WATCH: Jose Zepeda knocks out Ivan Baranchyk after both combine for eight knockdowns in Fight of the Year

In nothing short of a “Rocky” movie fight come to life, junior welterweight contenders Jose Zepeda and Ivan Baranchyk combined to delight boxing fans with eight knockdowns over five rounds in what will undoubtedly be the fight of the year. 

Zepeda (33-2, 26 KOs) rose from the canvas in Round 5 to savagely knock Baranchyk (20-2, 13 KOs) out cold with a two-punch combination in the main event of a Top Rank cad from the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Referee Kenny Bayless waved off the fight without a count at 2:50 to end one of the best slugfests this century. 

The 27-year-old Baranchyk, who previously held the IBF junior welterweight title, ate a right hand followed by a left hook to set up the savage finish. The native of Russia appeared to be already knocked out as he fell backward when he hit the back his head hard on the canvas as his right leg was pinned behind him. 

Baranchyk stayed down in the center of the ring without moving for an extended period of time while undergoing medical attention before eventually walking under his own power. He was immediately taken to the hospital. 

In the biggest victory to date of his career, the 31-year-old Zepeda got up off the deck four times in total before winning by knockout. A native of southern California, Zepeda became the mandatory challenger for Jose Ramirez’s WBC title just 20 months after Zepeda dropped a disputed majority decision to him in their first meeting. 

“I know I’m tough, I didn’t how tough I was,” Zepeda said. “Tonight, I showed and I showed myself too. This was the first time I was in a fight like this and it was a great learning experience.” 

Just how close was this all-action affair in which both fighters slug for the fences from the opening round? Zepeda outlanded Baranchyk by a margin of 64 to 63 in total punches, according to CompuBox. Of the combined 140 total punches landed over five rounds, 127 of them were power shots. 

“I feel great because I won the fight,” Zepeda said. “It was a hard fight. I’m thinking, ‘Man, boxing is hard. It’s no easy game.’ Boxing is tough and you have to give it 100 percent. It’s a hard sport and probably the hardest sport.”I told him thank you for the opportunity. Both of us were climbing up and somebody had to stay. I was able to win the fight and I said, ‘Thanks for the fight.’ “

Zepeda, who won his third straight since the loss to Ramirez, looked like he might get finished early after getting dropped twice in the opening round by the hard-punching Baranchyk. But the fight began to reach epic levels in Round 2. 

Shortly after Bayless ruled what appeared to be a knockdown of Baranchyk as merely a slip, Zepeda sent him down for real with a stiff counter shot. But Baranchyk dusted himself off to regain the momentum by dramatically dropping Zepeda later in the round. 

Just when it looked to be anyone’s fight, that’s when Zepeda began to settle in by relying on his craft as the more technical fighter to land first when the two traded flurries. He dropped Baranchyk one time each in Rounds 3 and 4 as the buzz for the instant classic that was brewing started to swirl on social media. 

But just as more viewers began to tune in and take notice, Round 5 secured the fight’s status as one of the most dramatic to date. Zepeda was hurt by the same looping left hook that Baranchyk had success with the whole fight. Bayless ruled it a knockdown as the ropes appeared to prevent Zepeda from going down. 

After Zepeda cleared the cob webs and got his legs back, he landed the stiff combination to end the fight. 

“To be honest, I have to watch the fight again but I [was] thinking just to believe in myself,” Zepeda said while re-watching the knockout. “There are two guys in there giving their all and I think at the end of the day, it’s which fighter wants it more. 

“It happens to me all the time in every fight and I doubt myself too much. I’m a fighter who only had 16 amateur fights. I’m always doubting myself and this was tough.”

ESPN color commentator and former two-division champion Timothy Bradley Jr. was so moved by the weight, bringing back visions of his own 2013 war against Ruslan Provodnikov, that he summed up how humble he felt to call the fight from ringside.

“Just watching this let me know that I got out of my career at the right time,” Bradley said.

Zepeda led 37-35 on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage.

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