Junior middleweight Xander Zayas has arrived at an interesting but not-uncommon inflection point in his boxing career.

With a record of 18-0 (12 KOs) and set to headline his first show in Saturday’s 10-rounder against former titleholder Patrick Teixeira, Puerto Rico’s Zayas can no longer be called a prospect. Yet at age 21, and without a win over so much as even a second-tier opponent, he can’t yet be branded a contender.

The semantics hardly matter, really. But for a young fighter who has enjoyed mostly success in the ring and praise outside of it, a thousand influences – everything from adversity to affluence – threaten to break the focus or spoil the discipline needed to take the next steps. In Zayas’ case, the path will take him through the doors of the Mecca of Boxing, with his name on the marquee above, on the occasion of Puerto Rican Day Parade weekend.

That’s a lot to take in for a kid who isn’t yet old enough to rent a car.

Watching from afar has been Puerto Rican legend, former two-division champion and 2024 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Ivan Calderon. He knows the story of Zayas, who was born in San Juan, began boxing at age 6 and whose parents moved him from Puerto Rico to the United States when he was 11 years old to seek better opportunities and more stability.

Although Calderon was a late starter whose home has always been on the island, as a Puerto Rican from the San Juan area who – not for nothing – was involved in a couple of big fights at MSG himself, he can relate to Zayas more than most. Calderon told BoxingScene that he recently spoke to Zayas about the road ahead and had the following advice to offer:

“You’re doing a good job,” said Calderon, who retired from boxing in 2012. “It's not time for world champion. It’s time for world challenger, because you’re still growing. You’re getting to it. But right now, you’re still a kid. At your weight – 154 – it’s gonna be hard, because you’re going to have big guys, experienced guys. Right now, the champions, to me, they're hard fighters for [him] right now.”

The current junior middleweight belt holders – Sebastian Fundora (26), Israil Madrimov (29) and Bakhram Murtazaliev (31) are all at least five years older than Zayas, each with experience facing hardened, grown men in the ring. Zayas may yet grow into a fighter – and a star – who surpasses the lot of them, and Calderon recognizes it. But as he knows, the only thing harder than reaching the top of the mountain is staying there.

“He talks really good, he could be a money boy,” Calderon says of Zayas’ crossover potential. “And he is real disciplined in this job. So I just want to see, when he gets to that top level and becomes a world champion, is he still going to be the same guy that I’m seeing right now? OK?”

Calderon doesn’t mention names, but in just the last few months boxing fans have seen some high-profile fighter unravelings (Ryan Garcia) and cautionary tales (Adrien Broner) on display. A humble soul who had to champion the smaller weight classes during his career, Calderon hopes to see Zayas keep walking a straight line and grow into an example of boxing’s best.

“I don't want to see him become a world champion, be a guy with good money, be changing,” Calderon said, “where he doesn’t look at the [best opponents] or don’t give nobody interviews.”