Written by Tré Berry III | 11/28/2021
Another one…2021 has been a bit of a renaissance year in terms of getting top bill performances, and in getting the elite talent back to meeting each other in the ring. A strong night of boxing Saturday was – but it was the headliner showdown at Park Theater in Las Vegas, between WBO titlist 🇺🇸Stephen “Cool Boy Steph” Fulton Jr. (20-0-0, 8KO), and fellow undefeated WBC titlist 🇺🇸Brandon “Heartbreaker” Figueroa (22-1-1, 17KO) that stole the fight of the week honors, and will certainly garner interest in much higher accolades, as it was the latest of burgeoning Fight of the Year candidates.
A war was expected, and a war it was that broke out, with Figueroa pressing the action like only he can, and Fulton surprisingly electing to spent the majority of time in the bout fighting fire-with-fire in closed quarters with the physical Mexican buzzsaw.
There were plenty ebbs-and-flow back and forth, with very little down time to collect our breaths between skirmishes, and being that was the case, it made for an incredibly difficult fight to score that can only be left to personal interpretation on how you processed the action, and what your criteria is in scoring the fight. Fulton was awarded a Majority Decision, both he and Figueroa argued after the bout during the post-fight interview, as they both felt they did enough for the win.
A SLUGFEST WITH NO LET UP BETWEEN THE TWO…..ONE FOR THE MEMORY BANKS
Fulton, dawning full Mexican colored attire in an attempt to egg the pro-Figueroa crowd on, was looking to be the boss from the jump by flicking the authoritative jab, establishing distance, and the speed was taking Figueroa by surprise. Figueroa switched back and forth from righty to lefty, looking to get an extensive look at his quick opponent to get a gauge on his cadences.
Fulton continued his razor sharp work behind the cross, and checking the hook. Figueroa for the first half of the 2nd round fought from range, but he began to press the action heavily in the final minute, forcing the war we expected to break out, and doing quality work by getting up in Fulton’s chest, and firing away at the body.
The fight was taken into the inside by both men in the third, throwing heavy artillery downstairs, with Fulton surprisingly throwing his weight around at this point against the physically inclined Figueroa, but Figueroa was able to get his attention with a cross upstairs, and from here on out, there was a crescendo to the action.
Round 4, Fulton wanted to regain his position by establishing space, but Figueroa made it incredibly difficult as he began to bull forward, pinning him on the ropes, and wailing away at his body with left and right hooks, sheer volume attack with some pop behind the blows, and bracing Fulton in place.
Considering how the previous round went, Fulton went back to heavy front foot pressure, trying to take the angles and utilize his leverage, but Figueroa stood firm, and fired away combinations. He was able to momentarily stun Fulton, who backed up from a 1-2 combination, and the pressure jab aimed at the chest.
This was the first time that Figueroa appeared to have firm control of the live action at this point in the fight, and it would only get more interesting going forward for both unbeaten combatants. Round 6 was a special one, as Fulton early found his left hook inside doing damage, but as he was taking momentum, Figueroa literally willed his way through it to snatch momentum in the round with a high octane assault.
The 7th frame, Fulton fought more intelligently, taking a step back while in closed quarters to leverage the uppercut to the chin, as Figueroa continued to lean down, and barrel forward. You couldn’t stop his pursuit, but he often missed the target in this round. Round 8 was by far Fulton’s best round…well maybe the first 2:30 of the round, as he built off the momentum of the previous round, catching Figueroa coming in…but…Figueroa’s jab, and work downstairs was lethal to rough up Stephen and had him in a bit of trouble to close the round.
The carryover effect for Figueroa took place, as he continued to pressure, now mixing up his arsenal to the head and to the body. Though Fulton blocked a good portion of them, it was certainly enough to jump to the early lead in that regard. Fulton did some quality work mid round, but whatever momentum that was being conjured up, was quickly snuffed out by the relentlessness of Brandon.
