LONDON—The referee dealt a lethal blow to Mark Barriga’s Olympic dream on Saturday, but it was the jury, which drove the last nail on the coffin of the Philippines’ one and only hope for a boxing medal in the 39th Olympic Games in London.
The competition jury refused to take up the appeal of boxing officials to review Barriga’s controversial loss to Kazakhstan’s Birzhan Zhakypov hours after the referee penalized the Filipino light flyweight a total of four points in the final 90 seconds of the fight.
The Filipino lost the fight, 17-16. In effect, referee Roland Labbe of Canada single-handedly gave the fight to the Kazakh.
Luiz Bosell, chairman of boxing’s competition jury of the London Games, said the jury upheld the referee’s decision, saying the appeal was “too subjective to review.”
Filipino officials had filed a protest, saying that while the referee had cautioned the Kazakh many times for wrestling and pushing, he gave a warning to Barriga midway through the final round for ducking too low.
In amateur boxing, a warning merits a two-point penalty against the offender by adding two points to his opponent’s score.
After losing the first round, 5-4, Barriga had outfought Zhakypov the rest of the fight, coming under the Kazakh’s punches and scoring repeatedly with combinations to the face and body. He went into the third round with a 10-8 advantage and was well on his way to the quarterfinals when the referee intervened halfway through the third and final round.
The taller Kazakh had wrestled Barriga throughout the fight, slamming him to the canvas, swinging him around and against the ropes, and pushing him down.
With 84 seconds left in the fight, Barriga lunged with a left, but the Kazakh stepped back, caught his left shoulder and pushed him down. The referee stepped in and pulled them apart and started signaling a penalty on Barriga for ducking too low.
This surprised Barriga’s corner and the capacity crowd at the ExCel South Arena, who didn’t even know what the penalty was all about.
“He was pushing and slamming me around,” he said. “I was surprised I was the one who was penalized.”
Barriga gamely fought on, but he was on the verge of exhaustion on the wrestling tactics of the Kazakh.
Twice in the third round, Zhakypov wrestled him to the ground and it was only with 30 seconds left in the fight that the Kazakh started scoring on the weary Filipino.
And with one desperate clinch, the Kazakh pushed the Filipino to the canvas with one second left in the fight, both fighters hitting the deck and Barriga landing on his back with a dull thud.
Then, the referee pulled one final surprise. Instead of penalizing just Zhakypov, he also penalized Barriga.
This time, Barriga showed his disgust at the officiating. He turned his back to the referee and walked away.
“I was pissed off. I was the one getting hurt from too much wrestling. Again I was penalized,” he lamented.
Without the penalties, Barriga should have won the fight by three points, or at least by a point had the referee not penalized the Kazakh in the final second as well.
It was the second straight controversial victory by Zhakypov, who barely survived the first round when he scraped out an 18-17 victory in the round of 32 against Jeremy Beccu of France. The Frenchman was ahead going into the third round only to lose the decision, which was roundly booed by the crowd.
Asked if he was hurt in the fight, Barriga said: “Yes, sa kakabalibag n’ya sa akin (from the slamming I got from him) .“
His body sore from the grappling and his right first swollen from the punches he threw, Barriga checked into the polyclinic of the Athletes Village Saturday morning on the advice of the ring doctor.
Within 30 minutes after the fight, boxing officials led by Ed Picson, executive director of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines, lodged the protest.
“We have to stand up for Mark,” said Ricky Vargas, president of the ABAP, who arrived in London along with ABAP secretary general Patrick Gregorio only hours before the fight.
But the jury refused to even review the fight.
In a statement on Sunday morning, Vargas said it was “a painful experience” for a young and promising boxer who worked hard and fought with a big heart, only to lose by a controversial call by the referee.
Vargas said the ABAP would persevere and even work harder to achieve “our Olympic quest.”
“We may have lost a boxing match in London, but definitely not our Filipino pride,” Vargas said.
The controversial decision was just one of many that had marred the boxing competition in boxing. Charges of fight fixing had dogged the Olympics in London. At least two officials had been expelled, some suspended and at least two decisions have been reversed.
Vargas fell short of claiming fixing in the Barriga fight, but he said: “It seems in the battle of giants, justice is more difficult to attain for a small country like ours.”
He comforted Barriga and assured him that he fought a good fight.