There was a point where Xander Zayas thought he could win his first major title as a welterweight.
That dream shifted in a hurry as the growing teenager and his team realized such an opportunity wasn’t going to come in the short time he could comfortably hit the mark. Shortly after his win over Larry Fryers last June in Las Vegas, the decision came to move up to junior middleweight where Zayas will compete for the fifth straight time—and far more than that beyond Saturday as he finally feels at home.
“It’s a lot different. I can eat more, I can drink more,” Zayas told BoxingScene.com. “Last year, after that fight in Vegas on the Shakur [Stevenson] card, we talked about moving up. It’s not that I can’t make it, but my team already pointed out that I wouldn’t be able to fight for a world title at welterweight.
“So, let’s move up. Perfecting Athletes knows what they’re doing. I trust them with my eyes closed. I’m able to eat a lot more, which is good because I love food. I’m here to stay for a while. I feel like I can make the weight easy. My body is feeling good thanks to Perfecting Athletes. They do an amazing job. 154 should be the first weight class I win a world title at.”
For now, the unbeaten Zayas (13-0, 9KOs) challenges for his first regional title. It comes against Elias Espadas (22-4, 15KOs), a rugged slugger from Merida, Mexico who has never been stopped and who has spent his entire career fighting between 154-160 pounds. The bout serves as the ESPN-televised co-feature this Saturday from Resorts Hotel Las Vegas.
Zayas—who turns just 20 in September—fought his first eight-round bout in March, going the distance in a shutout victory over Quincy LaVallais at Madison Square Garden Hulu Theater in New York City. The fight saw the maturation of the Puerto Rican boxer—who relocated to South Florida from San Juan with his family as a pre-teen—who overcame a crafty and at times negative style to shine when his opponent wasn’t necessarily there to win.
A more fan-friendly fight is expected to come this weekend. More important to Zayas is delivering the type of performance to suggest he’s ready for the upper echelon of competition in one of the sport’s most stacked divisions.
“Junior middleweight is probably the most difficult in boxing,” noted Zayas. “We have one champion right now [Jermell Charlo] but we have a lot of great contenders all the way in the top 15. I’m looking forward to start facing some of those guys.
“After this fight, I see myself joining that top 15. From there, it’s just about being patient. We’ll see what Top Rank gives me and go from there. I feel like next year I can take over the division.”
Headlining the show, former lineal and unified lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez (16-1, 12KOs) enters the junior welterweight division where he meets Mexico’s Pedro Campa (34-1-1, 23KOs) in a scheduled ten-round contest.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox