Saturday’s fight card at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden could provide a glimpse of future world champions (ESPN/ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET, with prelims on ESPN+ at 7:10 p.m. ET).
The Top Rank card inside one of boxing’s most historic venues features two of the promotional company’s most interesting prospects — super middleweight Edgar Berlanga and junior middleweight Xander Zayas.
The two undefeated prospects are looking to continue their ascent in the sport on a busy weekend in boxing. Junior welterweight Keyshawn Davis, a 2020 Olympic silver medalist, was scheduled to face Esteban Sanchez on this New York card, but was forced to withdraw because of an illness.
Here’s a look at all three intriguing prospects ahead of this weekend’s fights.
Edgar Berlanga has his first-round knockout streak snapped, but gets a huge knockdown of Demond Nicholson late in the final round to secure the victory.
The background: Berlanga, 24, who hails from Brooklyn, New York, had a good amateur background. He was the runner-up at the 2013 USA Boxing Junior Olympic National Championships and turned pro at the age of 18.
That’s when his KO streak started. Berlanga began his professional career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts, which was marketed heavily when he signed with Top Rank in 2019. That helped him gain significant exposure and earned him a sizable following. That streak was finally snapped in April 2021, when he went all eight rounds against Demond Nicholson.
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7:10 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN+: Edgar Berlanga vs. Steve Rolls undercard fights
10 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN+: Edgar Berlanga vs. Steve Rolls, 12 rounds
The skill set: Berlanga’s strength has been evident throughout the beginning of his career. He carries good power in both hands, especially when throwing a lead left hook or a straight right hand. He lands 42.8% of his power punches, according to ESPN Stats & Information, which is 8% higher than the division average.
However, Berlanga showed some susceptibility in his last fight against Marcelo Coceres. Coceres knocked Berlanga down for the first time in his pro career. According to CompuBox, 70 of Coceres’ 101 total punches were power shots.
The outlook: Berlanga (18-0, 16 KOs) is inching closer towards becoming a true contender in the super middleweight division. His next opponent, Steve Rolls, is his toughest one to date. Rolls’ only professional loss is against Gennadiy Golovkin, the former middleweight champion.
What they’re saying: “I’ve been in camp with a lot of guys at the world championship level. Unfortunately, a lot of them may sometimes cut corners. I cannot say that about Edgar at all. He’s one of those workhorses in the gym. He does not cut corners. He’s like 100% business. I just respect that so much about him.” — Middleweight Nico Ali-Walsh, who sparred with Berlanga to prepare for this fight.
Xander Zayas, right, is going for his 13th consecutive victory on Saturday. Sarah Stier/Getty Images
The background: Zayas, 19, of Puerto Rico, started boxing when he was 5 years old and moved to Florida when he was 11. He is a two-time USA Boxing National Champion and if he met the age requirement at the time, Zayas was a lock to represent the United States at the 2020 Olympics. Instead, Zayas made history when he signed with Top Rank as a 16-year-old, the youngest fighter to ever sign a contract with the promotional company.
Zayas (12-0, 9 KOs) didn’t let restrictions from COVID-19 prevent him from progressing in his career. The junior middleweight has already fought 12 times, with eight of those bouts coming since the start of the pandemic.
The skill set: Zayas has been particularly aggressive compared to other junior middleweights. He throws 73.6 punches per round, according to CompuBox, a staggering 17 more than the division average. Those aren’t all soft shots, either. He’s connecting on 43% of his power punches, which is stellar.
But his mindset is just as impressive. Veteran trainer Luis Espada, who is the cornerman for other Puerto Rican fighters such as junior flyweight champion Jonathan “Bomba” Gonzalez and junior lightweight contender Jose Pedraza, said Zayas’ maturity is one of the reasons he will become a world champion soon.
The outlook: Zayas is still very early in his career. His upcoming fight against Quincy LaVallais is the first scheduled eight-round bout. Of course, that doesn’t mean things will go the distance. Four of Zayas’ past five bouts have ended before the fifth round via stoppage. It’s going to be a while before Zayas is considered a title contender. But so far, he has sustained the hype that followed him from the amateurs into the pros. ESPN named him the 2021 prospect of the year.
What they’re saying: “He has something that cannot be taught or trained. He has that killer instinct like [Wilfredo] Gomez did, like Tito [Felix Trinidad] did, like [Edwin] Rosario did. That when they get you hurt, they know what to do and to finish the fight.” — Luis Espada, trainer for 25 years, via a translator.
Keyshawn Davis, left, was forced to withdraw from his fight on Saturday with an illness, but is scheduled to return on April 30. Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images
The background: Davis, 23, might be the most intriguing prospect in Top Rank’s stable. After returning from the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Davis was a coveted free agent. He turned pro at the beginning of 2021 and he had already dazzled on the undercard of a Canelo Alvarez’s fight at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Davis (4-0, 3 KOs), and his brother, Kelvin, both signed promotional deals with Top Rank. In his first fight on his debut contract, Keyshawn easily thumped Jose Zaragoza and earned a second-round TKO win on the Vasiliy Lomachenko-Richard Commey undercard in December 2021.
The skill set: It’s easy to see why Davis was a successful amateur and Olympian. He has solid speed, good reflexes and excellent fundamentals. Last April against Richman Ashelley, Davis flashed the left hook to the body that ended up stopping Zaragoza later in the year.
The outlook: Davis was forced to withdraw from a scheduled bout against Esteban Sanchez because of a virus unrelated to COVID-19, Top Rank announced. But it’s a minor speed bump for a fighter who is looking to accelerate his career. The Davis-Sanchez bout was rescheduled for April 30 on the undercard of the Shakur Stevenson-Oscar Valdez junior lightweight title fight in Las Vegas.
What they’re saying: “Signing Key is like signing the No. 1 recruit for a D-1 school — you know one day he’ll be playing on Sundays. Keyshawn will be a generational talent and be a face of boxing in years to come.” — Carl Moretti, vice president of Top Rank’s boxing operations.