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Philadelphia’s Stephen Fulton ready to shine in Vegas debut

WBO junior featherweight champion Stephen Fulton Jr. was only an amateur, fighting in the annual Golden Gloves national championships in nearby Mesquite when he began to believe he would one day fight in Las Vegas.

“I knew I’m going to be out here fighting when I turn pro,” Fulton remembered thinking. “I didn’t know when. I just knew I would.”

Try Saturday night.

Fulton (19-0, eight knockouts) is making his local debut inside the Dolby Theater at Park MGM, where he’ll risk his title and his unbeaten record against fellow unbeaten champion Brandon Figueroa (22-0-1, 17 KOs).

Figueroa’s WBC crown is also on the line, making the 12-round, unification bout one of the most consequential bouts this year to date.

“I’m here for a reason,” said the 27-year-old Fulton, who hails from Philadelphia. “I don’t let the bright lights or nothing get the best of me. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel like this was made for me. I was made for this.”

Fulton says he developed his rugged sense of confidence in Philadelphia, where he was raised by a single mother in the city’s west side. Its fighting lineage includes legends like former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier and former undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins.

Fighting is a mentality there. A way of life.

Fulton was introduced to boxing at the age of 10 by his father upon release from imprisonment for armed robbery. By that point, “I was already Philly,” Fulton said. “He came home. Tried to build a relationship. … Once he got me in the sport of boxing, I’m a competitor. I wanted to be better than the kids on my team. So that’s what I did.”

Dominance on the amateur circuit preceded the trip to Mesquite in 2012 for the prestigious Golden Gloves national championships. He lost that year, but rebounded in 2013 to win the 114-pound national championship in Salt Lake City, Utah.

He debuted professionally as a junior featherweight in 2015, thereby beginning his journey to Las Vegas. Guided by Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, he developed into a slick, skillful champion with a style predicated on technique and fundamentals.

He outpointed Angelo Leo in January to capture the WBO crown.

“I became a champion in my first weight class,” Fulton proudly proclaimed. “Now, my second fight being a world champion, I’m unifying. And hopefully, once we get past this fight, we can unify again and become undisputed. … Right now, everything is in line for me to do that.”

Aleem eyes title shot

Muskegon, Michigan, native turned Las Vegan Raeese Aleem (18-0, 12 KOs) is fighting Eduardo Baez (20-1-2, seven KOs) in the co-feature Saturday and hopes to earn title consideration with a signature performance.

“Each and every time I step into the ring, I want to make a statement,” said Aleem, also a junior featherweight. “I have to make a statement.”

Aleem has lived in Las Vegas since 2017, but has yet to fight in his adoptive hometown.

“This is my opportunity to earn a lot of new fans and show everybody who Raeese Aleem is,” he said. “Ever since I moved here, I knew it would happen. It was just a matter of time. … This has been four years in the making. The grind has never stopped.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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