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PH first Olympic victory: Barriga zaps Italian, reaches round of 16

Philippines’ Mark Barriga, right, fights Italy’s Manuel Cappai during a light flyweight 49-kg preliminary boxing match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 31, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

LONDON—Light flyweight Mark Anthony Barriga scored the Philippines’ first victory in the London Olympics on Tuesday, outpointing Italy’s taller Manuel Cappai in the first round of the boxing competitions at the ExCel Arena.

The 19-year old Barriga repeatedly scored left straights and combinations, counterpunching most of the time to score a lopsided 17-7 victory over the taller Italian to reach the round of 16 in the men’s 49 kg (light flyweight) division.

Barriga set the tone of the fight by knocking down the Italian in the first round and later jarred him with a wicked left to the face that prompted the referee to give Cappai a standing count.

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The first round ended with the Filipino leading  at 5-2.

“He showed a lot of courage and wasn’t intimidated by the height of his foe,” said Barriga’s coach Roel Velasco in Filipino. “We told him to come out firing and he responded.”

Barriga forged a second-round clash on Thursday with the rated Birzhan Zhakypov  of Kazakhstan, who nipped Jeremy Beccu of France, 18-17, in the succeeding bout.

Barriga continued the barrage on Cappai in the second round, forcing the Italian to swing a miss wildly as he moved from side to side, forward and backward. At times the right-handed Italian tried to confuse the left-handed Filipino by matching his southpaw stance, only to continue absorbing punishment from Barriga, who widened his lead to 9-4 at the end of the round.

The third round was more of the same, and by that time, there was no doubt as to the outcome.

Barriga, described by fans and fellow fighters as Little Pacman because his style of fighting resembles that of world champion Manny Pacquiao, arrived in London last week after a three-week training camp in Cardiff, Wales, where he trained and sparred with some of the fighters entered in London.

He started fighting six years ago, when he was 13, in his hometown of Panabo, Davao Oriental, fueled by a dream to fight in the Olympics and winning a gold medal.

LITTLE PACMAN Filipino Mark Barriga lands a solid right against Italian foe Manuel Cappai during their 49-kg bout. Barriga scored a 17-7 victory to advance to the next round. AP

He qualified for the Olympics, ironically by losing in the quarterfinals of the world championship in Azerbaijan earlier this year. To win the Olympic slot, he had to pray that his tormentor, China’s Zou Shiming, would win the world championship. His prayers were answered: Zou won and the first leg of the dream was fulfilled.

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In Barriga’s corner was Roel Velasco, bronze medallist in the same division in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Since he was the only boxing coach in the Philippine delegation, he was assisted in the corner by Kevin Smith.

Smith is an Irishman based in Liverpool and is the head coach of Nigeria in the London Games. According to Ed Picson, executive director of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines, Velasco and Smith struck up a friendship only a few days ago at the Athletes’ Village.

“We asked Kevin to assist in Mark’s corner and he agreed,” Picson said.

Barriga’s handsome victory against a fighter six inches taller than him eased the heartache of skeet shooter Brian Rosario’s woeful finish on his maiden Olympics on Tuesday and the exit of three other Filipino campaigners here.

Rosario managed 44 birds on strings of 22 and 22 in the last two rounds and wound up 31st in a field of 36 with a total score of 110 in the shotgun event at the Royal Artillery Barracks.

The businessman from Malabon took himself out of contention with a wind-blown 19 in the second round. His other strings were 22 in the first and 25 in the third round—the first perfect score by a Filipino in the Olympic event, according to shooting chief Mikee Romero.

Rosario’s bid came undone after three consecutive misses in the middle of the second round, his firing reflexes admittedly slowed by the chilly wind at the exposed firing line.

“I am terribly disappointed to shoot that 19,” coach Gay Corral quoted the 5-foot-10 Rosario  as saying. “Hindi naging smooth ang movement ko sa mid-second round, parang nanigas.  (My movement became a bit stiff in the middle of the second round.”

World champion and record holder Vincent Hancock of the United States led the eight finalists in Tuesday’s medal shootout with 123 birds, three better than his winning score in the Beijing Olympics.With a report from Mark Giongco, INQUIRER.net

Originally posted: 9:52 pm | Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

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TAGS: Boxing, London 2012 Olympics, Mark Anthony Barriga, Sports
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