LAS VEGAS – Stephen Fulton finally unveiled the way to beat Brandon Figueroa on Saturday night.
Fulton fended off the ferocious Figueroa and convinced two judges that he defeated Figueroa in their 12-round, 122-pound title unification fight at Park MGM’s Dolby Live. Figueroa forced Fulton to bang it out in a proverbial phone booth for 36 action-packed minutes, but judges Tim Cheatham (116-112) and Dave Moretti (116-112) favored Fulton’s consistent counter shots on the inside over Figueroa’s persistent pressure and often effective aggression.
Judge David Sutherland scored their back-and-forth fight a draw, 114-114.
CompuBox unofficially credited Figueroa for landing 45 more punches overall than Fulton (314-of-1,060 to 269-of-726). According to CompuBox, Figueroa connected on more power punches (298-of-871 to 247-of-561) and Fulton landed more jabs (22-of-165 to 16-of-189).
By winning a majority decision, Philadelphia’s Fulton (20-0, 8 KOs) successfully made the first defense of his WBO junior featherweight and won the WBC super bantamweight championship from Figueroa (22-1-1, 17 KOs), of Weslaco, Texas. Both boxers won their titles from unbeaten champions in their prior appearances – Fulton by thoroughly out-boxing Angelo Leo (21-1, 9 KOs) on January 23 and Figueroa by knocking out Luis Nery (31-1, 24 KOs) in the seventh round May 15.
“I was catching him in between every shot he was throwing,” Fulton said. “He was making it sloppy and rough. We can do it again. … I was landing a lot of clean shots. He was throwing wild shots that the fans were enjoying, but he was hitting my arms a lot.”
The most meaningful victory over his seven-year pro career moved Fulton into position to land a full title unification fight against Murodjon Akhmadaliev. Uzbekistan’s Akhmadaliev (10-0, 7 KOs) owns the IBF and WBA “super” 122-pound crowns.
Figueroa felt he deserved better than the official scores, especially since he believes he hurt Fulton “five or six times.”
“It was a robbery of the year,” Figueroa said. “The fans who watched this live know who won. I always come to fight and I did that all night.”
Fulton fended off the hard-charging Figueroa during the 12th round, when he landed the flusher punches and built on his lead on the cards of Cheatham and Moretti, each of whom scored eight rounds for him.
After a rough 10th round, Fulton stood his ground and made the 11th round competitive by countering Figueroa with several shots to his head.
Figueroa’s left hook buzzed Fulton with just under a minute to go in the 10th round. Fulton retreated and Figueroa unloaded another left hook that connected.
Yet another left hand by Figueroa backed Fulton into a neutral corner later in the 10th round. Fulton withstood those troublesome moments, though, and started the 11th round on strong legs.
Fulton and Figueroa landed various punches during a very competitive ninth round that again was contested exclusively on the inside.
Figueroa’s right hand backed Fulton into the ropes with about 20 seconds to go in the eighth round. He also appeared to affect Fulton with a body shot just before the eighth round ended.
Fulton fell to the canvas 36 seconds into the eighth round, but Mora determined it was a slip.
Fulton landed a clean right hand and stepped out of Figueroa’s punching range 40 seconds into the seventh round. Figueroa forced Fulton into the ropes again just after the halfway point of the seventh round and landed to his head and body.
Fulton countered with a right and a left after Figueroa forced him into a neutral corner toward the end of the seventh round.
Figueroa got the better of an exchange about a minute into the sixth round and backed into the ropes. Fulton fired back with a left hand that got the crowd’s attention with about 1:15 to go in the sixth round.
Fulton’s right uppercut caught Figueroa with about 45 seconds left in the sixth round. That didn’t stop Figueroa from coming forward, though.
Fulton ripped Figueroa with a right uppercut with about one minute on the clock in the fifth round, and another approximately 10 seconds later. Figueroa forced Fulton into the ropes toward the end of the fifth round and effectively attacked his head and body.
Fulton landed multiple left hooks as Figueroa forced his way forward in the first half of the fourth round. By then, Fulton figured out ways to land clean shots on Figueroa as his opponent attempted to maul him.
Fulton connected with a counter left about 1:10 into the third round. Fulton finally backed up Figueroa with just over a minute to go in the third round, when they traded punches on the inside.
Figueroa cracked Fulton with a flush left hook with just over 10 seconds to go in the third round. Fulton responded with an overhand right just before the bell sounded to end the third round.
Fulton went to the canvas 28 seconds into the third round, but Figueroa pushed him down.
Figueroa was the aggressor again in the second round, when he repeatedly bullied Fulton into the ropes and unloaded power punches on him. A left hand by Figueroa backed Fulton into a neutral corner and left him attempting to hold.
Mora warned Figueroa for the third time in their bout just before the second round ended for his rough tactics.
Fulton landed two right hands a few seconds apart barely a minute into the first round. Mora warned Figueroa for hitting Fulton behind his head just after the halfway point of the first round, and again about 25 seconds later.
They spent much of the remainder of the first round wrestling for position.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.