Barriga exorcises ghost of Beijing Olympics debacleBy Artemio T. Engracia
Philippine Daily Inquirer
LONDON—It took Mark Anthony Barriga just 11 minutes on Tuesday to exorcise the ghost that had haunted Philippine sports since the debacle in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
With his decisive victory in the first round of boxing competitions in the 30th Olympic Games in London, the 19-year-old light flyweight single-handedly improved on the Philippines’ performance in Beijing, where the luckless Filipinos hit rock bottom in the quadrennial Games.
The 13 Filipinos in Beijing failed to win a single match or advance to the next round in Beijing, a performance considered the worst by the Philippines in the history of the Olympics.
With lightning fast and explosive fists on Tuesday, Barriga turned things around, outclassing Italy’s Manuel Cappai for a 17-7 victory that advanced the diminutive Filipino to the round of 16 in the boxing competitions here.
Barriga moved like the boxing champion he has been compared with—Manny Pacquiao. He danced around the ring, moved from side to side, and unleashed bombs from both fists with equally devastating effect.
His ring craftmanship earned him the monicker “Little Pacman.” In fact, he is almost the exact image of Pacquiao when he was fighting as a light flyweight.
At the outset, Cappai, also 19, tried to bully the shorter Barriga. At 5-2, the Filipino was giving away four inches in height to the Italian, who slammed him to the ropes and wrestled him around.
According to plan
But Barriga was undaunted. What the Italian did not know was that the Filipino studied his style on YouTube. Barriga and his coach, 1992 Barcelona Olympics light flyweight bronze medalist Roel Velasco, did their homework.
“We studied his style and made our plan. Everything worked according to plan,” Velasco said after the fight. Barriga himself refused to be interviewed after the fight. He let his coach—and his fists—do the talking.
In the ring, Barriga was eloquent. Brushing off the bullying of the Italian, the Filipino patiently waited for his move and soon discovered his opponent was a sucker for his left straight.
He waited for Cappai to move forward with weak jabs and wild right straights, then Barriga countered with hard rights followed up with a left straight.
Pattern of attack
There was nothing inept about the Italian, but he telegraphed his punches, probing his target with left jabs and unleashing a right that Barriga knew would be coming next.
It was to be the pattern of his attack for three rounds and Barriga was always ready with the counterpunches.
Time and again, Barriga’s bombs found their target. Five seconds into the fight, Barriga lunged with a combination capped by a left that hit the mark, Pacquiao style. That set the tone for the fight.
With less than a minute to go in the round, Cappai lunged, but Barriga stepped back and unleashed a roundhouse right. This dropped Cappai to his knee near the neutral corner, but referee Hassan Zoubid of Morocco waved the knockdown off.
Gamely, Barriga pressed on and in a fast and furious exchange a few seconds later, he snapped the Italian’s head back with a ponderous left. This time, the referee gave the Italian a standing count.
The round ended with the Filipino ahead at 5-2. The Italian put up a semblance of resistance in the second round. Still, the judges gave the round to Barriga, 4-2. Barriga went into the third round leading by five points, 9-4.
The fight was in the bag barring any disaster, but instead of coasting along, the Filipino poured it on, ending the round with the most lopsided score in the fight, 8-3.
The 17-7 victory was the first Olympic fight won by a Filipino since Harry Tanamor, another light flyweight, and light welterweight Romeo Brin won their first fights in Athens in 2004. Not since Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco Jr.’s silver medal in Atlanta in 1996 has a Filipino won a medal in the Games.
Tougher fights ahead
The Philippine camp remained guarded about Barriga’s medal chances.
“There are tougher fights ahead. There are a lot of good fighters out there,” said Ed Picson, a former broadcaster who is now the executive director of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines.
Up next for Barriga is one of the favorites in the light flyweight division, Kazakhstan’s Birzhan Zhakypov. They will clash in the round of 16 on Friday.
Picson refused to be overconfident against the Kazakh, with whom Barriga had sparred a few times in the past and the Filipino had bloodied his nose once.
Zhakypov shouldn’t even be in the ring with Barriga on Friday if the capacity crowd at ExCel’s South Arena were to judge his fight against France’s Jeremy Beccu also on Tuesday.
Dreams of gold
The Frenchman was leading the Kazakh going into the third round and was expected to win the fight after a furious second round. After a few anxious moments, the decision was announced. The Kazakh won, 18-17, a decision that drew boos from the crowd.
Barriga, who watched the fight from a monitor in the athletes’ lounge, himself thought Beccu won the fight.
Despite the victory, it’s still an uphill climb for Barriga, who has been dreaming of winning an Olympic gold medal since he took up boxing six years ago at age 13, two years since the last win by a Filipino boxer in the Olympics
If he hurdles Zhakypov in the round of 16, the world’s best amateur flyweight will most likely be waiting in ambush in the quarterfinals.
Zou Shiming, who beat Barriga in the quarterfinals of the world championship earlier this year, is on top of his game and is the heavy favorite to win the light flyweight title.
It was Zou who gave Barriga his ticket to the Olympics by winning the world championship. Zou’s win allowed his quarterfinals victim, Barriga, to qualify for the Olympics.
But this is the Olympics, where no quarter is given and none asked.
Originally posted at 05:14 pm | Wednesday, August 01, 2012