The unbeaten Philly native puts on an elite-level performance Saturday night on SHOWTIME, displaying both skill and will as he hands the game Leo his first loss and wrests away the 122-pound strap.
Stephen “Cool Boy Steph” Fulton always envisioned becoming a world champion. The 122-pounder, who grew up in “The Bottom” of West Philadelphia, dreamed of his name and face in lights ever since he put on boxing gloves. An encounter with COVID-19 last August delayed his world title aspirations, and after myriad tears and hours of angst, nothing was going to get in his way now—especially not Angelo Leo.
Six months ago, Fulton was curled up crying with his shirt pulled over his head in the back seat of a car, scared he blew his future. Six months later, he was standing in the middle of a ring with his right hand raised as the new WBO World Junior Featherweight Champion after dominating Leo with a thrilling, unanimous-decision victory Saturday night, in the inaugural PBC on SHOWTIME telecast of 2021, from the Mohegan Sun Arena, in Uncasville, Connecticut.
“I was depressed when I found out I had COVID, but I changed my mindset and changed the whole narrative around,” Fulton said. “It will sink in. It hasn’t yet, but when it does, I’ll be running around acting like a fool.”
Fulton (19-0, 8 KOs) beat Leo at his own game, fighting inside.
“The game plan was to box at first, but when I got in there,” Fulton said. “I made a couple of mistakes and he was landing the right hand clean a little bit, I had to get a little dirty and fight his fight and show him I’m the better man at his style. I knew I had to make I ta dog fight and bang with him a little bit. That’s what I did.
“Probably around the fifth, sixth round, I started hearing him breathing heavy and I started dogging him at his game. I got a sense I was controlling the fight. There wasn’t any ring rust, because I found a love for the sport.”
Judges Frank Lombardi and Waleska Roldan each had it 119-109 for Fulton, while Steve Weisfeld had it 118-110 for the Philly fighter.
In the opening round, Fulton immediately triggered his jab and proved he had the faster hands, but Leo kept reaching to Fulton’s body. Fulton opened a cut on the corner of Leo’s left eye, caused when the fighters accidentally clashed heads.
The question was whether or not Fulton could keep up the fast pace, considering he had not fought in almost a year. Fulton stayed in the pocket and made Leo miss wildly.
In the last minute of the fourth, Fulton connected on two right uppercuts, but with :28 left in the round, Leo stunned Fulton with a short right. Leo took that momentum into the fifth, coming forward at Fulton, and he seemed to be walking through Fulton’s punches.
Fulton, however, kept fighting in close quarters, attacking Leo with body shots and right uppercuts. Neither was willing to give up any ground.
At the outset of the sixth, Fulton tactically shredded Leo with looping rights, mixed in with body work and right uppercuts. Leo (19-1, 9 KOs) occasionally landed a right to the body, though it was Fulton who appeared to get the better of the exchanges. Fulton closed the sixth with a sharp uppercut and a looping right.
Fulton opted to box in the first minute of the eighth. By the end of the round, they were back at it again nose-to-nose, ripping each other. Fulton appeared to be hitting Leo with the heavier, more accurate shots. Fulton got a little lazy in the closing seconds of the eighth, getting glazed by a right against the ropes, though Leo had nothing behind the punch.
Fulton boxed throughout most of the ninth, finally using distance with his jab. When Leo would near, referee David Fields allowed Fulton to lock him up. Though in the 10th, both fighters went back into the phone booth.
By then, Leo’s eyes were red. Fulton shouldered Leo up, then took a step back and popped Leo with a combination off his head.
Leo’s energy seemed to be draining in the 11th. In the closing seconds of the frame, Fulton stepped back and used distance to bounce another combination off of Leo’s dome.
Leo’s corner knew the score. They told their fighter he needed a knockout to win. Fulton’s corner urged him to be smart and stay away. Fulton was brilliant in the 12th, which may have arguably been his best round, using his jab again, making Leo miss, while constantly connecting.
In the end, it was pretty evident who won.
Ra’eese Aleem goes beast mode, stops Victor Pasillas in 11
Aleem (18-0, 12 KOs) made his point, dropping Pasillas four times and eventually winning by 11th-round stoppage at the 1:00 mark for the interim WBA World Super Bantamweight title.
“I feel great,” Aleem said. “We had a good camp. I was dominant. I wanted to put an exclamation point with this performance. It feels absolutely amazing. It just confirms what I knew in my head, that I have elite power. He’s one of the top fighters in the division so to knock him out, it means I’m a true threat.
“I think a lot of people were sleeping on me and my power. I wasn’t surprised that I stopped him. I didn’t think he’d be able to go the distance with me. I think a lot of the fighters in this division should really be on notice.”
With 1:12 left in the second, Aleem connected with a counter straight right square on the chin, knocking Pasillas (16-1, 9 KOs) down for the third time in his career. Pasillas staggered through the remainder of the second, lucky to survive the round.
Aleem’s body attack caused problems. It forced the southpaw Pasillas to lower his hands, which set up other punches. Though listed at 5-foot-5½ with a 68½” reach, Aleem appeared to be the far larger fighter.
Aleem, who is naturally lefthanded, dropped Pasillas a second time with a left hook with 2:00 left in the sixth. The punch seemed to be in the back of Pasillas’ left ear, behind his head. Referee Danny Schiavone called it a knockdown, despite Pasillas’ protests.
“I wanted to knock him out,” said Aleem. “But I wasn’t necessarily trying to go for the knockout early. I was just seeing the openings and everything came together. It doesn’t matter who I fight next. I’m ready to fight any world champion.”
In the seventh, Aleem had Pasillas in trouble once more. His will and his heart kept him up.
Before the eighth, Schiavone warned Pasillas that he wasn’t going to see him take any more punishment. With 2:32 left in the ninth, Aleem felled Pasillas for the third time, as Pasillas was coming on. Another Aleem left hook did the damage.
In the 11th, Aleem used a right on the chin to stun Pasillas, then used a left to drop Pasillas a fourth time, and that was enough for Schiavone to step in and wave it over at 1:00 of the round.
Rolando Romero keeps rolling, stops Avery Sparrow in seven
In a scheduled 12-round lightweight bout, 25-year-old Rolando “Rolly” Romero (13-0, 11 KOs) stopped late replacement Avery Sparrow (10-4, 3 KOs) at :43 of the seventh round, becoming the first fighter to stop the 27-year-old from Philadelphia.
Romero was originally scheduled to defend his interim WBA lightweight title against Justin Pauldo, but those plans were scuttled when Pauldo exceeded the 135-pound limit by 3.8 pounds.
In stepped Sparrow, who was on standby preparing for a month. Sparrow said he was ready. He wasn’t ready for Romero. A mere 40 seconds into the fight Romero dropped Sparrow for the third time in his career with a left hook.
“I fought a dirty fighter who hit me with dozens, if not more, low blows on the back of the head, the back of the back, he tried to wrestle me and tried to do all sorts of things,” Romero said. “I got the victory and I dropped with that hook in the opening round and I thought that was going to be it right there. He knows how to survive.”
With 1:04 left in the sixth, Romero hit Sparrow with a right uppercut, and Sparrow hit the canvas again, landing awkwardly clutching his right knee. Referee Johnny Callas did not call it a knockdown.
Favoring his right leg, Sparrow fired off two low blows on Romero, which forced Callas to halt the action with :35 left in the sixth to take two points away from Sparrow.
Finally, with 2:17 left in the seventh, Sparrow’s corner ended it. Sparrow, for some reason, thought he was in the fight, and cursed at his corner for stopping it. The official time was 0:43.
For a closer look at Leo vs Fulton, check out our fight night page.