Fight Of The Year Nominations:
Jose Zepeda KO5 Ivan Baranchyk
Juan Francisco Estrada TKO11 Carlos Cuadras
Roman Gonzalez TKO8 Kal Yafai
Alex Povetkin TKO5 Dillian Whyte
Masayoshi Nakatani TKO9 Felix Verdejo
Winner: Juan Francisco Estrada TKO11 Carlos Cuadras
It may be difficult for those born after say 1980 to believe this, but at one time American movies were about more than comic book superheroes, special effects and how much money is made on opening night. There actually was this thing called “cinema,” and while Hollywood had always churned out plenty of schlock, it also prided itself on offering the movie-going public works of art, films which strived to achieve excellence and stand the test of time, movies that not only entertained, but also moved us and made us think about the world and our place in it.
It’s kind of painful to look back and consider the likely fate of such masterpieces as Casablanca, It Happened One Night, Network, or Lawrence Of Arabia were they released today. Citizen Kane? A guaranteed flop. The Deer Hunter? Box-office bomb. Amadeus? Straight to DVD. Get all that pretentious crap out of the way for the latest Avengers or Star Wars sequel so we can make some real money. And anyone who doesn’t like it is just a snob, some smart-ass highbrow who likes to look down on everyone. No need to pay those killjoys any attention.
Now what does this have to do with selecting 2020’s Fight Of The Year? Well, the comparison might be stretching things a bit, but around here the debate on this question led to some judgmental thinking, a bit of aesthetic snobbery, for lack of a better term. And it basically boils down to this: isn’t there supposed to be more to movies than just carnage and noise and impressive special effects? To wit, isn’t there supposed to be more to great boxing matches than just punches and knockdowns and action?
So let’s state this up front: almost everyone is hailing Jose Zepeda vs Ivan Baranchyk as the number one battle for professional prizefighting in 2020. Which puts a bit of pressure on us to justify making a different choice. Especially when this site eagerly joined the loud chorus that broke out this past October 4th. “It’s a lock,” proclaimed my colleague, Neil Crane, in his report on Zepeda vs Baranchyk, “everyone’s Fight of the Year is this fight …”
And how right he is. Seemingly everyone sees that brutal war, with no fewer than seven knockdowns, plus a one-shot KO finish, as the top duel of 2020. But in the end, we don’t. And at the risk of being dismissed as snobs of “The Sweet Science,” we’ll explain why.
First off, while Estrada vs Cuadras did not feature a plethora of knockdowns, it was, by any measure, an exciting and action-packed battle, with more than its share of drama. As our own Rafael Garcia reported: “From round one Estrada and Cuadras threw themselves at each other with abandon, scoring with punishing combos in pursuit of victory. … By the mid-rounds, [the match] had already become a Fight of the Year contender, with both guys throwing eye-catching combinations, scoring with impressive accuracy to head and body, and showcasing their tremendous chins and conditioning.”
Second, there is the significance of the match to consider. While Zepeda vs Baranchyk represented a bout between two world-rated super lightweights, Juan Francisco Estrada and Carlos Cuadras are battle-tested, elite-level world champions. Further, on the line were not just title belts and Mexican bragging rights, but also a big-money showdown against a fellow rival and latter-day great, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, not to mention questions of history and legacy.
Which leads to a third important factor, that being a noble warrior they call “El Gallo,” a fighter yet to receive his just due beyond hardcore fight fans. If Gonzalez is a true great and the Fighter of the Decade, Estrada is not far behind and his overcoming Cuadras’ heroic effort this past October reinforces this fact and his Hall of Fame credentials. Amazingly, Estrada is not unanimously considered one of the very best in the game, pound-for-pound, but let the evidence show, he should be. His battle against “Chocolatito” in 2012 was highly competitive and his record boasts wins over Brian Viloria, Hernan Marquez, Cuadras and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. And now his eleventh round TKO of the highly capable Cuadras stands as one of his greatest victories.
But lastly, and perhaps most crucially, there is the fact that they just don’t make movies like they used to. Or, to be more accurate, it’s a small contingent of people now who truly appreciate inspired and uncompromising cinema. Or, to be blunt, sometimes we’re boxing snobs. Because while Zepeda vs Baranchyk was a thrilling spectacle, there are reasons why there were so many knockdowns, reasons that have to do with skill and technique, muscle-memory and reflexes, mistakes and miscues. And think about it: if you take away all the knockdowns, is it still your Fight Of The Year?
We may sound like “smart-ass highbrows” or “killjoys,” but that’s not our intention. Yet we would argue that, as bombastic and as exciting as Zepeda vs Baranchyk was, it left us a bit dissatisfied, as all super-hero movies do. It was Avengers or Star Wars Part 18, and it was loud and exciting and impressive in many respects, no doubt. But Estrada vs Cuadras was something more, something that will stand up to repeat viewings, something truly exceptional. Dare we say it, a work of art, a masterpiece. And it will stand the test of time. — Robert Portis