Stephen Fulton Jr. embraced a rematch with Brandon Figueroa late last year because he wanted to silence skeptics who’ve questioned his victory in their 122-pound title unification fight.
Once Naoya Inoue announced that he would move up from bantamweight to junior featherweight, though, Fulton felt that was the fight he needed to pursue. Fulton still wants to face Figueroa again, but chasing greatness appealed more to the unbeaten WBC/WBO 122-pound champion.
Philadelphia’s Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs) will travel to Inoue’s home country of Japan to battle the popular knockout artist who became the first fully unified bantamweight champion of the four-belt era in his last fight. Though the defending champion, securing this fight against Inoue (24-0, 21 KOs) also required Fulton to work with Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc., Inoue’s co-promoter and a competitor of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions.
Fulton explained his decision during a recent appearance on “The Last Stand Podcast,” hosted by Showtime’s Brian Custer.
“I was in talks with Brandon Figueroa back in November, before the Inoue fight,” Fulton said. “And I was only gonna do that because, you know, to silence the critics. Everybody was talking. ‘Oh, it was a close fight and this person won, this person won, this one lost.’ So, I wanted to silence the critics.
“But after I heard that Inoue was moving up, I made the call to Luis De Cubas. And then we all got Al [Haymon] on the phone and we made it happen. Al gave me the blessing, and that’s something that I wanted to do. And I feel like that’s how my whole career went. Anything I wanted to do, Al allowed me to do that, as well as me wanting it for myself.”
Fulton was going to move up to the featherweight limit of 126 pounds to fight Figueroa again. He defeated Figueroa by majority decision in their 12-round, all-action fight for the WBC and WBO 122-pound crowns in November 2021 at Park MGM’s Dolby Live in Las Vegas.
With Fulton committed to boxing Inoue on a date to be announced in Japan, Figueroa (23-1-1, 17 KOs), of Weslaco, Texas, will face the Philippines’ Mark Magsayo (24-1, 16 KOs) for the WBC interim featherweight title March 4 at Toyota Arena in Ontario, California (Showtime).
The 28-year-old Fulton admitted he is much more excited about boxing Inoue than he would’ve been had he committed to fighting Figueroa again.
“I need some excitement,” Fulton said. “I need some excitement. Nothing is exciting me no more. I feel like this is when I come alive. This is when I feel like everyone’s looking at me like, ‘Oh, his back is against the wall. Why is the champion going over to Japan?’ I called this fight back in 2021, 2020. I been said that. I said I’m gonna have to go to Japan and fight.
“I told my coach, ‘I’m gonna have to go to Japan to fight him.’ And he didn’t understand. He was like, ‘Man, why would you do that?’ Same thing. ‘Why would you do that?’ And I said, ‘That’s a big fight.’ I said, ‘Trust me. I know what I’m talking about.’ And now, look where we at.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.
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