By Charles Jay
More people are looking toward the Philippines with interest since the professional success of Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire.
As far as stars of the future are concerned, many eyes may now be looking at Mark Anthony Barriga.
Mark Barriga, Phillippines, exchanges punches with Manuel Cappai, Italy. Men’s Light Fly 46-49kg Boxing Preliminaries round of 32. London 2012 Olympic Games, Boxing. South Arena 2 ExCeL Arena, Royal Victoria Dock, London, England. Picture: Caroline Quinn/ AIBA
Barriga is rated #33 by AIBA in the light flyweight class, but that doesn’t accurately reflect where a lot of people think he is going to be.
He was a surprise star of the recent AIBA “Road to London” program and he qualified for the Olympics in rather strange fashion, as he lost a 12-5 decision Shiming Zou of China at the 2011 World Amateur Championships, but won a berth in the Olympics through what was termed a “qualification quirk” because Zou, the man who beat him, went on to win the tournament title.
However he got to London, he came up big in his opening round match at the ExCel Arena, overcoming a height disadvantage to defeat Italy’s Manuel Fabrizio Cappai by a 17-7 score and advance into the Round of 16.
Barriga is an aggressive type, so it is no shocker that some people have taken to calling him the “Little Pacman.” He started out things like a whirlwind, flooring Cappai in the first round. He wasn’t done yet with his first-round assault, landing a big left hand that brought the referee forward to stop the proceedings momentarily for an eight-count.
Of course, Barriga had to get aggressive because it was essentially for him to get close to Cappai. But the Italian was not able to exact and edge from his greater height and reach, and was desperate enough to get an offensive attack going in the second round that he switched to the southpaw stance. This was not going to phase Barriga, who is a natural southpaw (yes, just like Manny)
So the points were piling up the Filipino, who was commanding leader by five points as the third round started. He almost doubled his point total in the third round, and there was no doubt near the end as to what the outcome was, or who was going to be emerging as a new threat in the division.
The next opponent for Barriga is Kazakhstan’s Asian Games silver medallist Birzhan Zhakypov. The winner will advance to the final eight and move one step away from the medal round.
Barriga works with Roel Velasco, who is no stranger to competing on the world-class level in this division. Velasco was in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, earning a bronze medal at the 49 kg limit, and is the brother of Mansueto Velasco, who won a light flyweight silver medal in the 1996 Olympics.
In an unusual twist, Kevin Smith, the head coach of the Nigerian team in these Games, also worked Barriga’s corner. That’s because the team from the Philippines appears to be understaffed, with only one boxing coach present. Well, there’s a pretty good explanation for that; Barriga is the only Filipino representative in boxing. From the land of Pacquiao and Donaire, is that not almost unthinkable?