45. Jose Zepeda Vs Ivan Baranchyk
October 3, 2020
Las Vegas, Nevada
Venue: MGM Grand
If the Jose Zepeda-Ivan Baranchyk fight had occurred just six months prior to when the fight took place, it would’ve made my greatest fights of all-time series between 16 and 20. This fight was that great. It’s easily the third greatest fight in the 140 pound division’s history (only the first meetings between Aaron and Alexis Argüello and Julio Cesar Chavez vs Meldrick Taylor being definitively greater). The war between Zepeda and Baranchyk resulted in both men getting knocked down four times. It was the eighth and final knockdown that was a fitting end to a savage fight.
Early in the fifth round, Baranchyk landed a booming right hand that sent Zepeda stumbling across the ring and into the corner. Since the ropes prevented Zepeda from going down, referee Kenny Bayless quickly ruled it a knockdown. It was the fourth time Zepeda had been knocked down. Although hurt, Zepeda had his wits about him and like he did previously in the fight, was prepared to land a big counter against the overly aggressive Baranchyk.
Less than 30 seconds later, Baranchyk walked into a spectacular left cross that almost broke his neck. Baranchyk’s body contorted in a way similar to how an athlete breaks their ankle. As he laid motionless on the canvas for several minutes, I wondered out loud if this was another boxing tragedy I had just witnessed. Thankfully, Baranchyk was able to get up under his own power. It was the power of Zepeda that put an exclamation mark on the best fight of 2020.
44. Alexander Povetkin Vs Dillian Whyte
August 22, 2020
Venue: Matchroom Headquarters
Going into his fight with Alexander Povetkin, Dillian Whyte was in line to get a shot at the Ring World Heavyweight Champion Tyson Fury in early-to-mid 2021. Povetkin was considered a dangerous, but well past his prime opponent, 11 days before his 41st birthday. The first three rounds made it seem Whyte was the elder statesman in the fight as Povetkin dominated him with strong shots inside to both the head and body.
In the fourth round, Whyte seemingly took control by knocking down Povetkin twice. The first knockdown occurred at the beginning of the round off of a three-punch combination ending with a left hook. The second knockdown happened late in the round by a Whyte quick left uppercut. Going into the fifth round, both the fight and Povetkin’s career appeared to be over.
Whyte came out for the kill in the fifth round and, in my opinion, failed to take into consideration Povetkin’s still vaunted power. Less than 30 seconds into the round, Povetkin landed one of the greatest left uppercuts in the history of boxing to Whyte’s jaw. Whyte was out before his head bounced off the canvas. Referee Mark Lyson wisely waved off the count and halted the bout immediately. It was one of the most brutal one punch knockouts in heavyweight history and a knockout that not only resurrected Povetkin’s career, but also could’ve possibly ended Whyte’s career as a viable heavyweight contender.
43. Pernell Whitaker VS Juan Nazario
August 11, 1990
Las Vegas, Nevada
Venue: Caesars Tahoe
The first time I ever saw Pernell Whitaker was during his incredible 1984 Summer Olympics run when he won the 132-pound Gold Medal. I had never seen an amateur with such polished defensive skills. My father was immediately impressed and told me right then and there that the aptly named “Sweet Pea” was special. At 135 pounds as a pro, “Sweet Pea” was the most gifted and natural boxer that ever lived.
After getting robbed in his first title shot against Jose Luis Ramirez on March 12, 1988, Whitaker began a reign of 135-pound dominance only topped by the legendary Roberto Duran. You can read a more in depth analysis of Pernell’s Lightweight reign by reading my previous essay on him. After securing both the IBF and WBC versions of the Lightweight crown, he only had one goal left to conquer: the WBA crown held by Juan Nazario.
Nazario was a good boxer-puncher who had upset fellow Puerto Rican Edwin Rosario on April 4, 1990. Rosario had already agreed to fight Whitaker and was possibly looking ahead to that fight when he was battered into an eight-round stoppage by the heavy underdog Nazario. Despite the win over Rosario, Nazario’s skills would never be a match for Sweet Pea under any circumstances. My father and I expected another virtuoso, 12-round shutout by Whitaker, which had been his pattern throughout his 135-pound reign. What ended up happening shocked the hell out of us.
