Filipino boxer in London Olympics to face tough Kazakh foe

DAVAO CITY -- Pint-sized Mark Anthony Barriga, who humbled taller Italian Manuel Cappai in a convincing 17-7 win on Tuesday night (Philippine time), will be up against tougher Birzhan Zhakypov of Kazakhstan on Saturday.

The two will face each other in the men's light-flyweight division Round of 16 of the ongoing 2012 London Olympics boxing competition at ExCel Exhibition Center in London.

The 5’6” 28-year-old Zhakypov escaped an 18-17 victory over France's Jeremy Beccu in another first round bout to arrange a clash against Philippines' lone boxing hope 5’2” Barriga, only 19.

Olympian Zhakypov was a silver medalist in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou where he lost to eventual gold medalist Zou Shiming of China. He is also defending his gold in the quadri-ennial world's premier sports spectacle.

Zhakypov, who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, also won a bronze in the 2005 World Amateur Boxing Championships.

The two-time Sydney Jackson Memorial Tournament champion Barriga, on the other hand, was a quarter-finalist in the Aiba Youth World Boxing Championships 2010 but lost his Round of 16 bout to Zou Shiming (12-5), who later took the gold, in the 2011 Aiba World Boxing Championship in Baku, Azerbaijan.

International amateur boxing referee judge Ramon "Dodong" Revamonte, in text messages to Sun.Star Davao, said Barriga stands a good chance against the Kazakh.

"Basta kondisyon lang si Mark kaya kaayo niya ang taga Kazakhstan. Kakita man ko sa away sa iyang makalaban, hapit pa man gani mapildi. Mas gusto ni Mark muaway ug taas pa sa iya. (As long as Barriga is in good condition, he can defeat the Kazakhstan boxer who nearly lost his match. Barriga wants to fight taller opponents)," he said.

Revamonte also said in the vernacular, "Barriga is a brilliant fighter. I've been in amateur boxing for a long time; he's one in a million among other young boxers because of his boxing skill. I just hope he won't get cheated by the judges. He will win with the prayers of the Filipino people."

Representative Anton Lagdameo’s chief-of-staff Gene Rose Tecson, also manager of the Barangay Una Boxing Team of Davao del Norte where Barriga honed his talent, was elated about the Filipino boxer’s win.

"So proud of Mark. He is living our dream of the country's first Olympic gold to come from Mindanao. Mabuhay si Tonyboy Floirendo for his vision. Siya ang nag-umpisa ng lahat! Hindi na mabubura ang Davao del Norte boxing team ni Sir Tonyboy. Naka produce ng Olympian!" Tecson said.

She is optimistic that Barriga will advance, adding, "His edge is his heart. He wants this so bad for himself, for the country, for God."

Barriga outpunched five-foot-six Cappai, 5-2, 4-2, 8-3 in all three rounds as he capitalized on his excellent speed, timing and footwork.

Barriga unleashed a barrage of counterpunches at the start of the first round. He tagged his rival with a right that staggered Cappai before his combination led to a standing eight-count for the Italian.

Cappai, known to change position at any given time, tried to be more aggressive in the second round yet he got warnings for hitting Barriga at the back of the head.

The wily Filipino, now being called the "Little Pacquiao" or "Pocket Pacquiao," proved too elusive to stretch his lead, 9-4, and he never looked back to secure the win after the thir round.

Ann Margie Sienes, Barriga's girlfriend, said he and his coach Roel Velasco couldn't contain their joy when they talked via Viber.

"They were just laughing and laughing. They were so happy. We didn't talk about the fight anymore because it was just a short conversation. I think Mark also didn't grant interviews there because he just wants to focus on his next fight," Sienes told Sun.Star Davao in text messages.

Coach Velasco, according to Sienes, thanked all Filipinos for supporting Barriga in prayers. (With AP/Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)

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