SPORTS

Riders left tackle and boxer Xavier Fulton can't wait for championship fight

11/22/2013 07:30 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST
REGINA - The pressure of his first championship fight has Xavier Fulton about as fazed as a jab from a featherweight.

The second-year Saskatchewan Roughriders left tackle doubles as a boxer in his free time and has been training in the sweet science since 2009 when he was a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Three fights later — he's already a Golden Gloves champion and undefeated at 3-0 — and Fulton knows what to expect in the lead-up to his first Grey Cup game on Sunday.

"It was the worst nerves I ever had … it was just horrible," he said of his debut fight. "But literally as soon as I got hit the first time, that's when it all just snapped back. I just relaxed, got comfortable and blacked out everything else around me.

"Just like in football. After the first hit, the nerves are gone."

Fulton says he's also a better offensive lineman for his trouble, improving his timing, hand eye co-ordination and overall conditioning.

"Cardio is a huge thing," he said. "If you can go five three-minute rounds, a football game? That's a breeze."

Fulton is one of 11 projected starters and 25 players overall on the Riders' 42-man roster for the title bout with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to have never played in a Grey Cup game.

He was acquired from the Edmonton Eskimos prior to the 2012 season and established himself as Saskatchewan's starting left tackle.

This year he was part of an offensive line that allowed 47 quarterback sacks, third-least in the CFL. The Ticats by contrast allowed more sacks than anyone in 2013 at 65.

"You seen when one guy was missing, the line kind of faltered and didn't do as well as they usually do," said Saskatchewan tailback Kory Sheets who, like Fulton, will play in his first Grey Cup. "When we've got all our guys fresh and healthy it's the best line in the CFL."

The Roughriders allowed Hamilton to break through for just three sacks in their two previous meetings this season, while the offensive line also made space for Sheets to run for 130 and 140 yards as Saskatchewan won both games by a combined score of 69-20.

"They've been totally amazing," said Sheets. "They've kept my body healthy this season as opposed to last year. Most of the time I don't even ice after because I'm so fresh. Everybody's going 'Sheets, are you OK? You're getting a lot of carries.' But I'm only getting tackled by guys that are 170 (pounds) or 185 so that doesn't really hurt."

Sheets boasted often this season about being the best running back in the league and ultimately finished second to Jon Cornish with 1,598 yards.

But this week the bravado, like the weather, has been absolutely frozen.

"This is a team sport and right now this is a team game," said Sheets, or someone who looked eerily like him. "That personal stuff is going to be cut off right now."

The Roughriders practised Friday at Mosaic Stadium in temperatures that dipped to -32 C with the windchill.

The adverse conditions sent the team indoors to warm up for a few minutes midway through practice.

Hamilton meanwhile took advantage of the indoor facilities at Moose Jaw's Yara Centre, where Saskatchewan held practice Wednesday.

"I can't use them words," said linebacker Tyron Brackenridge, asked to describe Friday's conditions. "I can't even describe how cold it is."

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