PHILADELPHIA — The one sound was their muffled steps as Stephen Fulton and his coach, Wahid Rahim, made their approach again to the dressing room via the warrens of the Mohegan Solar On line casino, in Uncasville, Connecticut. Fulton had simply received his first main belt, beating Angelo Leo for the WBO junior featherweight title in January 2021, when COVID was nonetheless occurring, so there was nobody within the area.
There was no applause. No fanfare. Nothing however the sound of their toes.
It’s when Fulton turned to Rahim, who was carrying a lot (Fulton’s gloves, gown, banner, and so on.) that he felt wrapped like a leftover Christmas current, and stated, “You recognize I’m going to need to go to Japan to struggle (Naoya) Inoue. That’s my path to grow to be a celebrity.”
In late April or early Might, Fulton will journey to Tokyo, Japan, to struggle “The Monster,” the previous undisputed bantamweight champion, who will problem the 28-year-old Philadelphian for the WBC and WBO 122-pound belts.
Will probably be one of many yr’s premier clashes, completely big in Japan and to the hardcore boxing group, although regrettably, presumably nowhere else as lighter-weight fighters are sometimes missed by normal sports activities followers.
The Ring’s No. 1-rated junior featherweight might care much less. Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs) stands to make within the neighborhood of an eight-figure sum for the struggle, in response to quite a few sources near the scenario. He has the possibility of a lifetime as a result of beating Inoue (24-0, 21 KOs), a three-division champion at present No. 2 in The Ring’s pound-for-pound rankings, will make him the star he envisioned two years in the past when he first considered the conflict.
Nobody, in addition to himself, his crew and some mates, thinks he can go to Japan and win.
Once more, “Cool Boy Steph” might care much less.
“Good, I prefer it that approach,” Fulton stated. “I bear in mind speaking to Wahid proper after the Leo struggle about Inoue. I went to Al Haymon about making the struggle occur, and Al made the struggle occur. I’m nonetheless with Al. He’s my man. Each time I ask Al for one thing, he’s come via.
“I’ve no worry about going over to Japan and being screwed over. When you know the way to struggle, and I understand how to struggle, you don’t fear concerning the judges or any of that different stuff.
“I’m the one world champion in Philadelphia (to this point with the Philadelphia Eagles taking part in within the Tremendous Bowl this Sunday). It’s like nobody is aware of that. It’s why I stated I’d by no means struggle in Philadelphia. I get extra love throughout the nation than I do in my very own metropolis. Okay, I’ll change that after I beat Inoue, and everybody will wish to help me. They’ll preserve the love. I don’t take care of it at this level.”
The purpose of at some point dealing with Inoue originated from Fulton throughout that lengthy stroll again to the dressing room in Uncasville two years in the past; lengthy sufficient for a plan to develop.
“Scooter rotated to me and stated, ‘I’m going to need to go over to Japan,’ and I bear in mind I stated, ‘What? What the f—okay are you speaking about?’” Rahim recalled. “He stated, ‘I’m going to need to go to Japan to struggle Inoue.’ He informed me he needed to do it. I believed Stephen was f—g loopy. I instantly thought of Roy Jones being screwed over within the (1988) Olympics by the South Koreans. (And) Inoue, on the time, was 118. I didn’t assume something of it.
“Scooter is amazingly assured. Confidence brings potential, however Stephen can be very good. We don’t care whether or not we get handled pretty or not. They may deal with us pretty in entrance of the cameras, however behind the cameras, it might be totally different.
“We’re used to it. We’ve been handled unfairly by the boxing group, the media, and so far as Philadelphia treats him, he has not been handled pretty in any respect. Have a look at Inoue’s document, he has fought one undefeated fighter. Stephen has fought 10. You might say the bias Stephen has gotten is as a result of he’s a smaller fighter, however Inoue is a smaller fighter, too, and have a look at the eye his nation provides him.
“If we didn’t have Al Haymon and PBC, we might be someplace, however nowhere close to the place we’re. They’re the one ones who supported us. Al made the struggle occur. Stephen referred to as Al and informed him what he wished to do. Al does what his fighters ask him. Al cares about his fighters and needs what’s greatest for them.
“Individuals noticed this going underneath Prime Rank and instantly thought Scooter left Al. Fallacious! The silly media, idiots on social media, who don’t know something, they thought Scooter left Al and PBC. The struggle doesn’t occur with out Al.”
Rahim proceeded to rattle off PBC fighters underneath Haymon which have fought ini co-promotions or underneath different promotional banners, corresponding to Deontay Wilder (twice in opposition to Tyson Fury), in addition to Danny Jacobs, Shawn Porter, Jesse Vargas, Felix Diaz, Andy Ruiz and Thomas Dulorme.
In Japan, Inoue is Tom Brady and LeBron James rolled into one. He has that crossover attraction.
Fulton needs a chunk of that within the U.S. It might be exhausting to return by, contemplating he’s a smaller fighter.
“In Japan, Inoue is the largest factor ever and he’s small,” Rahim stated. “The Japanese keep collectively. In America, the whole lot is unfold aside. If Scooter was Caucasian, he can be a celebrity. He can be the largest factor ever proper now due to the help behind him, as a result of Caucasians stick collectively. I imply that in a respectful approach. I prefer it, I prefer it so much.
“Within the Black group, the whole lot is unfold aside. If Scooter had been Hispanic, he can be the largest factor ever, due to the identical factor. Give it some thought. Scooter will not be an American celebrity. He must be. Boxing followers know him, and nobody is aware of who Inoue is on this nation, so, f—okay no, Stephen doesn’t get the help from the Black group that he ought to get. If he did, he wouldn’t need to go to a different nation to struggle.
“We went to Vegas and the entire crowd was in opposition to him for the Brandon Figueroa struggle. Mexican fighters are nice fighters and the Mexican followers are nice followers that help their fighters. I’m not mad on the Mexican fighters. I’m jealous of them. I’m being sincere. I’m not offended. I’m used to it.
“I’m jealous of them, as a result of they get help from their individuals. We don’t. Stephen needed to take care of that, too, in opposition to Figueroa. Why can’t the African-American group help in the identical approach? We’ve been torn and separated like each different tradition, and we are able to by no means appear to return collectively. If the Black group knew methods to stick collectively, Scooter wouldn’t have to do that.
“What Stephen is doing is breaking age-old curses. This little man is the little engine that would. After Scooter does it, the African-American group will nonetheless not stand by him.”
Rahim maintained Fulton is particular. He has a particular reward. He believes in himself. He’s additionally sincere with himself. He has excessive emotional intelligence.
“It’s type of humorous, individuals stated Al wouldn’t maintain me, and look the place I’m, combating for the largest payday and within the largest struggle of my life,” Fulton stated, laughing. “It’s why I say large fights don’t occur extra so due to the fighters, not the promoters or the managers. I went to Al, I requested him to make this occur, and he did. I’ll be sincere. I don’t even care concerning the cash. I like combating. I’m the primary one doing issues. I don’t care concerning the different stuff. I don’t actually care. Measurement, race, like me, hate me, I do know who I’m.
“I like what I do and I’m nice at it. There aren’t many world champions who can say that. Once I win, everybody, the followers, the media, individuals in boxing, everybody that ignored me, will probably be on my junk. This isn’t an enormous deal to me. I’m a fighter. I used to be born a fighter. That is what I’m alleged to do. And to all those that don’t assume I can win, effectively, f—okay them. I used to be made to do that.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Journal/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Affiliation of America.
Comply with @JSantoliquito