Boxer Stephen Fulton Jr. hails from a tough, poverty-stricken west Philadelphia neighborhood often referred to as “The Bottom.”
Should Fulton defeat Albuquerque native Angelo Leo on Saturday and take away Leo’s WBO super bantamweight title, he said during a recent Zoom news conference, “it would just show everyone from my neighborhood, specifically, that there is a way out.”
With all due respect, Leo said later in a phone interview, he, too, knows what it’s like to be at the bottom.
And if Fulton thinks he’s the hungrier fighter, well …
“I never forget where I came from, and it’s always gonna be in the back of my mind,” said Leo (20-0, nine knockouts), who will headline a Showtime telecast in defending his title against Fulton (18-0, eight KOs) in Uncasville, Connecticut.
“And those hardships and tribulations are what made me the fighter I am, so I’ll never forget that.”
Leo recalled his father, Miguel, a single parent, taking him out of Albuquerque to Los Angeles, where Angelo trained and attended Fairfax High School. Father and son, he said, lived for a time in an RV.
“That was tough, because there was no electricity, no plumbing, no nothing,” he said. “That was just where we slept. That was pretty tough. It was a little embarrassing.”
Miguel and Angelo then moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where they thought they had an apartment waiting. Instead, they wound up sleeping in their car in Walmart and casino parking lots.
The Leos then returned to Albuquerque, where Angelo began his pro career in 2012.
“Albuquerque’s not the nicest city,” he said. “It can be, but it’s not always the nicest city.”
In 2017, Miguel and Angelo made the move back to Las Vegas. There, Angelo Leo’s talents caught the eye of trainers at Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s gym and eventually of the champion himself. After signing with Mayweather Promotions, he rapidly moved up the super bantamweight ladder.
In August at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Leo defeated Tramaine Williams by unanimous decision to claim the previously vacant WBO 122-pound title. Leo was to have fought Fulton for the title, but the Philadelphia boxer became infected with COVID-19 and was ruled out.
Since then, Leo and his father also have had the virus. But with all parties now healthy, the fight is on.
Fulton, the challenger, is a slight betting favorite. Leo says he’s neither offended nor surprised.
“I know that Fulton has a lot of supporters, but I’ve been the underdog before,” he said. “… It just gives me more fuel to the fire.”
The days of living in an RV are behind him now, and Leo says he has his father and his grandmother to thank.
“My dad was a single parent, and it was tough for him,” he said. “But he was always on me, always on me to strive for the best, and he’s the reason I’m here today.
“My grandma … what she’s done for me is just unbelievable, because she’s always been there. She’s been my mother figure ever since I was 5 or 6 years old, ever since my dad got full custody of me.”
Custody of the WBO title belt is not something Leo, 26, plans to relinquish.
“I know Fulton is gonna bring it,” he said. “He’s coming to win, and I’m coming to win. … I take every fight like a world championship fight, and this fight is no different.
“That’s what makes this fight so compelling, is our ability to adjust, our determination and the will to win. So it’s pretty much gonna come down to that, who wants it more. And come fight night, I’ll come out with the victory.”
ANGELO LEO DAY: Wednesday was declared “Angelo Leo Day” in a proclamation issued by the Albuquerque City Council, recognizing his personal and professional achievements in joining Bob Foster, Johnny Tapia, Danny Romero, Holly Holm and Austin Trout as world boxing champions from New Mexico.