Three months ago, Jose Zepeda was hoping to have fought Ivan Baranchyk and—with a win—move on to a second shot at the junior welterweight title.
Even with the aforementioned matchup back on the schedule, the former two-time title challenger has his sights on a different kind of opportunity.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about the fight between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez,” Zepeda (32-2, 25KOs; 2NC) told BoxingScene.com of the upcoming October 17 World lightweight title fight. “In my career, I’ve gone down to 135 for good opportunities like my first world title fight when I went to England. I’m able to do 135.”
For now, Zepeda will be doing 140 and his reschedule title eliminator with Baranchyk (20-1, 13KOs), a former 140-pound title from Belarus who trains out of Miami. Their bout takes place this Saturday, live on ESPN+ from The Bubble at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, with the winner to be guaranteed a future title shot versus unified WBC/WBO titlist Jose Ramirez (26-0, 17KOs)
The issue for now is that such a fight is far from guaranteed to happen next, unless a belt becomes vacant. Ramirez and fellow unified titlist Josh Taylor (17-0, 13KOs) are prepared to enter talks for what is hoped to be a showdown for the undisputed championship. One potential roadblock would be Ramirez having to commit to a second straight mandatory title defense, having turned away WBC number-one contender Viktor Postol only for the WBO to immediately call for the undefeated champ to next face England’s Jack Catterall.
Granted, Zepeda still has to get through the highly capable and well-credentialed Baranchyk, who has recovered from a rib injury which forced him out of their originally planned July 7 date. Assuming the night goes as planned, the La Puente, California native—who took notice of Ramirez’s latest win as well as Taylor’s 1st round knockout of Apinun Khongsong last weekend in London— will shift his attention to October 17 and the clash between Ukraine’s Lomachenko (14-1, 10KOs) and Brooklyn’s Lopez (15-0, 12KOs).
“If for any reason—and you never know with boxing—if something happens where I can’t fight for a title at 140, I have an opportunity there,” believes Zepeda, who suffered a freak injury in a 2nd round stoppage loss to Terry Flanagan in his July 2015 lightweight title bid. “If I can go straight to the winner of Lomachenko and Teofimo, then that will be a fight I will be more than happy to do that next.
“I’m still able to do 135, I know that for sure. At 140, it’s not hard. I’m not saying it’s not easy but it’s not hard to make weight. I would be able to sacrifice those five more pounds, especially for a fight like that. That would be a very interesting fight. I believe that they are smaller for what I usually fight. I’m used to fighting bigger guys at 140. I don’t see anybody else at 135 beating those two guys, especially the young, unproven guys in the division. I have a better chance than any of those guys.”
Zepeda spent most of his career fighting at 140 or heavier even as he was campaigning for a lightweight title. The fight itself was one of just four times in his career where he has actually fought at or close to the 135-pound mark. The last such fight came in June 2018, having since campaigned full time at junior welterweight, including a narrow loss to Ramirez in their 140-pound title fight last February.
The purpose of this weekend is to get back in line for a rematch with the reigning unified titlist. The belief is that there is a shorter line to the lightweight championship, with Zepeda already envisioning his next opponent.
“I think Lomachenko,” Zepeda notes in the way of an official prediction. “He’s too skillful. I would say that Teofimo has that puncher’s chance. But then again, Loma never drops his hands. It will be extremely for Teofimo to land that one punch to win the fight.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox