SAN DIEGO, Calif., October 3, 2020 – Jose Zepeda of La Puente, California (33-2-2 25 KOS) and Ivan Baranchyk of Belarus (21-2, 13 KOs) delivered a brutally brilliant battle Saturday in Las Vegas, a sure 2020 Fight of the Year with eight knockdowns in five frenetic rounds. Zepeda made the last one stick at 2:50 of the fifth round to win the super lightweight battle and put himself on the road to a title fight and possible rematch with champion Jose Ramirez.
“I know I’m tough,” said Zepeda. “I didn’t know how tough I was. Tonight I showed myself, too. It’s the first time I’m in a fight like this. It was a great learning experience.” It was as thrilling a five rounds and 15 minutes of boxing as you’d ever want to see. It left viewers breathless, including ESPN commentator and retired champion Timothy Bradley Junior. It seemed fitting to have Bradley ringside, as his 2013 war with Ruslan Provodnikov of Russia in the same weight division is considered one of the most brutal ring wars of the modern era.
Baranchyk puts Zepeda in a hole after two knockdowns in round one
Baranchyk, the bigger and stronger man in the ring, couldn’t miss with his left hook. He began the fight with two knockdowns of Zepeda in the first round. Zepeda had only been knocked down once before in his entire pro career. The first came from a left hook at 1:55, and another behind a short right at 2:50 of the round.
It seemed it would be easy work for Baranchyk. Zepeda seemed to get one of those knockdowns back at the start of the second round, but referee Kenny Bayliss ruled it a slip. No matter, Zepeda made his second one stick, a brilliant hard left hook of his own at 50 seconds. Baranchyk got up on wobbly legs, and the momentum of the fight changed. Zepeda moved in to capitalize, but he left himself open, and Baranchyk landed an improbable haymaker 20 seconds later to drop Zepeda. Now neither man was in a position to try and end things, but they still kept at it and survived to hear another bell.
Zepeda shifts the fight momentum
In round three (yes, it’s still just round three), Zepeda threw a beautiful set of double left hooks to drop Baranchyk again one minute into the round. But Baranchyk refused to yield. His impressive stamina and training kept him on his feet, and Zepeda knew he couldn’t get careless again. Once again, the men made it to the end of the round.
In round 4, Baranchyk seemed to settle down and settle in. He had Zepeda backing up to escape his attack, and he timed Zepeda backing into the ropes and bouncing forward to perfection. Zepeda was getting the worst of it until he landed several good body shots to slow Baranchyk down. Baranchyk landed a hard left uppercut, but Zepeda stayed upright.
Just as it seemed the pair would make it out of the round on their feet, Zepeda landed the best pure punch of the fight, a counter left hook, followed by a combination ending in another left hook dropping Baranchyk with 15 seconds left in the round. Baranchyk survived the count and the round was over.
Zepeda could see Baranchyk’s unsteady legs and pressed the action in the fifth round. He landed quality power shots but Baranchyk would not yield. At 2:20 into the round, Baranchyk scored his third knockdown, with Zepeda falling into the ropes. Referee Kenny Bayliss correctly ruled the ropes had held up Zepeda and administered the knockdown count. With the round winding down, Zepeda landed a single massive right hook flush to Baranchyk’s head. Everyone watching knew immediately Baranchyk would not be getting up. The official time of the stoppage was 2:45 of the round. “It’s how bad you want it!” declared Bradley.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR?!?!
— ESPN Ringside (@ESPNRingside) October 4, 2020
“It was a hard fight,” said Zepeda in one of boxing’s understatements of the year. “I’m thinking, man, boxing is hard. It’s not an easy game. You’ve got to give it 100 percent. It’s probably the hardest sport.” Zepeda said he thanked Baranchyk after the fight for the opportunity. “Both of us are climbing. Someone had to stay below. I was able to win and I told him, ‘thanks for the fight’” said Zepeda.
Rematch with Jose Ramirez
Zepeda learned his lessons well from his narrow and disappointing loss to Ramirez last year. “I doubt myself too much. I’m a fighter that only had 16 amateur fights. I’m always doubting myself. It was tough, yeah. I know there was a really tough fight with Ramirez.” Zepeda said he would now love a rematch. “He’s the champion at 140. That’s why we’re here in boxing.” That’s why the fans are here, too.
Baranchyk was examined carefully in the ring, then immediately taken to University Medical Center nearby in Las Vegas. He was conscious and talking as he left the ring.
Bradley said the evening took him back to his own legendary war with the Russian Provodnikov. “You work so hard for years. You doubt yourself. Everyone doubts themselves. I even doubted myself and I had 150 fights. What’s on display, your soul is on display every time you step in the ring.”
Yes, there were other fights on the card and several good ones, but we prefer to let this fight stand on its own as it deserves. If you don’t have access to ESPNN+ for the replay, start haunting SportsCenter and YouTube for the highlights. If you were watching the Charlo Twins pay per view replay, my condolences. Don’t try to claim you saw THIS one live a year from now.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is an award-winning boxing journalist covering the Sweet Science for Communities and for boxing fans worldwide. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
Copyright © 2020 by Falcon Valley Group