Stephen Fulton had to wait several months to have a crack at the WBO's junior featherweight belt. When he finally got his opportunity on Saturday, Fulton didn't squander it.
The Philadelphia native knocked off Angelo Leo via unanimous decision to win the title.
In a bout that wasn't short on action, Fulton used a high work rate to win 118-110, 119-111, 119-111 against the defending champion in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Several aspects of Fulton's performance countered what many expected going into the fight. As it turns out, the person who wasn't shocked was the one who finished the night holding the belt.
"I knew what I came to do," Fulton said in his postfight news conference. "I came to make a statement and fight this guy. I didn't come to just box. I came to fight him. And that's what I did."
The matchup between the previously undefeated 26-year-olds was delayed twice by COVID-19.
The foes were initially slated to meet in August, before Fulton contracted the virus and experienced severe enough symptoms that didn't allow him to start fully training again until October.
The title fight was postponed again in December, after Leo tested positive for the virus.
But based on the way their fight went, any adverse effects were impossible to detect. Fulton and Leo combined for 1,993 total punches, according to CompuBox, with Fulton throwing more than 1,193 of those. Initially, it appeared as if it the fight was going to be close for all 12 rounds.
Leo (20-1, 9 KOs), a New Mexico native, found some success in the early rounds with some hooks that landed on the outside. Fulton (19-0, 8 KOs) changed his game plan, accordingly. Coming into the bout, Leo was known for working on the inside. But as the fight entered the middle rounds, Fulton did most of his damage in close quarters and smothered Leo's attack.
After the fight, Fulton acknowledged Leo's early success that precipitated the change in tactics.
"I noticed he was landing a lot of good, clean right hands as I was pulling back," Fulton said. "That was some of the things my trainer told me not to do when we were in the dressing room. But I made the adjustments, like I always do."
Once that happened, Leo was outgunned. Per CompuBox, Fulton's 913 power punches and the 1,601 combined power shots ranked as the third most in junior featherweight history.
Even though Leo was never knocked down or even appeared seriously hurt, he failed to win any of the final eight rounds on any of the judges' scorecards. During at least two exchanges toward the end of the bout, Leo's father and trainer, Miguel, told the fighter between rounds he needed a knockout to keep his title.
By that point, however, Fulton had done more than enough to ensure he capitalized on the opportunity.
When Fulton sat down for his news conference, the totality of what he had accomplished hadn't hit him yet. As for what's next, Fulton made it clear he wants to add to his collection of belts, which includes the WBO title that was in his grasp by the end of the night.
"I want champions," Fulton said. "I want to be undisputed."
Aleem scores four knockdowns in TKO
Ra'eese Aleem had no problems getting past Victor Pasillas in the final undercard bout of the televised event. Aleem scored an 11th-round technical knockout after he sent Pasillas to the canvas with an alternating hook combination that sealed a dominant performance.
Aleem (18-0, 12 KOs) scored four knockdowns against Pasillas (17-1, 10 KOs) in a continuous onslaught. Aleem's first knockdown came on a looping right hook in the second round that buzzed Pasillas' face and left him hurt for the rest of the round.
Romero stays perfect
Lightweight prospect Rolando Romero remained undefeated with a seventh-round stoppage against Avery Sparrow in the opening bout.
Romero (13-0, 11 KOs) scored a knockdown in the opening minute off a big left hook. Sparrow survived the rest of the round and tried to counter Romero's aggression by landing a big power punch.
Romero, who was up 60-51 on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage, controlled the action the rest of the fight. Sparrow's corner stopped the bout one round after it appeared he suffered a right knee injury.
Sparrow (10-3, 3 KOs) was a late replacement after Justin Pauldo failed to make the 135-pound limit. According to the TV broadcast, Pauldo's weight was so high that doctors did not allow him to participate.