In fewer than 15 minutes of action last night, junior welterweight contenders Jose Zepeda and Ivan Baranchyk put on an almost cartoonishly physical showcase inside the Top Rank Vegas bubble. The junior welterweight contenders combined for eight knockdowns across five rounds in a classic that ended when Zepeda put away his opponent with a truly scary finisher.
Zepeda had been knocked down only once in 36 pro bouts entering Saturday, but he hit the canvas twice in the first three minutes of the fight, as Baranchyk devoured his adversary with a level of power that had ESPN's announcers quoting Ivan Drago. In the second round, everything got silly. Zepeda came back 50 seconds in to drop Baranchyk with a flurry of head blows, but as he moved in on the unsteady Belarusian to try and seal the deal, he found himself crushed by a big right.
The intensity only increased from there, as both fighters got even less interested in playing defense and more intent on finishing things early. Baranchyk got up and still looked composed after a knockdown in the third, but as he relentlessly hunted for another one of his own in the fourth, Zepeda caught him with a booming left to the chin. That evened the knockdowns at three apiece. Somehow, that wasn't the end.
Both fighters finally seemed to be showing the toll of the first 12 minutes as they slugged it out in the fifth, but Baranchyk appeared to have the upper hand when he muscled Zepeda into the corner ropes for the night's seventh knockdown. But as soon as the two reset and squared off again, a thundering left from Zepeda ended the night, knocking out Baranchyk in the literal sense.
Baranchyk stayed down for several minutes, but did manage to get up on his own before being taken to the hospital, reportedly as a precaution. There's no reason to believe that he suffered a serious injury; Sports Illustrated reports that he is "doing well" and simply awaiting a few more tests. But as former undisputed king of the light welterweights Terence Crawford noted this morning, there's something at least a little disturbing about the contrast between the deliriously entertaining fight and the sobering reality of Baranchyk out cold in the ring.
For a fan, an eight-knockdown fight is, frankly, the kind of thing you hope for every time you turn on a boxing match. But for Zepeda and Baranchyk, fighting in an empty arena for a TV-only crowd, that's eight times in the span of about 20 real-time minutes that one of them had to pick themselves up after being smashed until they could no longer stand, culminating in a final blow that took a worryingly long amount of recovery time. Does that kind of punishment make the fight less engaging, less thrilling, or—to cut right to the point—less fun? Well, maybe. But if it weren't for its chaotic brutality, nobody would care.