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West Philly boxing champion Stephen Fulton is favored in his first title defense — but the gritty fighter will always feel like an underdog

Stephen Fulton won a WBO title in January, but he has aspirations of becoming the unified champion.

Philadelphia boxing champion Stephen Fulton Jr. will fight on Sept. 18 in his first title defense.
Philadelphia boxing champion Stephen Fulton Jr. will fight on Sept. 18 in his first title defense.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

The Eagles embraced the city’s underdog mantra on their run to Super Bowl LII, so it should be no surprise that Philadelphia’s only current champion, boxer Stephen “Cool Boy Steph” Fulton, feels the same way.

When Fulton won his World Boxing Organization super-bantamweight title fight against Angelo Leo in January, people around him wondered why he didn’t show as much emotion as expected. He spent years talking about his dream of being a champion. Yes, he’s undefeated, he’s a champion, but he’s not satisfied.

In boxing, there’s a sense of pride that will not allow the sport’s ultimate competitors to rest until they prove they can beat the best.

“I feel like, right now, a lot of people are counting me out,” Fulton said. “But I like that. I ain’t the guy to count out.”

» READ MORE: West Philly’s Stephen Fulton becomes junior featherweight world boxing champion after his unanimous decision victory over Angelo Leo

Fulton, a West Philly native from “The Bottom” neighborhood, is in the process of wrapping up a three-month camp for the biggest fight of his career. He’ll clash with Brandon Figueroa (22-0-1, 17 knockouts) for the opportunity to be the unified champion at 122 pounds. The Showtime fight takes place Sept. 18 at Park MGM in Las Vegas.

Being a champion wasn’t enough for Fulton (19-0, 8 KO’s). When he defeated Leo to become the WBO super-bantamweight champion, he reminded himself about how many Philly boxers have reached the mountaintop but failed to sustain it.

In a time when championship boxers are more concerned with collecting big checks than big opponents, Fulton has made his stance clear. He wants to fight the best. The Figueroa fight will be his fourth consecutive bout against an undefeated opponent and his ninth overall. The last three ended in a knockout and two unanimous decisions.

Fulton said he gets a thrill out of ending undefeated streaks, but there’s more to it. As he said in the lead-up to his fight against Leo, taking those matches has made him more battle-tested.

“I feel like I have to do these things to solidify myself as one of the best to not only come out of my city, but in boxing period,” Fulton said. “I want to be one of the best in my weight class current, in my era, and everything.”

Fulton left for Las Vegas on Wednesday. It’s earlier than he usually leaves for a fight but it serves as a sign that he’s locked in. Outside of his daily training at Danny Garcia’s boxing gym and strength and conditioning, he doesn’t do much other than reading and playing Call of Duty: Warzone. That includes not talking to his mother, father, and sisters as he shuts out the world in preparation for a fight.

Fulton prepares down to the smallest detail, which trainer Wahid Rahim thinks is a strength, along with his ability to make adjustments.

“Mentally, he [was] preparing for this a few years ago,” Rahim said. “He’s just getting his time to shine with it. Sometimes you don’t want to take that grittiness from a fighter, and he has it.”