The ever-shifting landscape of boxing has seen plenty of changes in 2021. Kings have gathered new crowns, underdogs have deposed presiding rulers, and rising stars have duked it out to have their name lauded as future royalty. One such prodigy is Top Rank’s Xander Zayas, a 19-year-old Puerto Rican whose emergence this year has led to many touting him as one of the sport’s finest prospects.

“Man, it’s been amazing,” he tells Boxing Social. “It’s been a dream come true. I have accomplished every one of my dreams. The only one missing is ‘Prospect Of The Year’ but with the performance I put on last Saturday (11th December) I think I made the statement clear.”

Zayas rounded off his impressive 2021 with a first round stoppage of Alessio Mastronunzio on the Lomachenko-Commey undercard. This was his sixth fight of the year, a busy schedule that’s left him feeling grateful to his team and more assured in his development as a pro.

“We have great, great, matchmakers. Future ‘Hall Of Famers’ and a ‘Hall Of Famer’ (Bruce Trampler). I’m just blessed. All of the six fights, from the first one in February to the last one in December, all of them have helped me grow and helped me get better.

“The first one against James Martin and the (Joe Luis) Sanchez fight were the ones that helped me a lot since I went the distance, so I had time to sit down and see what to work on. My accuracy, my precision, the distance. We have a great team, they’ve helped me to analyse things. I just feel I’ve continued to get better and sharper. Being more composed (has) helped me a lot.”

A star-studded cast of sparring partners have certainly played their part too, with the likes of George Kambosos Jr, Danny Jacobs, Gervonta Davis, Shawn Porter and Teofimo Lopez all sharing a ring with Zayas to aid in his progression. 2021 has also seen the teenager step up in weight to 154lbs, a move he’s welcomed.

“I’m growing more muscle-wise. I’m sitting down more on my punches so I can actually connect with them a lot more solid. Now I’m growing and I know that whenever I have an opportunity for a world title or a big fight I will be already sitting down really well at the weight so it was a great move at the right time. I just need to stay patient, stay focused and stay dedicated.”

Central to the quality of sparring that’s been brought in has been Zayas’s head trainer, Javiel Centeno. His work in Kambosos Jr’s corner throughout his sensational victory over Teofimo Lopez has garnered huge acclaim, and Zayas is full of praise for the guidance he’s receiving under him. 

“We like to sit down, we like to analyse fights, look at where we need to improve, what we need to keep doing. It’s amazing, the communication we have is just on another level. He’s just like a second dad to me. He understands me, I understand him. We’re just on the same page. 2022 is gonna be a breakout year for Xander Zayas, that’s for sure. We are planning on doing at least 4 fights, if there’s any chance that we can get more, amazing.”

Fighting on the undercards of high-profile prize fights has certainly been an experience to treasure for Zayas, but he’s also used it as an opportunity to gather counsel from champions who’ve already arrived at the destination he’s aiming for.

“Now I have an opportunity to not just see them in person but to talk to them and ask them questions. When I was with Oscar (Valdez) and Shakur (Stevenson) I would ask them, like, how do they manage the pressure that comes with it? How does it feel to be at that top level? What it took to be there. Hearing the different opinions and different points of view allows me to have different options. Now I can see it in different ways. And whatever is more affordable for me, whatever helps me, that’s the way I will go.”

A break in activity over the Christmas holidays now beckons for Zayas and, with it, a chance to return to his beloved Puerto Rico. He sparkles at the mere mention of his homeland, reflecting on the passionate support he’s received thus far. It’s clear that adding to the country’s celebrated legacy in boxing is as much a motivator as the personal accomplishments he dreams of.

“The reaction’s been amazing. The fans, the love, everything. It’s just been great. I’m loving it, I’m enjoying it, but at the same time remembering that I have goals to accomplish. I just want to make my Puerto Rican people happy and proud. Being Puerto Rican means a lot to me. And I know that Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria (a deadly Category 5 hurricane that devastated the northeastern Caribbean in September 2017), hasn’t been the same. So I feel they need that passion again, that next world champion that’s going to bring them a lot of glory. And I’m here to make that happen.”