SAN DIEGO, Calif., October 21, 2019 – Xander Zayas’ mother Yaitza took matters into her own hands when she found out her five-year-old son was being bullied. She took him to a boxing gym in their native San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Imagine the look on the bully’s face on October 26. Twelve years later, the 17-year-old and youngest boxer to ever sign with Top Rank Boxing since its founding in 1973 will make his professional debut on the undercard of the Shakur Stevenson vs. Joet Gonzalez card in Reno, Nevada.
“Just as any parent, she didn’t like that,” recalls Zayas. “I won fight after fight, and tournament after tournament.” By the time Zayas won his third national amateur title in a row by age 10 in his native Puerto Rico, he said to himself, “You know, I got the skills, I’ve got what it takes. I just have to continue working hard, being grateful, and being disciplined. That’s what we did and what we continue doing.”
Pro debut for Puerto Rican born prospect Zayas in Reno
Zayas moved to Plantation, Florida at age 11. He elected to turn pro because he would be too young to compete in the 2020 Olympic Games. He is preparing for his pro debut with trainer Javiel Centeno in Davie, Florida, along with his trainer/father, Orlando Garcia.
A six-foot-tall welterweight, Zayas says he can once again thank his mother, who is also tall, and who instilled his discipline. “My mom is a very hard working woman, she always pushed to the limits. She shows me hard work pays off. To make something happen, you need hard work and discipline. You’ve got to want it, to work,” said Zayas.
The word universally used describing Zayas is mature. “Xander Zayas is a tremendous young fighter who is mature beyond his years,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “He has everything it takes to one day become an international boxing superstar.” Manager Peter Zahn agrees. “Xander is a special fighter. He is wise beyond his years.”
Zayas lights up with enthusiasm about his upcoming pro debut. “I’ve been waiting since I started. Me and my team are really excited. We’re going to go put on a show for everyone watching and in the venue. Go have fun, be smart, do what we do and get the win,” promised Zayas.
Zayas makes debut in Reno on Stevenson vs Gonzalez card
Zayas’ family is understandably excited too about his debut. “Very happy, motivated, they just want to see my fight and put on a show,” said Zayas, although his mother worries.
“It’s a mom thing, I believe,” laughed Zayas. “She’s really happy overall with the progress and what’s coming my way. She has to be worried, I guess because I’m her baby.”
Zayas’ opponent will be Genesis Wynn, a 31-year-old former martial arts fighter based in Denver who just won his pro debut in September. “He’s strong. I’m just going to go out there and do my job. At the same time, he’s 31. We’ll go out there and do my job and expect the best from me.”
See training video of Xander Zayas in action with Javiel Centeno below.
Hitting pads with my coach JC. working on range and just having a little fun as we close out the week this friday morning in South Florida at Centeno's Sweatbox Boxing Gym @sweatboxboxing. Pro debut scheduled for October 26th in Reno, NV. @trboxing @GrantWorldwide pic.twitter.com/rjVOb4rxsc
— Xander Zayas (@XanderZayas) September 20, 2019
Zayas’ approach to boxing: play it smart
Zayas says his approach to boxing is simple. “Hit, and don’t get hit. I think my footwork is a great part of my name. My range is another great part of my work. My whole game plan is being smart in the ring,” explains Zayas.
Zayas names Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez, Manny Pacquiao, and Tito Trinidad as boxing role models for who they are, not only their accomplishments.
“Just to be a gentleman inside and outside the ring. It’s what makes a superstar, being known around the world, and not only in their country. It’s what made their legacy even better. It’s about not being disrespectful to anybody – having respect for every opponent you face. It speaks for itself,” said Zayas.
“I always look at – smart, inside and outside the ring. Boxers that help their community, give back to the community, who become superstars because of their humbleness. In the ring they’re so smart, so — elegant. They look well rounded in and outside the ring. I look up to them because of that.”
Zayas is already following in their footsteps through his volunteer efforts.
“When I was in school (he is now home schooled), I used to be in an organization called ‘Latinos in Action.’ We would help kids read, be better at reading, writing, adding, subtracting.
“(Now) I go to the gym and help my coach with the amateur kids and help them with their skills. Today, after the interview, I’m heading to the gym to help the guys,” said Zayas.
“I love working with kids. I have the patience, I have what it takes to work with the kids. I love helping them out. For one, I was a kid and liked having someone help me out. I like to work with them and keep a smile on their faces,” said Zayas.
Learning the ropes from Top Rank champions
Zayas soaks up advice like a sponge from the champions and would-be champions he trains with, including Stevenson, Mikaela Mayer, Jamel Herring, and George Kambosos Jr., and another tall fighter for his division, super lightweight Amir Iman. He also learns from another rising star at Top Rank, Teofimo Lopez.
“When I first moved down here (to Miami), I used to be at the same gym. Teofimo, he always talks to me, tells me to stay humble, keep the hard work, just be myself each and every time I work.
“I sparred him once when I was little. I see the work ethic he puts in and the work ethic of the people around me: Amir, Ryan Martin, a lot of other top boxers. I have seen all the hard work and the work ethic they put in. It motivates me to be a better boxer.”
Zayas intends to move up through divisions as he grows, winning titles as he goes. “That’s one of the goals.”
While Zayas is all about the work, he likes his downtime too, spending time with his family including younger sister Ariana, age 15. He’ll take in some Netflix, but first on his list is the beach. “I’m always out, it’s the relaxing spot for me.” If boxing hadn’t worked out for him, Zayas said he might have played basketball. Zayas considered a career in law enforcement, but he’ll have to lay down the law in the ring for now.
“I like to work hard, I like to stay positive with my mindset. That’s really it.”
All fights are lost or won in the mind. Blessed with his mature mindset, Xander Zayas is already a winner. Beginning October 26, it’s a matter of getting it on the record.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting from or linking to this story.
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