The overused adjective “great” doesn’t do justice to the inconceivable violence Jose Zepeda and Ivan Baranchyk produced October 9.
Their unbelievable brawl included an incredible eight knockdowns, four apiece for Zepeda and Baranchyk, and two rounds in which both boxers went down. The ridiculously resilient Zepeda somehow survived two first-round knockdowns and one knockdown each in the second and fifth rounds to knock the ever-brave Baranchyk cold toward the end of the fifth round.
Barely 20 seconds after Baranchyk sent him to the canvas for the fourth time, Zepeda blasted Baranchyk with a left hand that emphatically ended their scheduled 10-round junior welterweight fight at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Zepeda’s punishing shot dumped Baranchyk on his back awkwardly, with his right leg bent beneath him, and instantly ended their stupendous slugfest with just 10 seconds to go in the fifth round.
The understated Zepeda (33-2, 26 KOs, 2 NC) informed ESPN’s Mark Kriegel during his post-fight interview what he told Baranchyk once Baranchyk made it to his feet after remaining on the canvas for several minutes.
“Thank you,” Zepeda recalled telling Baranchyk. “Thank you for the opportunity. I mean, both of us are climbing up and somebody had to stay. … I was able to win the fight and I told him, you know, ‘Thanks for the fight. Great fight.’ It was a great fight.”
What emerged as BoxingScene.com’s “Fight of the Year” for 2020 initially looked like it would result in a quick knockout victory for Russia’s Baranchyk (20-2, 13 KOs). The former IBF junior welterweight champion sent Zepeda down twice in the opening round.
Baranchyk first floored Zepeda with 1:13 to go in the first round, which marked only the second knockdown of Zepeda’s career. Another right hand by Baranchyk buzzed Zepeda later in the first round and he went down following an awkward left/shove with 15 seconds remaining in it.
Zepeda, a southpaw from La Puente, California, promptly responded by blasting Baranchyk with a short left that knocked him down just nine seconds into the second round. Baranchyk bounced to his feet immediately, but referee Kenny Bayless didn’t count it as a knockdown.
Zepeda sent Baranchyk to the canvas again with a left hand 45 seconds into the second round. Bayless counted that knockdown for Zepeda, whose punch dropped Baranchyk to his gloves and knees.
Zepeda attempted to finish his disoriented opponent, but Baranchyk landed a counter right hand that floored Zepeda for the third time, a mere 24 seconds after Baranchyk hit the canvas officially for the first time.
Zepeda’s left hook knocked Baranchyk to the canvas for the third time with 18 seconds to go in the fourth round. A battered Baranchyk reached his feet yet again, answered Bayless’ commands and finished the round.
Baranchyk wasn’t as fortunate in the fifth round, though earlier in that round it seemed as though he might win by knockout.
A crushing right hand by Baranchyk knocked Zepeda backward, into the ropes, with 38 seconds to go in the fifth round. The ropes held up Zepeda, who was backed into a corner, therefore it counted as Baranchyk’s fourth knockdown in five rounds.
Zepeda recovered quickly and nailed Baranchyk with the straight left hand that brutally brought an end to their epic encounter.
The runners-up for BoxingScene.com’s 2020 “Fight of the Year” award are listed below, in chronological order.
Murodjon Akhmadaliev-Daniel Roman (DAZN): Akhmadaliev upset Roman by split decision in their 12-rounder to win the IBF and WBA 122-pound championships January 30 at Meridian at Island Gardens in Miami. Uzbekistan’s Akhmadaliev (8-0, 6 KOs) and Los Angeles’ Roman (28-3-1, 10 KOs) buzzed one another during this terrific, all-action bout, but two of the judges favored the left-handed challenger. Akhmadaliev won their completely competitive contest by scores of 115-113, 115-113, 113-115.
Jermall Charlo-Sergiy Derevyanchenko (Showtime PPV): Charlo clearly defeated Derevyanchenko in their 12-round fight for Charlo’s WBC middleweight title September 26 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. There was sustained action during this competitive championship bout, however, and Derevyanchenko landed enough flush punches for the durable Charlo to satisfy some of his detractors. Houston’s Charlo (31-0, 22 KOs) couldn’t drop Derevyanchenko (13-3, 10 KOs), but he rocked the determined Ukrainian in the third, eighth and ninth rounds, and defeated the gritty challenger more convincingly than Daniel Jacobs and Gennadiy Golovkin. Charlo won by scores of 118-110, 117-111 and 116-112.
Juan Francisco Estrada-Carlos Cuadras (DAZN): Cuadras dropped Estrada in the third round of their rematch, but Estrada overcame that troublesome moment to stagger Cuadras several times in what unfolded as a very fan-friendly fight.
Estrada eventually dropped Cuadras twice in the 11th round. Cuadras got up both times, but Estrada hurt him again and their scheduled 12-round, 115-pound title fight was stopped at 2:20 of the 11th round October 23 at TV Azteca’s Studios in Mexico City.
Mexico’s Estrada (41-3, 28 KOs) retained his WBC super flyweight title and scored a decisive defeat against his countryman three years after barely beating him by unanimous decision in their 12-rounder in Carson, California. Cuadras (39-4-1, 27 KOs) hadn’t been beaten by knockout before Estrada stopped him in their second fight.
Masayoshi Nakatani-Felix Verdejo (ESPN): Puerto Rico’s Verdejo (27-2, 17 KOs) knocked Nakatani to the canvas once apiece in the first and fourth rounds, and he appeared well on his way to what would’ve been another impressive knockout during his comeback. Japan’s Nakatani (19-1, 13 KOs) persevered, however, and eventually overpowered Verdejo. Nakatani dropped Verdejo twice in the ninth round, when their scheduled 10-round lightweight fight ended December 12 at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Nakatani knocked Verdejo out of contention to fight unified lightweight champ Teofimo Lopez and made a strong case for his own rematch with Lopez (16-0, 12 KOs).
Carlos Gongora-Ali Akhmedov (DAZN): The unbeaten, unknown Gongora survived serious trouble in the second round to engage the heavily favored Akhmedov in what developed into an enthralling dogfight December 18 at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
Akhmedov affected Gongora with punishing punches several times after that second round, but it was the resilient southpaw who proved to be too strong for a previously unbeaten prospect promoted by Gennadiy Golovkin. Ecuador’s Gongora (19-0, 14 KOs) dropped Kazakhstan’s Akhmedov (16-1, 12 KOs) twice in the 12th round, before referee Frank Gentile halted their super middleweight brawl at 1:57 of that final round.
The William Hill sports book listed Akhmedov as a 14-1 favorite entering their thoroughly entertaining encounter.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.