The beauty and near tragedy of Jose Zepeda vs. Ivan Baranchyk

Jose Zepeda and Ivan Baranchyk engaged in a five-round war that resulted in 8 knockdowns before a jarring end. It was sensational but nearly tragic.

You can predict a good boxing bout, but a classic contest occurs unexpectedly. The same can be said about tragic moments. Jose Zepeda vs. Ivan Baranchyk nearly transformed from one into the other.

On paper, going into their Oct. 3 matchup, Zepeda and Baranchyk were proven top-tier quantities at junior welterweight. It looked like good matchmaking from Top Rank from the fight’s inception, but the explosively concussive tenor of Zepeda vs. Baranchyk left anyone who viewed it in awe.

The final act produced a mix of jubilation that morphed into minutes of apprehension that left onlookers holding their breath.

Baranchyk’s orthodox stance, combined with Zepeda’s southpaw posture, helped create a powderkeg ready to burst. It didn’t take long before the initial sparks flew.

From the opening bell, Baranchyk’s aggression demonstrated his intent. He wanted a war, and Zepeda obliged him, but it took getting dropped twice in the first round before Zepeda’s desperation to stay in the fight caused him to react with calculated thunder of his own.

Zepeda showed unusual calm under pressure. In round two, he didn’t blink as Baranchyk came forward, attacking all the way. He waited for his moment and sniped Baranchyk with a well-placed left hook. From that point on, it was a back and forth battle to see who could withstand the most punishment and remain on their feet.

Through four rounds entering the fifth, Zepeda and Baranchyk tallied six knockdowns with two more on the horizon. The concluding drama of the fifth round accented a fight that will be remembered for decades or longer.

It was hard to keep track of all the knockdowns as the fight played out in realtime. You just got the feeling that the end was near, but both boxers embodied courage and heart under fire, but everybody has a breaking point. No human could endlessly endure the abuse that Zepeda and Baranchyk unleashed on each other.

Anyone watching the fight going into round 5 was sitting on pins and needles, trying to guess who would visit the canvas next. With 37 seconds remaining, Baranchyk caught Zepeda with a right hook that sent him into the ropes. He didn’t hit the canvas, but the ropes saved Zepeda’s fall counting for the seventh knockdown.

Zepeda had to answer back, or else he was going to get knocked out. He responded to Baranchyk’s best punches all night, but his rebuttable shocked those watching.

With only 16 seconds left in the round, Zepeda buried a left hook into Baranchyk’s chin that turned off his lights immediately.

Jose Zepeda vs. Ivan Branchyk was the most compelling fight of 2020, but the shocking end looked catastrophic.

If you observed the fight, the sound of Zepeda’s fist connecting with Baranchyk’s head probably excited you, but milliseconds later, the image of Baranchy’s limp, unconscious body folding back onto the canvas with his right leg bent underneath him had to haunt even the most seasoned boxing pundits.

The volley of barrages and contest of wills between Zepeda and Baranchyk was a thing of beauty. Boxing’s detractors try to sum up the sport as a violent, barbaric bludgeoning of punches. They’re uneducated about the complexities of warfare tactics inside the ring. It’s a chess match substituting humans in the place of wooden pieces, but they’re right to call it violent.

Boxing isn’t a sport for the weak of heart. Men and women subject their bodies to unforgivable damage in the ring. Every sport requires athletes to sacrifice their bodies to a certain degree, but boxing’s optics are more raw and primal. It’s the ultimate struggle of determination and spirit, but the threat of mortality lingers in the background.

As Baranchyk remained motionless on the canvas, the joys of witnessing one of the most sensational fights in recent memory quickly evaporated into panic.

Boxing is thrilling in part because of the dangers that surround it. Gladiators enter the ring because of the adrenaline and sensation involved in engaging in a clash that tests the mind, body, and soul.

It’s also tragic because lives can be lost. No one ever foresees a death in the ring, but when it happens, everyone in and around boxing questions their faith in the sport. Boxing is violent, but it isn’t unfeeling. The opposite is true. Boxing’s competitors, trainers, and devoted followers tend to be some of the most compassionate, caring people because they know that lives are on the line. Boxers sacrifice more than most people will ever know because they love the sport.

ESPN commentator and former boxing champion Timothy Bradley sensed that Baranchyk was in dire straits.

“They need to get the stretcher right now for this man,” said Bradley with anxiety in his voice. “They need to take this man to the hospital. Get him checked out.”

Thankfully, Baranchyk eventually came to and walked out of the ring, but the brutality of his knockout required a trip to the hospital and further evaluation. Symptoms of deadly brain trauma don’t always show until after the fight, but Baranchyk’s health checked out.

Baranchyk’s promoter Lou DiBella tweeted late the next day that Baranchyk was leaving the hospital and okay. Zepeda and Baranchyk took part in a bout that will likely be Fight of the Year and rewatched for years to come, but for a short while, it looked like it would end in disaster. Thank God it didn’t and that everyone is safe and able to hug, kiss, and say “I love you” to their friends and family. On the rare occasions where the worst happens, regrets and an unfillable void remain.

Commend Zepeda and Baranchyk for their courageous performance, but also respect and value every person who competes in the ring. They willingly participate in a sport that’s hazardous to their health and risk their well-being. There are no bums or tomato cans, just gutsy individuals that love boxing so much that they voluntarily assume the perils. That’s the definition of bravery.

Next: Jose Zepeda and Ivan Baranchyk provide knockdowns

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