It’s October, 2020. Best of luck to anything that comes between now and January to top Jose Zepeda vs Ivan Baranchyk. Best of luck to the rest of the decade, too.
Saturday’s ESPN showdown between the two top-10 junior welterweights was the best of boxing, but also the sport at its scariest. Five rounds. Eight knockdowns. (Should’ve been nine.) One frighteningly brilliant knockout — with Zepeda leaving Baranchyk’s leg pinned behind his body, utterly if figuratively disconnected from the rest of him. Still to come: year-end award tallies sure to include everything from Fight of the Year to Knockout of the Year to you-name-it-of-the-year.
It was instantly thrilling. By the end of the 1st round, Zepeda had suffered a 200 percent increase in the number of knockdowns he has suffered in his career. Baranchyk came out gunning, landing an expletive-inducing leaping left hook within seconds. It was a punch he landed again and again. Yet both knockdowns of Zepeda came via right hands.
There were two more official knockdowns in the 2nd, with Zepeda striking first with a left/right combo, only to get caught trying to stop a wounded Baranchyk and get caught with another right hand knockdown himself. And the word “official” is there in this paragraph’s first sentence because there should’ve been a third: Zepeda caught Baranchyk getting turned around with a left that wasn’t scored a knockdown and ought to have been.
What was telling about the round, however, and that foreshadowed what would come, is that it was Baranchyk that looked worse for wear after each of his knockdowns than Zepeda after his. (Reminder — in five rounds, we almost tallied double-digit knockdowns!)
“I know I’m tough,” Zepeda said in a post-fight interview. “I didn’t know how tough I was.”
Backing up, though, we’re still just moving chronologically past the 2nd round. Zepeda struck again in the 3rd with a triple left hook that dropped the now-cut Baranchyk. His left would find a home for yet another knockdown (c’mon, seriously?) in the 4th.
Maybe you thought, given the tempo of who was now knocking down whom, that Zepeda had seized control. You were wrong, if so! Baranchyk began the 5th with another of those leaping left hooks, and as the ropes held Zepeda up, we had yet another scored knockdown.
Then came the dramatic narrative’s, and the literal, coup de grace. A lunging Baranchyk ate a jab, which set up a crunching full-force left. It was another surprising turn of events. It was pretty, until it wasn’t. One of the things boxing fans who have a taste for realism might frustratedly notice about movie knockouts is that they often last hours. Watching a boxer recover from a knockout shot usually is a matter of seconds, and anything that goes longer than a couple minutes becomes deeply worrying.
Eventually, Baranchyk did walk out of the ring on his own accord. His breathing appeared, at least for a bit, a matter of life and death. Our was more emotional, but nonetheless all over the place: gasps and exhalations of every variety, excited to fearful.
Afterward, Zepeda said: “Boxing is hard. It’s no easy game.” No fucking kidding, Jose.
(Ivan Baranchyk, left, Jose Zepeda, right; via)