Stephen Fulton Jr.‘s life has been full of obstacles. It’s fitting that he ended up a boxer because he’s been bobbing and weaving his way through trials for 26 years.
Saturday was supposed to be the day. Philadelphia’s rich championship history was close to potentially adding a new name. That was until Fulton Jr. tested positive for COVID-19, abruptly ending his plans of fighting Angelo Leo (19-0, 9 KOs) for the vacant WBO junior featherweight title. He was replaced in Showtime’s main event by Tramaine Williams (19-0, 6 KOs).
Fulton Jr. (18-0, 8 KOs) had been getting tested every week in July, and he tested negative every time. After arriving in Connecticut on Monday, he was tested Tuesday and learned of the positive results Wednesday.
“It was a little emotional and I was upset,” Fulton Jr. said. “After a while, I needed the support and it helped me up.”
Training months for a fight and learning that you’re removed from a card is tough. It can make you angry, hurt, and motivated. Fulton has been all of those things before.
Fulton Jr. was 10 years old, but he couldn’t hold it in much longer. He needed an outlet for his built-in anger. It was pain that came from an abnormal childhood in the West Philadelphia neighborhood known as “the bottom”, where there’s no ladder to help you get to the top.
His father, Stephen Fulton Sr., was in prison. Fulton Sr. went away for armed robbery a few months after his son was born. All he could think about for the next 10 years was giving his son the guidance he was missing.
When he left prison, he said he would never go back. And he said he’d be there for his son.
Sixteen years later, “Cool Boy Steph” will have his chance to make history. Even though he won’t be fighting Saturday, Fulton Jr. will face the winner of the Leo-Williams fight for the belt likely in early 2021.
“Once I found out that the winner has to fight me anyway, it was like this ain’t so bad after all,” Fulton Jr. said. “Y’all fighting to see who is going to face the king. That’s all it really is.”
When he was at SCI Graterford Prison, Fulton Sr.‘s thoughts centered around getting home, being a father, and never returning to prison. He didn’t want to be the father who let prison derail his chance of having a positive influence on his son’s life.
Fulton Sr. was sentenced to a maximum of 15 years after a bank robbery. He served 10 years and came home in 2003.
“Even now it’s kind of emotional to me,” Fulton Sr. said. “It was kind of earth-shattering. When you take a father away from his son, all you can think about is how are things affecting him without me being there for so long.”
Two years after Fulton Sr. had been home, he and his son went to the local mosque on a Friday. Fulton Sr. crossed paths with boxing trainer Hamza Muhammad, and small conversation led to Muhammad speaking about how he’d recently started training kids, and Fulton Sr. connected Muhammad with his son.
“So I heard you like to fight,” Muhammad said to the young Fulton after hearing about how he would get in trouble at school for fighting. “I want to see if you can really fight.”
All of a sudden, an outlet was provided. The sport aligned with the pain of his childhood. A natural introvert, the punching bag at Champ’s Gym on 27th and Huntington became his his way to vent.
“I felt like I didn’t have a normal life,” Fulton Jr. said. “I felt I wanted more, I wanted better, and sometimes I tend to push myself away from my family because of that. I always had anger at myself toward that.”
Fulton Jr. didn’t grow up watching boxing. He wasn’t a fan, but he connected with the sport to the point where he would tell people “I don’t like it, I love it.”
Fulton Jr. climbed the ranks in the boxing world after coming from the bottom. His determination was evident when he would lose amateur fights, and then get those opponents back later. And his father, who could only dream of these moments 17 years ago locked away in his cell, was as proud as anyone.
“I was just trying to instill the the things in my son that would make him a better person,” Fulton Sr. said.
Looking at where Fulton Jr. is now, he and his father often think back to that day at the mosque and how it led to this moment. Everything happened for a reason, including the anger and prison time. Those moments helped shaped Fulton Jr.
“I feel like he sacrificed all of those years in prison for me, and now I’m here,” Fulton Jr. said.
Fulton Jr.‘s team feels like the COVID-19 test is more of a delay than a denial. Fulton Jr. will get his opportunity to be champion in early 2021, and once he gets it, there’s no looking back.