Xander Zayas will never forget the first time he was able to fight in his adopted home state of Florida.
Nor will the 18-year-old ever let go of the feeling he enjoyed doing so with fans permitted in attendance this time around.
The rising welterweight prospect from Plantation, Florida by way of San Juan fought for the third time in Florida, all three occasions taking place in Kissimmee. The latest came in a 1st round knockout of Little Rock’s Demarcus Layton (8-2-1, 5KOs), which occurred Saturday evening in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 3,262 at Silver Spurs Arena. The bout was one of eight featuring at least one Puerto Rican fighter, including the main event which saw Barranquitas’ Christopher ‘Pitufo’ Diaz (26-3, 16KOs) suffer a 12th round knockout to Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete (34-1, 29KOs) who defended his WBO featherweight title.
“It meant a lot [to be part of the card],” Zayas told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna after his latest win. “Two years ago I was watching them on TV. Being here in the locker room is amazing. It feels like the hard work is paying off.
“I’m excited to see what the future holds for us.
Zayas (8-0, 6KOs) can only hope it means more local fights as he continues to improve as a blue-chip prospect in a red-hot welterweight division.
He debuted in-state last September, fighting on this very Osceola Heritage Park property in the smaller events center room as part of a Boxeo Telemundo show. The event took place on the eve of Zayas’ 18th birthday, though also without fans in attendance due to heightened social distancing and health measures. He was brought back to the same crowdless location six weeks later, with Saturday’s result giving him a hat trick of 1st round knockouts in this part of town.
The win was Zayas’ second of 2021, having outpointed Philadelphia’s James Martin this past February at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas—again, another fight without fans in attendance.
“This was crazy for me,” admits Zayas. “The last time I fought with fans was [last February] in Puerto Rico.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox