The undefeated WBO 122-pound champion says his hands are finally healthy and he's hitting harder than ever as he prepares to face unbeaten WBC counterpart Brandon Figueroa in a world title unification Saturday night on PBC on SHOWTIME.
A stealthy, impish grin creases Stephen Fulton Jr.’s face, because he knows he’s been withholding something. He looks down at his knuckles, flexes his right hand, balls it into a fist and grins again.
“Cool Boy Steph” holds a secret that he feels is okay to reveal on the brink of his biggest fight as a professional. This Saturday, November 27, Fulton puts his WBO World 122-pound title on the line against WBC Champion Brandon “Heartbreaker” Figueroa in a unification battle between two undefeated fighters at the Park Theater at Park MGM in Las Vegas, live on SHOWTIME Championship Boxing (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT) in a Premier Boxing Champions event.
“I’ve been dealing with messed up hands for years, but I never would say anything, because I never wanted to make excuses,” said Fulton, who owns victories over eight undefeated fighters on his resume. “I’m not about excuses. This is the first time anyone has ever heard that. I’ve been fighting in pain. My hands feel good now. It was a matter of balling my hand up the right way.
“I never broke a bone in my body. I never broke my hands. But my hands would hurt. I like to fight. I would say I was fighting at 75-percent, because of the situation with my hands. I have a lot more that no one has ever seen. Hell yeah! They will see it when I face Figueroa.”
Fulton (19-0, 8 KOs) said both hands would swell up. The pain would vibrate throughout his whole body when his hands weren’t right. He says he used to punch away from the pain. It started with the right hand, then the left hand began swelling up to compensate.
Fulton said he had no problems with his hands throughout this training camp. He’s a much tougher fighter than people know.
When Fulton, 27, won the WBO title with a unanimous decision over Angelo Leo back in January, fans saw glimpses of what Fulton could truly do. He stood in the pocket and exchanged with Leo, sitting more on his punches than he’s shown in the past.
The route Fulton went in the Leo victory came as a surprise to many—but not him. It showed that if Fulton needed to, he can impact a fight with power, not just speed and punching accuracy.
“That’s the Stephen Fulton that everyone doesn’t know, I actually like sitting there and fighting, and my team wants me to make it cleaner, so I’m able to talk to my kids later on down the line,” Fulton said. “But that’s how I like to fight. In the gym, that’s how I get down on the regular, and it’s why not everyone has seen that side of me.
“It’s why guys like Breadman (Edwards, Julian Williams’ trainer) and J-Rock were tweeting that I wasn’t fighting Mexican style against Leo, because they knew that’s the way I like to fight. Figueroa better not underestimate my power. There’s no doubt in my mind that I can beat Figueroa. I’m the best 122-pounder in the world.”
“ I’m the best 122-pounder in the world. ” Undefeated WBO World 122-Pound Champion - Stephen Fulton Jr.
If Fulton beats Figueroa (22-0-1, 17 KOs), it would mark his ninth undefeated fighter that he’s vanquished. Fulton believes that he will be Figueroa’s biggest challenge. But Figueroa, 24, doesn’t necessarily fall under that definition for Fulton.
Fulton said his toughest opponent to date was Arnold Khegai, who Fulton beat by unanimous decision in January 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Fulton promised he’s going to box smart, though when it’s time to engage, he’ll have no problem trading with 5-foot-8 Figueroa who, at 5-foot-8, is 2.5 inches taller than Fulton. Fulton knows he’s at a height and reach disadvantage but says he has the upper hand everywhere else.
“There’s more to it than that, everyone underestimates my power, and I’m tired of it. This time around it’s different,” Fulton promised. “I’m ready to show the world what I’m really able to do. This is just the beginning.”
Wahid Rahim, Fulton's manager and trainer, has seen Fulton mature these last few years. In July 2020, Rahim was driving through Connecticut with Fulton in the back seat, his shirt pulled over his head, tears streaming down his face and punching the back seat cushions after testing positive for COVID-19 and blowing a chance at the vacant WBO super bantamweight title.
“Sometimes when someone has something traumatic happen, they either fall apart, or they pull themselves together, and Stephen has pulled himself together,” Rahim said. “He sees a bigger picture ahead. He had to go through that learning experience on his own. The other thing that people didn’t know for years is that Stephen couldn’t really punch, because his hands were bad.
“He always pulled away from his punches, and wouldn’t really commit, because of his hands. We spoke about it and I told him that the way he holds his hands loosely, it’s like trying to crack a brick wall with an egg. Ball up your fists right, and it’s like hitting that brick wall with a sledgehammer.”
Fulton started closing his hands more tightly. That’s translated into more power and healthy hands. He’s been stopping people in the gym.
“He has that much more power,” Rahim said.
Usually, fighters carry a twinge of anxiety into title fights, it’s that step into the unknown. Fulton playfully scoffs at the notion that he won’t be nervous at all against “Heartbreaker.”
“It’s because I have no doubt in my mind that I’m going to win,” Fulton said. “No one outside the gym has seen everything I could do. They’re about to. My weight is good, and for the first time as a pro, my hands are good.”
For a closer look at Stephen Fulton Jr, check out his fighter page.