Another Saturday night, another quality Top Rank card, but nothing to get too excited about, right? Because let’s face it, the full line up was really just a prospects show with five of the eight matches featuring boxers with fewer than five pro bouts, and while the 140 pound main event of Jose Zepeda (33-2) vs Ivan Baranchyk (20-2) definitely constituted quality and potential high-octane action, there was no reason to expect anything extraordinary.
These were two ranked contenders, both deservedly in the top ten of the super lightweight division, and yeah, there was a belt at stake, but so what? Title belts are now so ubiquitous as to be meaningless. Bottom line: Zepeda vs Baranchyk, while worth watching to be sure, didn’t exactly qualify as “must-see” TV. This was a solid match-up, nothing more, not a fight that people were going to be changing their plans for, assuming they had any in our current pandemic situation.
So imagine everyone’s delight when Zepeda vs Baranchyk proved to be something very special indeed. In fact, it is now the obvious Fight of the Year for this crazy time called 2020. Barring something extraordinary occurring between now and January 1st, it’s a lock: everyone’s Fight of the Year is this fight, an absolute scorcher from the opening bell until its very violent end some twenty minutes later. Both warriors came to rumble and fight fans got one of those rare donnybrooks that can stand comparison to such classics of toe-to-toe mayhem as Zale vs Graziano, Corrales vs Castillo or Gatti vs Ward. What sets this particular slugfest apart is the volume of knockdowns involved as someone was sent to the floor in every round. Think Foreman vs Lyle, but with even more butts hitting the canvas.
The festival of non-stop carnage got underway in earnest just seconds after the first bell as Baranchyk rushed out from his corner as if Zepeda had said something nasty about his mother and started rifling big left hooks but it was a right hand that didn’t even appear to hit flush that folded Zepeda’s knees two minutes into the fight. And with seconds left in the round Baranchyk, utilizing his apparent edge in brute strength and power, put Zepeda down again, though it was hardly a clean knockdown as the Belarussian missed with his follow up left hook but the weight of his arm sent his off balance opponent to the floor. In both cases, Zepeda did not appear badly hurt, but after just one round of action he was behind by three points.
Baranchyk’s non-stop, if not reckless, aggression continued in the second but it got him into trouble as southpaw Zepeda caught him coming in with a short left hand to score his first knockdown less than a minute into the round. And in this case Baranchyk was in fact hurt and he was hurt even more when Zepeda came after him to land a pair of clean left hands, but it was the Californian who found himself on the floor again courtesy of a hard right from a still somewhat dazed Baranchyk. Zepeda rose and he wisely fought with more attention to defense after his third trip to the floor, though the furious pace did not relent. But by round’s end Baranchyk had fully regained both his senses and his legs and he was once again throwing heavy shots with very bad intentions.
It was “The Beast,” who sported a cut over his left eye, attacking relentlessly in round three and once again his recklessness led to his eating a number of clean left hands and once again tumbling to the floor. He beat the count and the two warriors went back to it, Baranchyk continuing to come forward with Zepeda waiting for his opportunities, though the rough action featured plenty of clinches now with some head butts added to the mix.
Round four saw Baranchyk calling the tune as he just kept coming forward and letting his hands go, his uninhibited aggression threatening to become the determining factor in the contest. Zepeda had no choice but to stand his ground and go into the trenches with him and that’s what he did as both warriors threw and caught heavy leather, trading punishment, until once again Baranchyk stormed straight in, wide open and a right hook and a follow up left put “The Beast” down hard. Once more Baranchyk beat the count and was soon after saved by the bell. This will be a solid candidate for 2020’s Round of the Year, no doubt.
The basic pattern of the battle did not change in the fifth though now Zepeda appeared to be having more success timing his opponent and finding the openings for his left hand, but Baranchyk paid no mind and just kept coming forward and winging big shots, his fearlessness paying dividends when a right hand sent Zepeda into the turnbuckle, the tumble correctly ruled a knockdown.
Zepeda took the count and then came the brutal finish. As the contest resumed, Baranchyk threw a jab, his right hand cocked behind it, but Zepeda, whose timing had been getting better and better, used the lead as a cue and beat Baranchyk to the punch with a vicious left hand that was aimed perfectly. It landed flush on the jaw and knocked “The Beast” out cold. Baranchyk crumpled awkwardly, his right leg folding underneath him as his head hit the floor, the referee not bothering to count but instead immediately summoning the ringside physician.
So seven knockdowns, plus the clean knockout finish, and tons of heavy shots given and taken in the midst of all that. Bottom line: this was a war, one that will forever be a high point in the careers of both men as they demonstrated a ton of courage, fortitude and heart to give boxing in 2020 a truly classic slugfest. There were some tense minutes as the unconscious Belarussian was attended to but he appeared to be okay as he eventually was loaded into an ambulance and taken to a local hospital as a precaution. No doubt a long rest is in order for that brave, young man.
For Zepeda, this is a highly significant win, one that should enhance his standing and his drawing power and should earn him a rematch with Jose Carlos Ramirez. We’ll be looking forward to that match-up should it happen, but we know there’s zero chance of it matching what we saw last night for thrills, spills and carnage. Write it down because it’s a lock: Zepeda vs Baranchyk is 2020’s Fight of the Year. — Neil Crane