Xander Zayas could not have asked for a more spectacular return to the ring.
Angered by having to miss out on a showcase slot on the eve of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade due to illness, the 19-year-old Boricua prospect was at full strength in a statement-making fifth round knockout of Elias Espadas. Zayas scored two knockdowns on the night, the latter producing an immediate stoppage at 0:23 of round five.
ESPN televised junior middleweight contest Saturday evening from Resorts World Casino in Las Vegas.
Zayas couldn’t have asked for a better start to his first fight since March. Espadas entered the night having never been stopped in 27 prior bouts but saw his chin tested early in the fight. Zayas—a San Juan-born talent who lives in South Florida—was more than willing to trade with Espadas, though in a responsible manner. Proof came midway through the opening round, when Zayas dodged an incoming right to immediately respond with a check left hook to send Espadas to the canvas.
The round was not without its flaws, as Zayas was given a stern warning by referee Russell Mora for frequent low blows. He was also clipped with more right hands than trainer Javiel Centeno preferred to be the case. Espadas—a Merida, Mexico native who also trains in South Florida—continued to bring the heat in round two, the Mexican’s determination leading to a terrific shootout. Zayas showed a stern chin on the occasions he couldn’t avoid right hands upstairs, quickly rebounding to more than double up Espadas in punches thrown and landed.
Zayas made his presence felt throughout round three. A right hand, left hook combo briefly stunned Espadas, the sequence working so well that Zayas immediately repeated with equally successful results. Espadas attempted to fight off the ropes but couldn’t get off a punch as he was immediately clipped by a classic one-two. Zayas rocked Espadas with a left hook in the final 30 seconds of the round.
Another low blow by Zayas drew a final warning from Mora early in round four. Zayas took note, altering his attack to begin with combinations upstairs before working his way to Espadas’ midsection. The prodigious teenager returned to a heavy jab to keep Espadas on the outside, though not shying away from a potent left hook to the body.
It was a shot upstairs that would ultimately close the show.
Zayas flew off his stool to bring the pain, connecting with a clean punch to the chin that sent Espadas sprawling across the ring and eventually on his seat. The 31-year-old Mexican rose to his feet, though only to learn that the referee decided he was done for the night. There remains debate as to whether the fight should have been permitted to continue, though it is ultimately a moot point.
Zayas improves—in every sense of the word—to 14-0 (10KOs) with the win.
Headlining the show, former lineal and unified lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez (16-1, 12KOs) faces Mexico’s Pedro Campa in a scheduled ten-round junior welterweight bout. Lopez fights for the first time since losing his championship to George Kambosos Jr. via split decision last November 27 in New York City, as he now campaigns in the 140-pound division.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox