NEW YORK – Xander Zayas methodically continued his rise in the junior middleweight division Saturday night.

The 20-year-old Puerto Rican prospect got off to a fast start against Alexis Salazar, dealt well with Salazar’s movement and jab later in their fight and decisively won an eight-round unanimous decision at Madison Square Garden. Zayas (15-0, 10 KOs) won their fight by wide distances on the scorecards of judges Ken Ezzo (80-72), Don Ackerman (79-73) and Kevin Morgan (79-73).

It looked like Zayas would stop Salazar because of the way his power affected Salazar in the opening round. Salazar settled in, however, showed toughness and made it to the final bell in a fight ESPN aired as part of the Teofimo Lopez-Sandor Martin undercard.

“This fight, I gotta go back and see it, but they told me that I looked good,” Zayas told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna in the ring following his victory. “It was a couple moments that I let down my defense, but I give myself a nice B-plus. … Little by little, we keep improving. But I feel like we can still work a little bit on everything – my distance, my punching count, my defense, everything, my angles. We can improve on everything, I feel.”

The 27-year-old Salazar (24-5, 9 KOs), of Norwalk, California, has lost by knockout only once in 29 professional fights. The Dominican Republic’s Carlos Adames (22-1, 17 KOs), who went on to win the WBC interim middleweight title, dropped and stopped Salazar with one second to go in the third round of their June 2021 bout at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

Zayas seemed determined to get a stoppage early in the eighth and final round, but the stubborn Salazar wouldn’t allow it.

A left hook by Zayas backed Salazar into the ropes with just under 20 seconds remaining in their fight, but Salazar wasn’t badly hurt. Just over 40 seconds into the eighth round, Zayas and Salazar traded hard right hands that got the crowd’s attention.

Zayas seemed to lose some snap on his punches by the seventh round. He still landed the harder shots with more regularity in those three minutes and remained in control.

Salazar stood and traded with Zayas at times in the sixth round. His power wasn’t enough to affect Zayas, but he held his own in those three minutes.

Salazar’s right-left combination landed less than 15 seconds into what was a competitive fifth round.

Zayas drilled Salazar with a right hand, but Salazar came right back with a left hook with about 1:10 on the clock in the fourth round. Zayas’ short left hook caught Salazar 40 seconds into the fourth round.

Zayas landed a low left below Salazar’s belt just before the third round ended, which caused Salazar to say something to him after the bell rang.

Zayas nailed Salazar with a left hook 1:20 into the third round. Salazar indicated by raising his gloves that the shot didn’t hurt him.

After tasting Zayas’ power in the first round, Salazar tried to establish his jab and create some distance during the second round.

Salazar missed wildly with a left hook a little more than two minutes into the second round. Toward the end of the second round, Zayas landed a left hook up top and then a left to Salazar’s body.

A left by Zayas knocked Salazar backward and into a neutral corner with just under a minute to go in the first round. Salazar used the ropes to hold himself up, but Dock didn’t count it as a knockdown.

Zayas connected with a right to the side of Salazar’s head barely a minute into the first round.

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