Xander Zayas hopes his fight Saturday night marks the first of many appearances the night before the annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York.

The Puerto Rican junior middleweight is scheduled to battle Los Angeles’ Ronald Cruz in an eight-round bout on the Josh Taylor-Teofimo Lopez undercard. ESPN will televise Zayas’ fight versus Cruz as the opener of a doubleheader scheduled to start at 10 p.m. EDT from The Theater at Madison Square Garden.

“It means the world to me, fighting for the first time before the Puerto Rican parade,” Zayas told BoxingScene.com. “Fighting on the eve of the Puerto Rican parade is amazing. It’s my fourth time fighting in New York, so I’m excited to put on a show. I’ll be fighting for the Miguel Cotto Trophy. I’m honored and I’m blessed to have that opportunity. And I want to headline one of these shows. Hopefully next year it’ll be my time.”

The 20-year-old Zayas (15-0, 10 KOs), who idolized Cotto while he was growing up, was supposed to face Cruz on April 1 at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A minor hand injury suffered while training forced Zayas to withdraw from that bout, but Zayas expects Cruz (18-2-1, 12 KOs) to challenge him two months after they initially were scheduled to box.

The 31-year-old Cruz is 0-1-1 in his past two fights, but he hasn’t been stopped inside the distance during his eight-year professional career.

“I’m expecting someone that’s gonna come forward, that’s gonna throw combinations, that is gonna be motivated to get the victory,” Zayas said. “He’s not gonna back off, give me a couple rounds and then quit. He’s coming to fight. But again, I made all the adjustments. The game plan is done. Now it’s time to go have fun, be in there and do what I do, break him down.”

Zayas is ranked fifth by the WBO and 11th by the WBA in the 154-pound division, despite that he still hasn’t been scheduled for a 10-round bout. The promising prospect nevertheless believes matchmakers for Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc. have moved him at an appropriate pace since he made his pro debut in October 2019.

“I’m only 20 years old,” said Zayas, who was 16 when he signed a promotional deal with Top Rank. “I’m still growing. I’m still getting better. And I feel like they have taken me on the right pace. They wanna be able to develop me, so that whenever I fight for a world title I don’t just fight for it, I win it. So, I feel like they’ve taken me on the right track and they’ve given me the right opponents to be ready for anybody that will be at the top when my time comes.”

The ambitious Zayas hopes that plan eventually leads to him headlining cards at Madison Square Garden’s main arena, where Cotto fought 10 times during the four-division champion’s Hall-of-Fame career.

“Everything I’ve been working on has been building towards that,” Zayas said, “you know, taking that torch and just making Puerto Rico proud, making history for Puerto Rico and just keep building my own legacy. At the end of the day, it comes down to how bad I want it, how bad I really wanna work for it. I’m really, really focused on accomplishing every single one of my goals and putting Puerto Rico back on the map, like it was when Miguel Cotto, Tito Trinidad and Ivan Calderon were on top of the world.”

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.