It does have to be noted that Figueroa continuously hit on the break, but was never properly warned by Referee Russell Mora, but what do you expect, he (Mora) has a negative reputation for a reason, considering his work in years past. Figueroa’s determination was a sight to behold, the way he dug in there.
Round 10 was another strong affair, as Fulton was getting off first, and landing some scintillating combinations on the inside, but once again, it was Figueroa doing the heavy work down the stretch of the stanza, as he hurt Fulton with a left cross that capped off a combination, and he pressed the action.
The Championship rounds were upon us, and the 2 world titlists were aware that this fight was hanging in the balance. Fulton was on top of his game in the pivotal 11th round, bouncing off of the ropes, pop-shotting, and moving well early. Figueroa had a couple moments mid round, but his effectiveness here was few and far in between.
Fulton’s Father in his corner prior to the final round told him to step a step back, pick away from the outside, then dart inside to work, to give the optics to the judges that he was in full control of the 12th and final stanza, which was a very smart tactic as it appeared that he urgently needed to find some level of separation in a nip-tuck type of affair.
The 12th, both went full throttle for closure, but Fulton, heeding the advice of his old man, did exactly what was recommended, and started bouncing outwards to pick at the target before coming inside – a tactic that he should have been using from the middle portion of the fight and on, which would have made it an easier fight for him, but early on it seemed that he had a point to prove in hanging in there with the divisions most physical fighter, and he did just that, while also enacting what he needed to do. They each fought tooth and nail until the final bell sounded, to close out what was a great fight.
There was nothing conclusive about this fight and its scoring, so the verdict literally hung in the balance for everybody in the crowd, and everyone watching at home. The scorecards were tabulated rather quickly, which was a bit of a surprise to us, but Hall-of-Fame Ring Announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. got on the microphone, and announced it as a Majority Decision.
The deciding factor were two surprising 116-112 scores, but we’re not TOO up in arms about it, the reason being that a fight with so many swing rounds in this contest, there is a variety of plausible outcomes that could be rendered up for either fighter. Be it as it may, it was Stephen Fulton who got his hand raised, to become the new unified WBC/WBO world Super-Bantamweight titlist. Figueroa was equally surprised and frustrated, evidenced by his demeanor, as he suffered his 1st defeat.
Figueroa took his beef with the decision, and had an argument with Fulton in the post-fight interview with Jim Grey, to where it looked for a moment that they would be down for a round 13. Now in a fight this close…unlike 🇺🇸Teofimo Lopez, who embarrassed himself on another main event with his antics in claiming victory in a setting where he was soundly beaten, Figueroa has every right to voice his frustration, because it was close enough to either warrant his notion, or to deem it as a respectable take, even if you don’t agree with it.
The numbers (posted down below) favor Brandon Figueroa, however, in instances where we feel that the numbers are skewed, and doesn’t fit the scope of what we seen, we let it be known…..and here he got credited for a few punches that appeared to be picked off by gloves and forearms. Needless to say, both have the right to claim victory, but it is Fulton with the tangible result – a heartbreak for the “Heartbreaker”, but he’ll be back as an elite in this division.
With Stephen Fulton in the drivers seat as a unified titlist, and still unbeaten, the pathway looks to be all but clear for him to fight another unified, undefeated titlist, that being WBA/IBF Super-Bantamweight stalwart 🇺🇿Murodjon “MJ” Akhmadaliev, who ranks as #1 by most publications in the division.
A fight here, the winner would be declared the divisions first ever Undisputed World Champion, with the victor also picking up the vacant Ring-Magazine world title belt. There is another avenue in which Fulton could go from here (outside of a rematch).
His mandatory opponent is elite 122 pounder, and former unified Titlist 🇺🇸Danny Roman, who is just about as good as anyone in the division, and always down for a big fight. The rollout effect is contingent upon what his first option of opponent wants to do, but it seems that Fulton and Akh are both serious customers, locked in to make history.