Saturday, April 01, 2023  |



No one bullies Top Rank’s hot prospect Xander Zayas anymore

Fighters Network

Xander Zayas doesn’t remember his name. He just recalls looking up, and up, and up, because the kid was about four inches taller than him and around 25 pounds heavier. Zayas was kind of small for his age growing up, so the bully that taunted him every day looked gigantic. And sometimes when words weren’t tormenting enough, a push or a punch would come tiny Xander’s way.

Almost every day, Zayas came home wearing a new bruise on his body or tear streaks down his face.

Yaitza Castro, Xander’s mother, had enough. Her son was not going to walk around afraid on the streets on San Juan, Puerto Rico, without being able to fight back.

“That’s where it all started,” Xander recalled. “The kid used to beat me up every day, and I went to the gym and learned a few things, I hit back. I was five. I saw then that I could defend myself and I wasn’t scared anymore.”

That small interlude launched what could be the start of boxing’s next superstar.

Xander Zayas certainly has all of the prerequisites: He’s a sharp-looking 17-year-old, 5-foot-10 welterweight who will be making his pro debut this Saturday in Reno, Nevada, against Genesis Wynn (1-0) in a four-round welterweight contest on the undercard of the Shakur Stevenson-Joet Gonzalez main event for the vacant WBO featherweight title from the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.

Zayas made Top Rank history being the youngest fighter ever signed by Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum.

Zayas, who turned 17 September 5, says he remembers the time he was bullied.

“That’s actually one of my goals to know anyone that gets bullied, you’re able to come out of it stronger and that you’re able to come out of it,” said Zayas, who’s currently being home schooled though is a senior at Plantation High School, in Plantation, Florida, which is part of the Broward County. “Funny thing is the kid that used to bully me never bothered me again.”

Zayas, who’s fluent in Spanish and English, knows Wynn is a former mixed-martial artist, but he doesn’t possess the skills or quickness “The Defender” has.

“I’ve put the work in and I’m ready,” Xander said. “I’m okay with everything right now. I’m calm, I feel good and in shape. I’ll be a little nervous come fight night. I always am. On Saturday, I’m going to do my job and get the win.

“I’m not going to change anything before the fight. I’ll prayer and just breath. Right now, I feel anxious more than nervous. I do know I will have nerves and after the bell rings, I’ll be okay and I’ll be able to go out and have fun.”

Peter Kahn, Zayas’ manager, began noticing him when he was around 13, rising through the amateurs.

“I worked for Don King for a decade and just being around Felix Trinidad, Xander physically reminds me of Tito, in my opinion,” Kahn said. “Miguel Cotto is Xander’s idol, but his style of fighting is more like Trinidad. He had those early Puerto Rican influences.

“He had been involved in boxing since he was five in Puerto Rico. Xander is a brilliant young man. He came to the United States when he was 12, and he didn’t understand one word of English. He’s really mastered it, and that speaks of how intelligent he is. He’s going back to (Plantation) in January and finish with his diploma.”

Because of his age, Zayas is only allowed to fight in Texas and Nevada—right now. The doors, however, to other states permitting him to fight should follow.

In the time being, Kahn and Top Rank are going to be patient and move him along slowly. Team Zayas is also going to watch how he grows. His mother, Yaitza, is 6-feet tall. His father is 5-11 and grandfather is 6-4.

“If we can get four fights in the Xander’s first 12 months, that would be a success,” Kahn said. “The key is keeping him active. We’re not fast-tracking him to a world title. He may very well have 30 fights by the time he’s ready for that, which I’ll leave in the very capable hands of Bruce Trampler, Brad Goodman and Carl Moretti.”

When Arum signed him in December 2018, he looked up from his desk, saw Xander’s mother and proclaimed in his signature, gravelly voice, “By the time, you’re done you’re going to be a heavyweight!”

Zayas could be—though not in weight as much as stature.



Latest Issue Cover