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Talk of ‘boxing mafia’ rises following scandals

The Philippines’ Mark Barriga, left, fights Kazakhstan’s Birzhan Zhakypov, during the men’s light flyweight boxing competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012, in London. AP FILE PHOTO/IVAN SEKRETAREV

LONDON—Judging from the scandals that have rocked the boxing competitons of the London Olympic Games, the so-called Mafia in international boxing is apparently still around, and Kazakhstan is now among the “Lords of the Ring.”

This was the reaction of some Philippine boxing officials to the controversial defeat suffered by light flyweight Mark Anthony Barriga to Birzhan Zhakypov of Kazakhstan in their round of 16 fight last weekend.

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“This time the Mafia is worse,” said Manny Lopez, former president of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (Abap). He pointed to Kazakhstan and China—a front-runner in the overall medal race in the Olympics—as the new “Lords of the Ring.”

The “Lord of the Rings” is a fantasy trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien about a cursed ring that corrupts whoever has it. In the Tolkien story, the main ring needs to be destroyed to save the fictional world of Middle Earth.

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So is the Mafia in boxing really still around and Barriga its latest victim?

Allegations of corruption

International boxing had been hounded for years by allegations of fight fixing, bribery and corruption under the scandal-rocked, 20-year rule of Pakistan’s Anwar Chowdry as president of the International Amateur Boxing Association (Aiba).

Chowdry was disgraced and ousted in 2006 and replaced by Wu Ching-kuo of Taiwan, who promised reforms. This prompted the International Olympic Committee to restore Aiba to good standing after freezing its share of more than a million dollars in television revenue due to controversial decisions in the 2004 Olympics.

Lopez and his father, former Manila Mayor Mel Lopez,  fought Chowdry for years and helped in ousting him.

The younger Lopez believes a new Mafia has replaced the old one.

“Nothing has changed,” Lopez said the morning after Barriga was slapped two penalties— worth a total of four points for his opponent—that cost him his fight against Zhakypov. “We lost to the referee, not to the Kazakhstan fighter,” he said.

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Holding and wrestling

Lopez said it was a no-no for referees to impose penalties on fighters in the third round—unless the infractions were very blatant—because this could change the complexion of the fight and tilt the balance in favor of an undeserving fighter.

That’s exactly what happened to Barriga, who was penalized twice without receiving a word of caution in the third round and lost by a single point, 17-16.

Under the rules, a referee may caution or give a warning to an offending fighter. A “caution” is without a penalty but a “warning” is more serious, with two points added to the score of the other boxer.

Philippine officials said Barriga was a victim of Zhakypov’s holding and wrestling  the whole fight. In fact, the Kazakh was cautioned time and again without incurring a warning.

Others also surprised

In the third round, Zhakypov pushed Barriga down low and, to everyone’s surprise, the referee gave a warning to the Filipino— adding two points to the Kazakh’s score—for ducking too low.

In the dying seconds, the Kazakh again wrestled Barriga, slamming him to the canvas and going down himself. As soon as they got up with one second to go, the referee penalized both players.

“The referee favored the fighter from Kazakhstan,” said Lopez, who is here as chief of mission of the Philippine delegation.

Lopez said an English referee had shown disbelief at the outcome of the fight, saying he had not seen anything like it in

12 years as a boxing referee.

Chowdry is gone. He was ousted in 2006 (he died in 2010), but Lopez said that despite Wu’s promise of reforms, nothing had changed.

Kazakhstan’s influence

Among the other Aiba members that have complained of alleged continuing corruption in Aiba under Wu’s rule are France, the United Sates, Thailand and India.

To illustrate Kazakhstan’s dominance in boxing, it qualified a total 11 fighters in the London Olympics, including two women. Of the nine men, six have made it to the quarterfinals.

Another indication of Kazakhstan’s influence, Lopez said, is its decision to build an Aiba training center in Astana, its new capital, for $8 million (another account says it’s worth $13 million).

The question, Lopez said, is: Would Aiba antagonize such a generous host?

Haves vs have-nots

Barriga’s opponent, Zhakypov, won his two fights by a combined total of two points. He won over Jeremy Beccu of France by a single point after trailing going into the third round, a win roundly booed by the crowd.

He was clearly losing to Barriga until Canadian referee Roland Labbe intervened going into the final minute and a half of the fight.

For Abap president Ricky Vargas,  it’s no longer just a fight between two boxers. Very often, it’s also “a fight between the haves and the have-nots,” Vargas said.

“It’s very hard to win in boxing,” Lopez lamented. “We have to fight on two fronts, on and off the ring.”

Advice from Pacquiao

At home, boxing superstar and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao had a piece of advice for Barriga.

“He should not lose hope because he will have his chance to fight again in the future. He should just charge it to experience,” Pacquiao told reporters after leading a Bible-sharing session at the anniversary of the Police Community Relations Group in Camp Crame.

Pacquiao himself lost a controversial split decision to US boxer Timothy Bradley in their world welterweight title fight in Las Vegas last June.

“It’s a pity. He (Barriga) had a good chance to win … I thought he could beat his opponent. But he could win it next time,” Pacquiao said, adding Barriga must focus on his training to improve his skills and be ready for his future fights.

“[Barriga] should learn from his experiences so he can understand what he should do next time,” he said. With a report from Marlon Ramos

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