Stephen Fulton was surprised he caught COVID-19.
The undefeated junior featherweight contender took plenty of precautions once his fight against Angelo Leo was scheduled for August 1. Fulton contracted the coronavirus from someone on his team, thus he feels there probably isn’t anything more he could’ve done to protect himself at that time.
The Philadelphia native admits, though, that he initially didn’t realize the seriousness of this global pandemic. The 26-year-old Fulton figured that as a young professional athlete, he wasn’t as vulnerable as many other Americans.
Testing positive for COVID-19 during the last week of July cost him a six-figure payday and delayed his world title shot five months. He’ll battle Leo for the WBO 122-pound crown Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut (Showtime).
“Before I got it, and before I was getting ready for the fight, I wouldn’t say I underestimated it,” Fulton told BoxingScene.com. “But I kinda did. One of the reasons was because I was like, ‘I’m young. I can get over that. I’m an athlete. I can get over it. My body will be able to handle it way better than if I was older.’ While everybody was quarantining inside, I was outside.
“I was like, ‘If everyone’s in the house, I can be outside. I guess I’m the only one outside. I can’t catch it.’ So, I was like outside here and there. But when I had a fight coming up, I tightened things up a lot more. But I feel like I did underestimate it. I feel like everyone did, until we started seeing the results of it.”
Fulton failed a COVID-19 test just three days before he was supposed to fight Leo for the then-vacant WBO junior featherweight title. Leo defeated Fulton’s late replacement, Tramaine Williams, by unanimous decision August 1 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Fulton needed approximately two weeks to recover from COVID-19. He didn’t return to the gym until early in October, however, because he wanted to make sure he didn’t do damage to his lungs by training hard too soon.
He is thankful that he was contractually guaranteed a shot at the Leo-Williams winner, but Fulton’s COVID ordeal definitely altered him as a boxer and as a person.
“It changed my mindset about a lot of things,” Fulton said. “It made me view people that was close to me different. It made me view life different. It made me understand that everything could be taken away in the snap of a finger, in the blink of an eye. It just made me wanna give my craft my all at that point because I felt like I took it for granted. Then, once the pandemic hit, boxing was taken away. That brings you to reality and makes you understand how much you really love it and miss it, and feel like you need it.”
Leo (20-0, 9 KOs), of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs) will meet in the main event of a “Showtime Championship Boxing” tripleheader that’ll start at 9 p.m. ET and 6 p.m. PT.
In the 12-round co-feature, Ra’esse Aleem (17-0, 10 KOs), of Muskegon, Michigan, and Vic Pasillas (16-0, 9 KOs), of Redwood City, California, are set to fight for the WBA interim 122-pound title. In the 12-round opener of the telecast, Las Vegas’ Rolando Romero (12-0, 10 KOs) will defend his WBA interim lightweight title against Houston’s Justin Pauldo (14-1, 7 KOs).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.