raheem. He’ll be my second now. Hamza’s been with me since day one. Everything I learned – we learned together.”
Having fought at featherweight before and having spent time sparring with former featherweight world titleholder, Carl Frampton, it’s highly likely we’ll see Fulton Jr. move up to that division in the future, whatever happens on May 11th.
“I’m a big 122lber. I need to win this IBO (title) and I want to win other titles in this weight class and I definitely want to unify and be undisputed – if the guys don’t try to wait and a lot of these guys have this thing where they try to prolong the fight – for what? Time don’t wait for nobody. If they want to do that, by the time I get my couple of belts then I guess I’ll just move up. I definitely will move up to the 126lb division and take over that.”
We end our conversation with me asking what the fans can expect to see when he battles Ambunda. Will we see a new champion crowned on May 11th?
“Y’all can just expect me to be smart, fast. I will always be first and last and it’ll be a dogfight. This fight, you’ll see me fight – there won’t be too much backing up.”
Ian Aldous is a staff writer for World Boxing News. Follow on Twitter @ian7685