It was the best of boxing, and it was, we feared, the worst of boxing, on Oct. 3, 2020, when Jose Zepeda and Ivan Baranchyk engaged in an epic battle that has to be voted Fight of the Year, no discussion needed.
A right hand blast and left hand finisher dropped and stopped Baranchyk in the fifth, and to be honest, the thrill you felt watching this main event at the MGM Bubble in Las Vegas, and on ESPN+, got stopped in its tracks. That's because Baranchyk lay on his back, dazed, his eyes unfocused, and you had to fear he would not make it out of the ring alive.
A minute passed. Two.
His eyes stayed faraway. Then, something clicked. He perked up, some energy seeped back into his body and brain, and he sat up.
After four plus minutes had elapsed, you could appreciate the back and forth drama which Top Rank put together.
Zepeda spoke to Mark Kriegel after the harrowing and majestic span of violence. “I said, thanks for the fight, it was a great fight,” he said he told Ivan.
Did he realize he was THAT tough? “I didn't know how tough I was, but tonight I showed, I showed myself, too,” he admitted.
The winner said to the journo that he doubts himself heavily before every fight. “I doubt myself too much,” he said, because he didn't have a lengthy amateur base.
There were eight official knockdowns in all, with the first one coming in round one. A right hand put Zepeda on his butt, at the 1:13 mark. Only the second time he'd EVER been down, in a pro fight. Then, a left hand sent the CA boxer Zepeda (33-2 with 26 KOs), the eventual winner, down to the mat, with 13 seconds left in the round. That one was a clubber, maybe with some forearm attached.
The 31 year old Zepeda, who said after he'd like another shit at titlist Jose Ramirez, sent a message he wouldn't be steamrolled, in round two. A right hand made Baranchyk lose footing some, he slid, he may have propped himself with his arms, but he popped up so quick, it wasn't called a knockdown. Next, a left hook, and flurrying, had Baranchyk (20-2 record) off balance, and getting sent to the floor, at the 2:14 mark. THAT one was called a knockdown, and his legs looked iffy. But with his back to the ropes, he fired a right counter, and at 1:50, down went Zepeda. This was the third time the eventual winner hit the canvas. Ref Kenny Bayless did more counting than he ever had and will, right?
On to round three…Zepeda looked like he was in sniper mode more. He moved smarter, his accuracy improved. Left hands, a few of them, sent the 27 year old Baranchyk to the floor, at the 2:00 mark. He'd been down twice officially, three times in total. Note: Zepeda started going to the body, here and there, and his hand speed was standing out. His style started to speak louder.
In round four, Zepeda moved wisely, and Ivan was swinging wide and crazy a bit too often. Zepeda landed his best body shot in this round, then another nasty one. With 20 seconds to go, a sharp left sent Baranchyk backwards, and on his butt. Number three. Tally another knockdown for Zepeda.
To round 5–a right to the body thudded for Zepeda, now the WBC silver junior welter champ.. He looked pretty fresh for having been down so much. Baranchyk still flung hard shots. A right hand sent Zepeda down, into the ropes. That came with 37 seconds left in the session. Four times he went to the floor. But he stood up every time. And this time, he returned fire with extra oomph. A right hook landed totally clean, then left hand, with a bit of a hook on it, after. Baranchyk didn't see it coming, and he went on his back, right leg bent behind him. Bayless saw he was out, didn't bother continuing a count.
Flashbacks occured, to Patrick Day, to Maxim Dadashev, and prayers started, from people who don't that much believe in God. After more than four minutes, Baranchyk's head cleared, and he sat up.
Only then could one again marvel at the display we'd been graced with.
It was the best of boxing, and not the worst, thank God.