The big fight in the world of boxing was supposed to take place near the bottom of the world in the land of Oz last night. However, the best performance of the evening occurred more than 9,000 miles north of the land down under in Minneapolis. While George Kambosos arrived stillborn in Melbourne against Devin Haney (in a true case of “styles make fights,” Kambosos, who had no trouble finding Teofimo Lopez, looked like he needed a private eye to locate Haney), Stephen Fulton Jr. was putting on a show against former super bantamweight champion Danny Roman.
Fulton has been picking up buzz over the last three years after winning the IBO super bantamweight title against Paulus Ambunda in May of 2019. His quick-twitch reflexes, remarkable footwork and balance, as well as his fast accurate hands, have pulled eyes his way. Unfortunately, on a night when the eyes of boxing were looking in a southerly direction (unless you have that sweet multi-TV setup my fellow NYF scribe Jacob Rodriguez has), Fulton probably put on his best performance to date. If you were glued to ESPN’s risible coverage (with commercials bleeding over into the rounds, among other things) of the Kambosos/Haney card, you missed Fulton’s coming out party against a high-quality opponent.
While it’s fair to say that at the age of 32, Roman is getting a bit long in the incisor, and a 13-month layoff (the longest of his career) might temper the enthusiasm for Fulton’s dominant victory over the former champ, as it was pointed out by Showtime’s Al Bernstein, no one had ever made Danny Roman look so bad before. Of Roman’s three previous losses (two of which came in his first eleven fights), all came by decision, and two of those were splits. His last defeat (one of those two splits) against current WBA/IBF super bantamweight champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev was a tightly contested bout that could have gone either way. Roman surrendered those two belts to Akhmadaliev, but not easily.
What Stephen Fulton Jr. did to Roman looked easy. Known as a counter puncher extraordinaire, Fulton did not disappoint in that regard. Every time Roman would cut off the ring, land a couple of shots, and basically find a moment to feel good about himself, faster than Prince could say, “That ain’t Lake Minnetonka,” Fulton took it away from him with electric combinations that bounced Roman’s head back like a paddle ball that barely stayed connected to its string. Roman—layoff and tread wear aside—is one hell of a fighter. And to his credit, he kept trying right up until the final bell of the 12th round.
It was simply no use though. The physical punishment that Fulton dealt out was no joke, but I can only imagine what the psychological effect of being as genuinely talented as Roman is, doing everything you know how to do, and having it come to nothing must have felt like. To add further insult to injury, in the so-called “championship rounds,” Fulton all but abandoned the counter-punching style that put him so far ahead on points that Roman clearly needed a KO to win and started coming forward.
For any pure boxer (and Fulton is as pure as a mountain spring), to switch it up down the stretch and not play it safe when your belts are on the line—to take that additional risk—is a highly unusual thing to see in any fighter. Fulton is that rare breed, an action-fighting, counter-punching, technically precise, and scientific boxer.
If Fulton has a weakness, it’s that he isn’t a knockout puncher. The 27-year-old champion is likely going to need to put in a lot of rounds in the future to win his fights. That means more wear and tear. Wear and tear that could lead to longer breaks between fights, and before you know it, we could have a Gary Russell Jr. situation—a ridiculously talented fighter who never quite made it to great.
But right now, at this moment, Stephen Fulton Jr. is clearly something special. And if you took advantage of the long lapse between the Maloney/Palicte bout and the Kambosos/Haney headliner over on ESPN (seriously, add a warm glass of milk and an old cat for your lap, you could have taken some nice naps during the “world-wide leader’s” coverage) and rolled over to Showtime to check on Fulton/Roman, you surely saw what a gifted fighter Fulton is.
I would argue that if you watched both headlining fights last night, you would have to rank Fulton as the most talented pugilist you saw all evening. I’m not even sure if it was all that close. If you were looking for the heart of Saturday night last evening, you found it in Minneapolis, beating in the chest of Stephen Fulton Jr.