Pernell was uncharacteristically aggressive in the opening stanza, landing several hooks to the body inside while making his fellow southpaw Nazario miss with the vast majority of his punches. The body shots Whitaker landed were vicious and a textbook on body punching. Then, with 11 seconds left in the round, Sweet Pea, after landing a nice left hook to Nazario’s rib cage, landed a perfect left cross right on top of Nazario’s jaw. The Puerto Rican native dropped face first as the great referee Mills Lane counted to 10. It was one of the greatest performances ever in a unification world title fight. Whitaker was now the Undisputed World Lightweight Champion. Nazario’s four-month reign as WBA titleholder would be the highlight of an otherwise nondescript career. Whitaker would successfully defend his titles three more times before moving up in weight and adding to his legend status.
42. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez Vs Amir Khan
May 7, 2016
Las Vegas, Nevada
Venue: T-Mobile Arena
Amir Khan had no business getting in the ring with the burgeoning monster that Canelo Alvarez was becoming. While Khan at one point in his career looked to have the tools to be an all-time great, his lack of a chin was a huge impediment in his journey to get there. Devastating knockout losses to Breidis Prescott and Danny Garcia at 135 and 140 pounds respectively told me that he’d have a better chance at surviving from jumping out of a 20 story building than defeating Canelo.
Khan moved up from Welterweight to challenge for Canelo’s Ring World Middleweight Championship. Even though both men’s height were listed at 5’8, Canelo looked like a middle linebacker compared to Khan resembling a wide receiver the night of the fight. For the first three rounds, Khan moved and outboxed Canelo, except that the combinations Khan landed on Canelo’s chin might as well have been light slaps. In rounds four and five, Canelo began digging into Khan’s body, which began to slow Khan down. Then came the fateful sixth round.
Khan, while not moving as much, was still landing despite being a stationary target at the beginning of the round. Then with 30 seconds left in the round, Canelo blinded Khan with a jab and then landed a right cross that almost cracked Khan’s chin in half. Khan went down like he had been shot by a cannon. Referee Kenny Bayless immediately stopped the fight. Canelo showed great sportsmanship as he rushed over to see if Khan was alright. Khan laid motionless for several minutes before finally getting up. He should’ve retired then. Khan continues to fight and in my opinion will never achieve what he’s looking for. His lack of chin and the loss of a step at the soon-to-be age of 34 will only cause unnecessary damage as he continues to fight. More on Canelo later in the series.
41. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez Vs James Kirkland
May 9, 2015
Venue: Minute Maid Park
Already at the age of 25, Canelo had engaged in 46 professional fights and was a hardened veteran. Despite losing to Floyd Mayweather in their September 2013 super fight, Canelo’s development into a legendary Mexican fighter was greatly aided by the boxing lesson Mayweather handed him. Like the vast majority of great fighters before and after him, Canelo became a better fighter after losing. This became evident in his May 9, 2015 fight with the dangerous brawler James Kirkland.
James Kirkland was a live underdog because of his incredible punching power. Unfortunately for Kirkland, his barbaric fighting style was no match for the complete boxer/puncher that the Mexican superstar Canelo had become. While action packed, the opening round of the fight was one-sided, punctuated by a short, crisp right cross that dropped the poor man’s Mike Tyson. Round two saw Canelo put extreme pressure on Kirkland, battering him with machine like hooks to the body. After two rounds, Kirkland was completely gassed and outclassed.
Round three saw Canelo deftly counter a desperate Kirkland with pinpoint combinations. With a minute left in the round, Canelo knocked Kirkland down with a counter right uppercut. Kirkland got up but was all but done. Fifteen seconds later, Kirkland ran into a Canelo right cross that splattered him onto the canvas. Referee Jon Schorle immediately stopped the fight as Kirkland looked like a shark that had been killed by a harpoon, the harpoon being Canelo’s right hand.
Kirkland took such a shellacking that he didn’t fight for another four years before making his return to the ring last year. Canelo, on the other hand, defeated Miguel Cotto in his very next fight to win The Ring World Middleweight Title, a championship that he still holds today as his legacy continues to grow.