LISTENING to Xander Zayas you would be forgiven for thinking he had twice the number of pro fights and half the amount of pressure on his shoulders. At 21, his maturity belies his inexperience and his blissful ignorance allows him to disregard what will arrive at his door if, as expected, he lives up to the expectations of those around him, many of whom have been quick to call him the “next Miguel Cotto”.

In fact, with the entire nation of Puerto Rico behind him, plus the industry muscle of Top Rank, it’s fair to say Zayas has everything in place to make a real go of things as a pro. Yet, also, with this power comes a great deal of responsibility, not to mention a spotlight currently shining brighter than most.

“Pressure will always follow you no matter what you do in life,” Zayas said to Boxing News on Thursday (April 18). “In this case, as a young boxer, I feel like I will always have pressure on me. I have a whole country behind me, so there will always be pressure. I just have to stay focused, listen to my team and my family, and enjoy what I do; every interview, every workout, every fight.

“I don’t feel the pressure, to be honest. I feel like I’m moving in the right way and in the right direction. The whole team knows the goal and knows what we want. Little by little we’re getting there. Next I have my first former champion in Patrick Teixeira. I don’t think about being the ‘Next this’ or the ‘Next that’. I just have to be myself. I want to be happy with what I do, have fun with what I do, and make both my family and my team proud. Hopefully I can make everybody who looks up to me and likes me as a professional fighter proud, too.”

His next fight, scheduled for June 8, will indeed be against Teixeira, a former WBO interim champion at super-welterweight who, despite dropping down a level in recent years, has won his last three fights. That in itself represents a big enough challenge for Zayas in pro fight number 19, yet added to this is the fact that the fight against Teixeira will be a 10-round headliner; meaning Zayas is being pushed even further towards the front of the stage.

“In a way it does (feel different than previous fights),” said Zayas, 18-0 (12). “You always dream of your first main event. There are three big important things in your life as a professional boxer: your pro debut; your first main event; and hearing, ‘And the new…’ I feel like those are the moments you will never forget. In another way, though, I just try to stay as focused as possible by viewing it as just another fight. Another win. Another city. Another opponent I have got in front of me. I just have to go out there and put on a show like I always do.”

Zayas dominates Roberto Valenzuela Jr. at American Bank Center on September 15, 2023 in Corpus Christi, Texas (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

So far, and this speaks to the hype surrounding him, Zayas has been faultless as a pro. Winner in all 18 of his pro fights, he has dropped barely a round, much less danced with the prospect of defeat. Matched well from the outset, he has in recent fights beaten Jorge Fortea (KO 5), Roberto Valenzuela Jnr (TKO 5), and Ronald Cruz (UD 8), but knows Teixeira, 34-4 (25), will present him with a different kind of test come June. A sterner one. A serious one.

“For sure this is a step up,” said Zayas. “On paper, he’s a former world champion and has beaten some great people. I remember when he fought Carlos Adames (to win his WBO title in 2019) I was having my second fight as a pro; we fought together at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. We got a picture together and everything.

“I feel like it’s the right move at the right time. It’s my 19th fight and he’s ranked number seven by the WBO. It’s the perfect fight for me.”

As with any young boxer, it is of course entirely possible that Zayas becomes seduced by his own hype and in one way or another takes his eye off the ball or focuses on next year’s plans rather than what is immediately in front of him. Zayas, however, is both aware of this possibility and committed to not falling down the same holes other highly touted prospects never saw coming. Which is perhaps why he remains so level-headed and why he respects his opponents enough to take an interest in them and what they can do; both in general terms and to him.

“I do study sometimes, but I also let my coach and my dad kind of break down the game plan,” he explained. “But if I’m bored at home, I will think, Okay, let me go and look at some videos of Patrick and see what I can find. Then I will speak to my coach about it. Overall, though, my coach and my dad are usually the ones writing the game plan and working out what we need to do for each opponent.”

As for what Zayas has found during his studying, there is, as always, as much to be confident about as there is to fear.

“Man, he throws a lot (of punches),” he said of Teixeira. “He throws a lot of combinations and looping shots. He’s very long with his arms and he’s a tall fighter, obviously. The only other thing I’m worried about is facing a lefty. I don’t want no head clash or any scars on my face. But I guess I’m in the wrong sport if I’m worried about that.

“In the end, though, I’ll have quicker hands, better power, more aggression, and the better IQ. I feel like my time starts now, on June 8, and I will show that.

“A perfect fight for me, I don’t see it going past six. If it’s not a perfect fight, I’ll get a unanimous decision win.”

Perfection is, for a boxer, forever the goal when they prepare for a fight, particularly at this level. Yet, in the case of Xander Zayas, an appreciation of the difficulty achieving perfection reflects well, again, on both his maturity and all-round understanding. In other words, while he no doubt seeks perfection, he is also intelligent enough to recognise that the most important thing at this stage, and indeed at every stage of a boxer’s career, is simply winning.