As much promise as Xander Zayas has shown while winning his past few fights, the 20-year-old junior middleweight prospect has tried to remain as patient as possible.

Zayas realizes that the most experienced matchmaking and promotional team in boxing is guiding his career at an appropriate pace, waiting to see precisely what they’re looking for to step him up to the level he feels he’ll reach in 2023. The Sunrise, Florida native’s approaching assignment is to prove he can neutralize Alexis Salazar’s movement in an eight-round encounter ESPN will televise as part of the Teofimo Lopez-Sandor Martin undercard Saturday night from Madison Square Garden in New York (9 p.m. ET; 6 p.m. PT).

“He’s a veteran of 28 fights,” Zayas told regarding Salazar. “He’s very tall and long in reach. He has a great corner behind him in Freddie Roach. And he knows how to use the ring. I feel like this is very, very good for my development process, just for the movement, to see how I can cut the ring, how I can, you know, elevate my game and be able to figure things out in eight rounds.”

The Mexican-born, Southern California-based Salazar (24-4, 9 KOs) has lost only to WBC interim middleweight champion Carlos Adames (22-1, 17 KOs) in the past 7½ years. Adames became the only opponent to knock out Salazar in his nine-year pro career when the Dominican boxer stopped Salazar in the third round of their June 2021 bout at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

Zayas (14-0, 10 KOs) wants to perform impressively Saturday night so that the proud Puerto Rican’s handlers believe he is ready for the type of upcoming year he wants.

“I already have my goals set up for 2023,” Zayas said, “but I wanna focus first on December 10th, get past this guy and then, you know, start getting ready for 2023. But something that I could say is that I should be in the top three by the end of next year and in the beginning of 2024 just get that world title.”

Fourteen fights into his professional career, Zayas is ranked ninth by the WBA and 10th by the WBO in the 154-pound division.

In his last fight, Zayas became the first fighter to knock out Mexican veteran Elias Espadas. Zayas dropped Espadas (22-5, 15 KOs, 1 NC) in the first round and stopped him in the fifth round of a fight ESPN broadcast August 13 as part of the Lopez-Pedro Campa undercard from Resorts World Las Vegas.

“My last fight, I kind of went fire for fire,” Zayas said. “I just wanted to exchange because I felt comfortable in the there. But, you know, after [the fight] we realized I could’ve made my night a lot easier. So, this fight we’ve been working on being more patient, more slick with my defense and being able to throw, defend and counter. I feel like that’s gonna the key in this fight, and obviously with this fighter, being able to cut the ring.”

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