It’s fight week, and the city of Atlanta will be hosting a Top Rank/ESPN card live on Saturday from the State Farm Arena, the home of the Atlanta Hawks. WBO Super Featherweight champion Jamel Herring (23-2) puts his title on the line against Shakur Stevenson (16-0).
The co-feature has one of the brightest prospects in boxing: 19-year-old Junior Middleweight Xander Zayas (10-0). The Puerto Rican prospect has taken the sport by storm and desires to carry the flag of being Puerto Rico’s next superstar.
Xander already has some of the qualities that can get him to stardom in boxing and the Latin community: a big smile, charming personality, and knockout power. The greats from years past all had it, like Felix Trinidad, Hector Camacho, and Wilfred Benitez, just to name a few.
Xander has been scoring those highlight-reel knockouts that everyone loves to see while campaigning at the welterweight division. Impressive wins that justified signing him at the young age of 16 a few years back made him one of the youngest in history to do so within the company.
His last fight was a little over a month ago, and the first surprise came when he weighed in the night before. Xander came into his fight at the Junior Middleweight limit of 154 pounds which brought on some questions. His rise had been through the welterweight division.
Many questioned whether it was a one-off or if he genuinely would start campaigning at the new division. When asked about it, Xander said, “It was a decision that we have been talking about for a long time. As a 19-year-old, I’m still growing, and I wasn’t going to win a world title at 147. So why not get ranked at 154 and let my body know that we can build up some more.”
That’s smart and sounds like it was well thought out by him and his team.
Under the 100 plus degree weather in Arizona, Xander faced Jose Luis Sanchez (11-1-1) in a six-round bout. The young lion started fast and was looking to put on a show early. In the third round, it was a crisp left hook that sent Sanchez down for the knockdown. When Sanchez got up, Xander was all over him but was not able to finish him. Xander punched himself out a little, and his defense in spots was vulnerable, but in the end, he was able to come out victorious by way of decision.
What did he learn from that fight in Arizona? “I learned a lot! I learned that I must listen to my corner more because in the third round, when I had him hurt, I went wild and didn’t listen to my corner telling me to chill out and choose my punches better.” The fighter continued, “My corner was telling me to be mindful that you still have three rounds to go if you don’t knock him out. That’s something that I took away. Also, being able to control myself, pacing myself, and not allowing the heat of the moment to get to me. And finally, being smart about throwing combinations and sitting down on my punches.”
Xander was then booked for this upcoming card titled “Throwdown in A-Town,” which will mark his fifth fight this year. That work rate isn’t maintained by many young fighters these days. After four fights in 2020 and potentially six fights this year, how does Xander prepare mentally and physically for such a work rate?
Xander replied with excitement and said, “It’s all about staying in the gym. Even when I get a week off from a fight, I’m still in the gym. I’m nineteen, and I love going to the gym. All my friends are at the gym and the ones that aren’t, I bring them with me. Staying busy keeps me at the gym, which is better than staying home or being somewhere else that I don’t need to be. I’m just blessed to be with a great promotional company like Top Rank that has kept me busy throughout the year.” A mature response from such a young fighter is refreshing in so many ways.
We moved on to Saturday night’s fight, where he will be facing Dan Karpency (9-3-1), who fights out of Adah, PA. When screening the BoxRec, none of his opponents stand out, but that’s not to say that he won’t be a formidable opponent for the young Puerto Rican prospect. Xander isn’t overlooking Dan and feels like this fight is just as important as the last one. He said, “I believe that this will be the most important fight in my career, just like my last fight. I don’t look past any of my opponents. They are all looking to win, take my head off and beat the “prospect.” So, I have to be on my A-game and stay focused. My job is to win, and that’s what I’ll do on Saturday night!”
Looking ahead, what does the future hold for this young prospect? Xander thought about this for a second and then replied, “The goal is to come back once more either in November or December. It’s all up to Top Rank and how I look on Saturday night. There are a lot of variables, but yes, I do want to fight once more before the end of the year.”
Xander then continued, “I’m focused on getting this fight out of the way and getting the prospect of the year. Also, spending Christmas with my family and then the beginning of 2022, think about what I would like to accomplish in that year.”
This kid sounds like a seasoned veteran and has been appropriately groomed both in and out of the ring. Before getting off the call, he wanted to ensure that a message went out to his fans. “Expect fireworks! I am excited for this one as it’s my first co-feature on ESPN. I am looking forward to this fight so don’t miss it. To my Puerto Ricans and all my Latinos: thank you for all the love and support,” Xander said in closing. “Come Saturday, I will put on a show!”
My Three Cents:
There is plenty to be excited about if you are Top Rank when talking about Xander Zayas. He has all the star qualities and has been brought up nice and slow because they know that there is plenty of time for his development. If Xander can stay on course and fight another 5-6 times next year, he will probably be lined up for a regional title shot by December, making 2023 or 2024 his time for a world title opportunity.
But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s see how he does on Saturday night and if he can finish the year just as strong as he started it.
Catch Xander Zayas’ fight on ESPN this Saturday at 10:30 PM EST/ 7:30 PM PST.