NEW YORK – Alexis Salazar hasn’t seen anything from Xander Zayas that leads him to believe the 20-year-old junior middleweight is prepared to deal with his boxing ability.
Puerto Rico’s Zayas is 14-0, including 10 knockouts, and is viewed internally by his promoters at Top Rank Inc. as a potential star. Salazar sees holes in Zayas’ game, though, and predicted to BoxingScene.com during an interview after a press conference Thursday at Madison Square Garden that he’ll make Zayas and his handlers pay Saturday night for what he considers a matchmaking mistake.
“I don’t think he’s ready,” Salazar said. “I’ve seen his fights. He hasn’t had a fight that’s an actual even fight. He gets fights with dudes that are 5-foot-1. I’m like, ‘Where the f*** you get those bitches from?’ I’m a good f***** fighter. I work real hard. This is the first time he’s faced a real fighter.”
For the 27-year-old Salazar, facing Zayas on a high-profile card that ESPN will broadcast from Madison Square Garden is a welcomed chance to completely change the course of his career.
“This is the opportunity of my life,” Salazar said. “I’ve been waiting for this my whole career. You don’t get an opportunity to fight one of Top Rank’s top prospects every day. Ever since I got the call six weeks ago, I took full advantage of the opportunity.”
Salazar (24-4, 9 KOs), of Norwalk, California, has worked with International Boxing Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach for his past three fights. A skillful boxer who relies on his jab and movement, Salazar intends to redeem himself following a third-round, technical-knockout loss to Carlos Adames in June 2021 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
The Mexican-born Salazar won each of the first two rounds on two scorecards against Adames (22-1, 17 KOs), who later became the WBC interim middleweight champion. Then Adames began bending the rules.
Referee Jim Korb deducted two points from Adames for holding and hitting Salazar with just under a minute remaining in the third round of their Showtime Pay-Per-View bout. Korb admonished Adames and threatened to disqualify him.
Barely 40 seconds later, Adames’ lead left hook knocked Salazar to the canvas for the first time in his career. Salazar reached his feet, but he stumbled and Korb stopped their fight with one second remaining in the third round.
“He’s strong, but I was taking care of him,” Salazar said. “I was boxing the f--- out of him, but he got in my head. The dude was pinching me, he was hitting me behind the head. I told the ref, ‘What the f---?’ He took two points away from him. And then I f--- up. I got mad.
“He got in my head, but now I’m more mature. I learned my lesson, which is it’s a fight. I wasn’t expecting it to be like that. I was boxing him, and he didn’t know what to do. He got pissed off and started doing all types of sh!t. It started in the second round, and then again in the third round, and that’s when he caught me.”
Zayas-Salazar with be the second of three undercard bouts ESPN will air prior to the main event, Teofimo Lopez-Sandor Martin. The bout between the Brooklyn-born Lopez (17-1, 13 KOs) and Spain’s Martin (40-2, 13 KOs) – a 10-round, 140-pound WBC elimination match – will headline a four-bout broadcast scheduled to start at 9 p.m. ET.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.