Fulton ascends to the 122-pound throne, unifying the WBC and WBO titles in an epic Fight of the Year candidate Saturday night on PBC on SHOWTIME.
Stephen Fulton vowed he would do it. The WBO World Super Bantamweight Champion promised he had no problem getting muddy, willing to go into areas he’s not been known to go.
And he did.
In a unification battle between two undefeated champions, Fulton and WBC Champion Brandon Figueroa produced a Fight of the Year candidate, warring for 12 rounds. The end result was Fulton becoming the eighth unified champion in the 45-year history of the super bantamweight division Saturday night with a 12-round majority decision over Figueroa from the Park Theater at Park MGM, in Las Vegas, on SHOWTIME Championship Boxing in a Premier Boxing Champions event.
Fulton (20-0, 8 KOs) remained undefeated, while Figueroa (22-1-1, 17 KOs) relinquished the WBC belt to Fulton, who won 116-112 on the scorecards of Tim Cheatham and Dave Moretti, prevailing over judge David Sutherland’s 114-114 score.
“I was catching him in between every shot he was throwing,” Fulton said. “He was making it sloppy and rough. We can do it again. I was landing a lot of clean shots.”
Figueroa vehemently protested. “I hurt him like five or six times. I'll fight him again. Everybody here knows who won. I put the pressure on for the whole 12 rounds, landed the cleaner shots and hurt him. I thought I only lost four rounds at the most. It was a robbery of the year. The fans who watched this live know who won. I always come to fight and I did that all night.”
Early on, Fulton established his jab, and plowed Figueroa with a lead right hand. Figueroa tried to crowd him in the first round.
In the second, Fulton kept throwing the right—and kept connecting. Each time Figueroa got near him, Fulton would grab him. They often smothered each other, but Figueroa used his distance to score.
Midway through the third, Fulton landed a right uppercut and a left hook that caught Figueroa’s attention. However, Figueroa came on in the latter stages of the frame, landing to the body and a left hook upstairs.
The riveting give-and-take continued in the fourth and fifth. In the sixth, it looked like Fulton would win the round, but it was Figueroa who swayed the tide of the round. Fulton’s left hooks and right uppercuts appeared to be taking a toll in the sixth, yet Figueroa found another gear to press Fulton to possibly win the sixth.
Fulton was busier in the seventh. He used his distance in the eighth, combining once again left hooks and right uppercuts. Figueroa used a jab and an uppercut to close the eighth, stirring a huge reaction from the audience.
More back and forth continued in the ninth as the two stood forehead-to-forehead and dug shots to the body. Fulton scored with a right uppercut, and in the last :30, chopped away at Figueroa’s midsection. Still, Figueroa kept coming forward—unwilling to allow his will to break.
In the 10th, Figueroa had Fulton in some real trouble, starting with the left hook from an awkward stance to Fulton’s chin. He had Fulton backed into a corner, and Fulton was taking more punishment than he ever had before.
Fulton began using his legs in the 11th. He started to snap a better jab, and then a double jab. Just when Fulton seemed to get the round, Figueroa came clawing back. He promised before the fight that he would make it ugly, and he did.
They ended the 11th in each other’s face.
By the final round, it was still questionable who was winning.
Figueroa never gave Fulton a chance to get away. It was Fulton doing the most effective work early on, though it didn’t matter, Figueroa kept coming. Fulton would catch him coming in, and Figueroa could grab and dig to the body. Fulton closed by catching Figueroa with a right, but it wasn’t enough to deter him.
Fulton landed 269/726 (37.1%) total punches to Figueroa’s 314/1,060 (29.6 %).
“He was throwing wild shots that the fans were enjoying, but he was hitting my arms a lot,” Fulton said. “It was an amazing experience. The judges made their decision and we can run it back.”
Ra’eese Aleem remains a factor at 122 with a victory over Eduardo Baez
“He was a tough Mexican fighter, but I got the job done. I want the winner of the main event – (Stephen) Fulton or (Brandon) Figueroa. They can run but they can't hide,” Aleem said. “I'm coming off a long layoff so I was a little bit rusty. I wanted to stop him, but he kept bringing it. I did what I had to do.
