One of the joys of a global pandemic — and the ensuing isolation that accompanies it — is the feeling of being completely untethered from time. Events that occurred last night may as well have taken place in the Mesozoic era. I have no clue when my last birthday was. Who is president now? Is this milk still good? Fuuuuuuck!!!
This conscious uncoupling of our brains from reality creates an abyss-like soup in the valley between our short and long-term memories where time, like a buffalo wing at Chris Arreola’s house, is swallowed completely whole. Nowhere was this more glaring in 2020 than with events that occurred inside a professional boxing ring. If you told me Errol Spence Jr and Danny Garcia fought one million years ago, I would have no reason to doubt you and zero evidence to prove you wrong.
When our staff here at TQBR finished compiling our list of nominees for Fight of the Year there were numerous times I thought to myself, well yes, that’s a great fight but shouldn’t these be limited to fights that occurred THIS year? Didn’t Masayoshi Nakatani/ Felix Verdejo happen in like 1987? Am I a Time Cop now? Upon discovering, to my shock and horror, that all the fights we listed met all requisite qualifications, well, the choice for the best fight of 2020 was a no-brainer.
In a year that can comfortably be labeled as the most devastating of our lifetimes, Jose Zepeda’s savage knife-fight with Ivan Baranchyk was quite possibly the most psychotically brutal event of 2020.
Boxing writers are notorious for using overly-poetic prose when describing the events of a particularly exciting fight. Exchanges of punches become “salvos.” Roars from the crowd are “exaltations.” A guy getting knocked on his ass is all of a sudden “pugilistic austerity” or some shit and what is this, a god damn book report? The people who cover this sport have to be tricked into confessing their desire for barbarism the same way you hide a dog’s medication in a clump of peanut butter. They pretend that violence is merely a byproduct of prizefighting and not the actual, intended result, all while masking their analyses in antiquated, 10 dollar words. It’s a dumb sport, watched and covered by dumb people, present company very much included.
Luckily, Zepeda and Baranchyk removed all pretense or possibility of pretension from the scribes tasked with prognosticating… god dammit, now I’m doing it! Look, this was simply two B-level dudes beating the piss out of each other for roughly 15 minutes and it was glorious. I truly do not understand how you could want anything more out of this sport and I do not wish to see into the minds of those who do.
On Oct. 3, in The Bubble (remember The bUBbLe?!) at The MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Zepeda (33-2, 26 KOs) and Baranchyk (20-2, 13 KOs) climbed into the ring for what was supposed to be a routine Covid-era scrap. Good but not great, fun but ultimately meaningless. This was the expectation going in which, in retrospect, now feels like expecting a quiet, harmless dinner-table fart and ending up with an explosive, paint-peeling “Dumb and Dumber” shit. We got far more than we bargained for, to put it mildly.
For those who have seen it, this fight is like that record that you put on for the first time and know all the lyrics after one spin. The stats are staggering. Five rounds, eight knockdowns, 127 combined power punches and one scary trip to the hospital. Zepeda hit the canvas twice in round 1, and then once in rounds 2 and 5. Baranchyk was dropped in rounds 2, 3, 4 and 5. Did I mention this was all in the space of 14 minutes and 50 seconds? That’s video game shit.
The action started hot and worked its way up to boiling. At no point could it have been described as technical. Take your thinking caps off, kids. This was low IQ boxing at its finest and you have to know how big of a compliment that is.
We always talk about the discipline of skilled fighters and their ability to stick to a game plan. Holster your weapon, control your emotions and wait for the right time to strike. This mindset may play well with your neurologist and the agent who controls your hand modeling career, but ask any fan to choose between precision and savagery and you’ll get your answer in the form of a question, namely ones like “Are you fucking kidding me?” and “Dude, are you high?”
Fans want fighters to fully give in to their most base-level impulses, to ignore the instinct for self-preservation and embrace the chaos of mutually assured destruction. Collateral damage is a feature, not a bug, of the true fighter’s mentality. A crisp jab is nice, but a predilection toward psychopathy is better. Bodily harm and physical sacrifice will always be rewarded by fans in a way that proper balance and footwork simply won’t.
Again, we’re supposed to pretend fights like this are a rare, once-in-a-while treat. The worm at the bottom of the tequila bottle. A gluttonous delight for the uncouth masses. We’re told that barbarism is the last refuge of a scoundrel and that the top operators go home with clean hands.
Zepeda and Baranchyk proved on this night that sometimes walking directly into a hurricane is the quickest way through to the other side. Neither man is ever going to be what’s traditionally considered a star in this sport, but nights like this have a way of immortalizing extremely mortal men.
“You’re not perfect, sport. And let me save you the suspense; this girl you’ve met, she’s not perfect either. The question is whether or not you’re perfect for each other.”
That’s Robin Williams’ character Sean Maguire espousing relationship advice in “Good Will Hunting,” a movie I once got so high during that I forgot the name of and spent the night calling The Math Janitor.
It’s prescient advice for aspiring lovers, to be sure, but feels even more apt for professional prizefighters.
Zepeda and Baranchyk aren’t perfect men, and certainly not perfect fighters. But on the night of Oct. 3, 2020, they simply could not have been more perfect for each other.
It’s for that reason alone that this was an easy choice for the TQBR Fight of the Year.
(Ivan Baranchyk, right, Jose Zepeda, left; via)