SAN DIEGO, Calif., January 10, 2020 – Ten days into the year, boxing media and fans are gleeful over the potential for 2020 to be one of the sport’s most exciting years. Long-awaited matchups, showdowns, unification fights, and big signings are in play.
The year should also provide a platform for a wealth of talented prospects to test themselves and work their way into the spotlight. The prospect watch party gets underway this weekend in Atlantic City.
The youngest among them kicks off the calendar. Xander Zayas (2-0, 2 KOs) will enter the ring for his third professional fight on Saturday, January 11 from Hard Rock Live at the Etess Arena in Atlantic City on the undercard of the Jesse Hart vs. Joe Smith Jr. card. His opponent is Corey Champion (1-1, 1 KO), age 21, of Virginia. The undercard airs on ESPN+ starting at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT. The main event portion airs on ESPN starting at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.
Zayas is the youngest prospect to ever sign with Top Rank after learning he would be too young to compete on the 2020 U.S. Olympic boxing team this summer in Tokyo. So far, it seems to be the right decision. He hasn’t made it out of the first round before scoring two impressive knockouts. Training with Javiel Centeno in Davie, Florida alongside other ambitious talents, he’s ended up on a team after all.
“It’s been great,” said Zayas in an interview earlier this week. “I have great guys like (George) Kambosas, Amir (Iman), (veteran David) Estrada, guys that give me great quality rounds. I get a lot of experience and a lot of fun. I learn a lot every time I step into a ring with them. It helps me a lot, it pushes me to work as hard as them, to give me a push and extra gas in my tank. Zayas says support is also there when it’s needed.
“Sometimes you’re not having a good day. But once your brothers talk to you and motivate you, you feel better. There have been those days, not just for me, but for everybody. We motivate each other every day,” said Zayas.
Zayas’ 2020 goals: making the adjustments
Zayas says his goals for his second year are to keep working hard, stay humble, and improve as much as he can, “learning from every fight coming my way in 2020, making the adjustments to be better.”
Until he turns 18 in September, Zayas is only permitted in the U.S. to fight in three states including New Jersey. “I’ve just got to continue working hard, listening to my team, keep doing what I’m doing. I believe I can get there, yes. I’m going in to do my job. Whatever it takes to get the victory. It doesn’t matter what round it ends.” Zayas says he’s making the 147-pound welterweight limit with ease on his 5-foot-10 frame.
Zayas is a cheerful, talkative personality, but says he has the same ability to call upon a mean streak like his ultimate role model, top pound for pound champion Terence Crawford.
“Once I step into a ring, I think there is no game. I go in there focused and ready to put on a show and ready to fight. There’s no friend inside the ring. It’s just you, yourself, it’s your job and what you have to do. I have that same mean mentality (as Crawford),” promises Zayas. Fans will have a chance to see it on Saturday; Zayas says he hopes to fight as often as he can over the next year.
Top prospects with 10 fights or less to watch in 2020:
Austin “Ammo” Williams (4-0, 3 KOs) of Houston, Texas is a heavy-handed middleweight who shows tremendous poise and promise at age 23. He’s already a veteran of an international fight at the O2 Arena in London last October on the Taylor vs. Prograis undercard. Signed with Matchroom Boxing, Williams continues to impress with his fundamentals as well as his power punching.
Also out of Texas, 18-year-old light heavyweight Tristan Kalkrueth (3-0, 2 KOs) was a talented amateur before signing with Golden Boy in 2019. Still just a junior in high school, he has 100 amateur fights and two national championships to his credit. The 6-foot-4 Texan is now training with Ronnie Shields, and will start 2020 on the Jaime Munguia vs. Gary O’Sullivan undercard in San Antonio on Saturday. Coverage begins on DAZN at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT.
Vito Mielnicki Jr. (3-0, 3 KOs) of New Jersey is another ambitious high school student. The 17-year-old senior scored his third win on the Wilder vs. Ortiz II undercard. What a way to spend your Thanksgiving break from high school. The talented, tall welterweight with a hard right hand fights on the undercard of the Julian Williams vs. Jelson Rosales card in Philadelphia on Saturday, January 18 airing on the Fox Network and Fox Deportes.
On the same card is middleweight Joey Spencer (9-0, 7 KOs), a Michigan native now based in California with a lot of fans who like his aggressive style. It marks his tenth pro fight in just under two years.
Super middleweight Lorenzo “Truck” Simpson (6-0. 4 KOs) has trained in Calvin Ford’s gym in his native Baltimore since he was seven years old. Now 20, he looks up to another young star who says Simpson inspires him, Gervonta “Tank” Davis. Simpson also counts Shakur Stevenson as a friend, and looks up to mentors like Andre Ward and Floyd Mayweather. Raised by a single mom after his father was murdered, it’s easy to see how the powerful southpaw got his nickname, running over his opponents. He is a 12-time national amateur champion with a killer’s confidence and a heart for the community. His engaging social media presence is a plus. The 20-year-old vows he will challenge for a world title inside another year.
“The Dream” Israil Madrimov (4-0, 4 KOs) of Uzbekistan has a solid amateur background behind him. Now training with Joel Diaz in Indio, California, the 24-year-old is already poised for serious title contention, the super welterweight is a formidable opponent for anyone, even the top ten of the division.
Croatian heavyweight Filip Hrgovic (10-0, 8 KOs) barely squeaks onto our list, and we’re glad he did. The 2016 Olympic bronze medalist lost a close decision to Tony Yoka of France. Nothing like the power of revenge to fuel your ambitions. Hrgovic is already fighting 12 rounds bouts, but he hasn’t needed anywhere near that long to dispatch his opponents, most recently a third-round wipeout of veteran Eric Molina. With the heavyweight division hotter than ever, the 27-year-old’s timing could not be better to grab a share of the spotlight.
It will be a lot of fun for fans to watch the progress of Evan “Yung Holy” Holyfield (2-0, 2 KOs), son of one of boxing’s all-time greats, Evander Holyfield. The 6-foot 3, 22-year-old super welterweight has the look of his dad. Does he have some of the skills? He’s in good hands with trainer “Termite” Watkins in Houston, and Holyfield appears to have the work ethic it takes to develop the talent befitting his name.
We also need to hold a spot for stars emerging from the 2020 U.S. Olympic Boxing team hoping to launch their professional careers by bringing home medals with their efforts in Tokyo. Twenty-seven men and women will fight later in January to become one of the 13 team members. Keep an eye on lightweight Keyshawn Davis, light heavyweight Rahim Gonzalez, and on the women’s side, flyweight Ginny Fuchs, lightweight Rashida Ellis, and welterweight Oshae jones.
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