“I'm a dog. I grinded it out. I turned southpaw and got caught with some shots, but I hung in there. I can hang with anyone. It doesn't matter who steps in there against me, I'm going to win.”
Aleem (19-0, 12 KOs) started the fight going to the body and throwing a volume of punches at Baez. In the second, Aleem maintained a comfortable distance, while going up top. Baez (20-2-2, 7 KOs) did land an attention-getting overhand right, which Aleem took well, though he was off balance when he got hit.
In the third, Aleem did well using the uppercut and lefts to the body.
Aleem switched to lefty in the fourth, but Baez stopped him with a left hook and an overhand right. In the sixth, with Aleem dominating, the fighters clashed heads, causing a cut to open on Baez’s forehead. Aleem closed the seventh by backing Baez up by working the body and landing a few shots to the head.
“I totally feel that I won,” Baez said. “The judges favored (Aleem), but lesson learned. I will be even more aggressive next time so that I leave no shadow of a doubt for anybody.”
In the ninth and 10th, Aleem seemed to lose some steam, but had built enough early rounds to secure the victory.
Gary Antonio Russell wins close decision against Alexandro Santiago
The last time southpaw Gary Antonio Russell left the ring, he didn’t depart the way he wanted. He remained undefeated albeit via a no-decision against Emmanuel Rodriguez in a bout that ended 16 seconds in due to an accidental headbutt.
This time may not have been that different for Russell, since he just got by with a close 10-round majority decision over tougher-than-expected Alexandro Santiago by scores of 96-94 twice and 95-95. Santiago saw his eight-fight winning streak broken.
“I thought I won the fight and I thought I clearly out boxed him,” Russell said. “He was tough and tried to be rugged and aggressive. I had the headbutts from my last fight in the back of my mind, so I tried to keep it clean and get my rounds in.
“He’s a veteran. He was rough and he didn't want to keep it clean, so I had to fight on the inside. He's a shorter fighter so I knew he was going to try his best to get on the inside against me. I take my hat off to him, but I think I won the fight.”
Santiago (24-3-5, 13 KOs) was moving up from junior bantamweight, and started tepid against the larger Russell, who at 5-foot-6 was 3½ inches taller than the 5-foot-2½ Santiago.
Working out of the southpaw stance, Russell (19-0, 12 KOs) was very aggressive early. Santiago was stunned by a right hook in the second against the ropes, and then Russell followed with lead lefts.
In the third, Santiago, who was unbeaten in his previous 20 fights, tried engaging Russell, coming forward. Russell seemed to lure Santiago into a trap by leaning against the ropes. Russell did well by digging to the body and slowing down Santiago’s rushes. Between the third and fourth rounds, Santiago’s was advised to move left to right more often.
Santiago had his moments. He burrowed into Russell in the fifth, plowing left hooks to the body. Russell slipped in the sixth, and Santiago kept going to the body, forcing Russell to clinch.
“I just wanted to get some rounds in and he was a rough opponent who fought a good fight,” Russell said. “I feel like I’m ready for the next champion. (John Riel) Casimero; I’m ready for him. I’m at that level. (Nonito) Donaire, (Naoya) Inoue, Casmiermo. I think I’m ready for them all. I know what I bring to the table.”
Russell tried keeping Santiago away with the jab, still, Santiago found ways to get to Russell, creeping in and making the fight more competitive. With 1:34 left in the seventh, Santiago nailed Russell with a low blow. Referee Allen Huggins did not penalize Santiago for the punch.
By the eighth, Santiago had turned the tide of the fight. Santiago stalked Russell in the ninth, winging body shots at Russell, who appeared to have slowed since the midway point.
“I thought it was a close fight today. I want to thank my fans from Mexico for coming and supporting me,” Santiago said. “I think they don’t go locally (with the decision). Next time I’m going to have to press the action more so the judges can decide in my favor. I am going to come back stronger. We are going right back to the gym to work our butts off and will return with even more conviction next time.”
Santiago started the 10th with rights to the body, and once again, Russell was backing up and on the defensive. He smothered Russell against the ropes, and the two went at as the closing seconds ticked away.
For a closer look at Figueroa vs Fulton, check out our fight night page.