The ESPN summer schedule is still at least days away from being formally announced, but it will contain at least one major crossroads bout.
BoxingScene.com has learned that advances plans are in place for a mouthwatering showdown between former 140-pound titlist Ivan Baranchyk and two-time title challenger Jose Zepeda. Sources from both camps confirmed the news, which was first reported by Steve Kim of ESPN.com.
The bout is due to take place July 9 in Las Vegas, to air live on an ESPN platform. Representatives for each boxer declined official comment, as the fight has not yet been made official.
Whispers of the matchup come on the heels of Top Rank Inc. receiving clearance from the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) to promote events in state, with all shows in June and July to take place behind closed doors due to the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The Las Vegas-based promotional outfit is working with the Nevada Coronavirus Task Force in finalizing a safety protocol to ensure sufficient testing and social distancing measures for all essential personnel on site for said events.
Of the proposed matchups that have been teased to the media thus far, this particular pairing is the most appealing of the lot.
Baranchyk (20-1, 13KOs) enjoyed a brief stay as a 140-pound titlist but has long been considered among the division’s best boxers.
The 27-year old Belarusian—who now lives and trains in Miami, Oklahoma—claimed a belt following a 7th round stoppage of then-unbeaten Anthony Yigit in their October 2018 vacant title fight. The bout came during the quarterfinal round of the World Boxing Super Series junior welterweight tournament, with Baranchyk dropping a competitive but clear decision to Josh Taylor last May in Glasgow, Scotland.
Baranchyk has since rebounded with a one-sided 4th round stoppage of Gabriel ‘Tito’ Bracero last October.
Zepeda (31-2, 25KOs) has served as a top contender both at lightweight and junior welterweight, though running into bad luck in his two title adventures. A July 2015 bid versus then-unbeaten lightweight titlist Terry Flanagan ended on a fluke injury, with Zepeda suffering a dislocated shoulder which forced him to retire on his stool after just two rounds of action.
An eight-fight unbeaten streak ensued, leading to his challenge of unbeaten 140-pound titlist Jose Carlos Ramirez last February. Zepeda came closer than anyone to date in handing the 2012 U.S. Olympian an official loss, going deep in the trenches only to suffer a disputed majority decision defeat.
Zepeda was forced to settle for a No-Contest with countryman Eleazer Valenzuela in his next fight, before scoring arguably his best win to date—a sound 10-round decision over former two-division titlist Jose Pedraza last September in Las Vegas.
Both boxers are universally hailed as Top 10 contenders, although it has yet to be revealed if the fight will serve as a title eliminator. The line of challengers in waiting continues to grow, with Ramirez and Taylor both serving as unified titlist and armed with mandatory challengers.
Still, the winner will be in prime position to make some noise in the talent-rich 140-pound division. The first step to that point comes in the form of a summer treat for boxing fans who’ve been largely deprived of live action since mid-March.
The aforementioned bout will serve as part of Top Rank’s series. Shows will air every Tuesday and Thursday evening on an ESPN platform beginning June 9, which will be topped by reigning 126-pound titlist Shakur Stevenson (13-0, 7KOs) in his 130-pound debut versus Puerto Rico’s Felix Caraballo (13-1-2, 9KOs).
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox