Stephen Fulton reflected on the influence on his career of the late Naazim Richardson as he prepared for his defining fight with the great Naoya Inoue.
The WBC and WBO super bantamweight champion defends his titles on Tuesday at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo, Japan, and does so as the fighter leading the revival of the Philadelphia fight scene.
Not since the retirement of the great Bernard Hopkins has a fighter from Philly been as admired as the 29-year-old Fulton; through the time Fulton has spent working with Richardson he has also come to represent a link to his city’s respected past.
Richardson guided Hopkins to some of his finest victories after Hopkins split with the similarly admired English “Bouie” Fisher, the mentor Richardson had previously assisted. He, in turn, also worked with the Wahid Rahim-trained Fulton until shortly before his death, after a long illness, three years ago.
Fulton has since not only won two world titles but established himself among the world’s finest fighters and as the revered Inoue’s biggest threat. It even seems likely that had Richardson been alive to see his progress he would again be preparing to work the fighter’s corner in Tokyo.
“I was the last fighter that Naazim worked with,” he said. “I was the last one. I went to see him in the hospital a day or two before his passing. I was one of the only fighters that went up there, besides his family. Me and my coaches – we went up there. I was the last fighter he worked with but I haven’t thought much on it until today – like, ‘Damn’.
“I don’t know what made me just think of him out of nowhere [laughs]. You just have a thought process – nothing major.
“He’s the one who asked me the question, ‘What type of fighter are you?’ And I think I said like ‘Slick’, this that and the third, but he shut that down. He said, ‘Nah, you’re an intelligent fighter – you’re smart'. And now, when you hear me in interviews and somebody asks what type of fighter I am, I always state the obvious – ‘cause I am that and I didn’t limit myself to just having speed, or power. Nah – I’m a smart fighter first and foremost, and I’d like to take my hat off to Brother Naazim for allowing me to see that about myself and giving me the insight. It was a powerful message in such little words.
“In some ways [he helped me evolve]. He was impactful in the amateurs as well.”
The victory, two weeks ago, for Jaron “Boots” Ennis over Roiman Villa was a further demonstration of the growing strength of boxing in Philadelphia in 2023. Success over the 30-year-old Inoue would perhaps be the finest for a fighter from the city since Hopkins’ over Felix Trinidad in 2001 – a night when Fisher and Richardson were both in his corner, and when Trinidad was, similarly, perhaps the most feared puncher in the world.
“[Ennis] had a hell of a performance,” Fulton said. “I like the way he performed. He showcased great skill; sportsmanship; he was comfortable in there. He was himself, and that’s all I gotta do [against Naoya Inoue] – is go in there and be comfortable and relaxed.
“I wouldn’t say everyone in Philadelphia is like that [close-knit], but genuine guys like me and Jaron Ennis, and Danny Garcia – we can put ourselves in that category, but I wouldn’t say the whole boxing scene is like that. I would definitely say not all of the people in Philadelphia are like that, but you do have some great people, and some great friendships with a lot of people that are connected within the city.
“Plenty of times, previously [Ennis has been in touch to offer support]. We haven’t talked recently but you know, leading up, man. I know once the fight comes, or weigh-ins or whatever, he’s definitely gonna reach out.”