On March 10, 2018, Puerto Rico native and Florida resident Xander Zayas won a 125-pound national amateur boxing title at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
Now, 3½ years and almost 30 pounds later, Zayas is being fast-tracked by a major promoter toward an eventual professional title.
But, Friday night in Tucson, Albuquerque’s Jose Luis Sanchez will do his best to derail the Zayas hype train.
Sanchez (11-1-1, four KOs) and Zayas (9-0, seven KOs) are scheduled for a six-round junior middleweight (154-pound) bout on a Top Rank, Inc. card to be streamed nationally on ESPN+. Zayas, only 19, is a Top Rank contract fighter and a highly valued prospect.
The bout is a potential foot in the big-time door for Sanchez, who has compiled his enviable record principally on off-TV cards in or within a three-hour drive of his hometown. His most recent bout did take him to Carson, California, where he fought to an eight-round draw against veteran Adrian Granados on May 1.
Sanchez would love to follow the path of his younger brother, Jason, who upset Top Rank contract fighter Jean Carlos Rivera in 2018, earned a Top Rank contract and some eight months later fought for a world title — losing to Tucson’s Oscar Valdez, who’s fighting in Friday’s main event.
The oddsmakers say such an outcome is highly unlikely. Sanchez was a 10-to-1 underdog as of Thursday afternoon.
So impressed was the Top Rank brass with Zayas, whose unconfirmed amateur record was 118-14, that they signed him in 2019 at age 16. He has not disappointed, stopping seven of his first nine opponents and winning every round on all scorecards in the two bouts that went the distance.
Nor is Zayas, at age 19, totally untested. His most recent three victories came against opponents with a combined record of 25-4-1.
None of that is likely to intimidate Sanchez, who at 28 comes to Friday’s fight after a long amateur career and eight years in the pro ranks. His only loss came against fellow Albuquerquean Josh Torres, by seventh-round TKO, in the former’s third pro bout. Torres was 10-2-1 at the time.
Sanchez’s trophy victory came in March 2019 via fifth-round TKO against fellow New Mexican Joe Gomez, then 22-7-1. Sanchez’s gritty performance earlier this year in the draw against Granados, a respected veteran, might well have led to the opportunity against Zayas.
Both fighters weighed in on Friday well under the junior middleweight limit, Sanchez at 151.6 pounds, Zayas at 151.8.
BACK TO THE UAE: Ray Borg’s road to redemption once again will take him to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
As reported by MMA Junkie and confirmed on social media by Borg (14-5), the Albuquerque MMA fighter is scheduled to face Brazil’s Vinicius de Oliveira (16-2) on Oct. 29.
The fight, promoted by UAE Warriors, will offer that organization’s bantamweight (135-pound) title belt, held by de Oliveira by virtue of his win by TKO over Xavier Alaoui in March.
Borg, a former UFC fighter who fought for that organization’s flyweight title in 2017, was cut by the UFC in August 2020 after repeated failures to make weight. He returned to the cage in June, defeating Jesse Arnett by unanimous decision on UAE Warriors 20 in Abu Dhabi.
Boxing: Oscar Valdez vs. Robson Conceicao, Xander Zayas vs. Jose Luis Sanchez, several other bouts. Streaming: ESPN+, 4:10 p.m.