Filipino boxer in Olympics ready for Saturday fight

DAVAO CITY (Updated) -- Medal hopeful Mark Anthony Barriga of the Philippines is all set to trade punches against former sparring partner 28-year-old Birzhan Zhakypov of Kazakhstan in their second round clash.

The bout will happen today, Saturday (Philippine time), at the ExCel Exhibition Center in London. It will be aired live at AKTV IBC 13 at 8:45 p.m.

The five-foot-two Panabo City native Barriga, a product of Barangay Una Boxing Team of Davao del Norte, advanced to Saturday’s bout after hacking out a convincing 17-7 win over taller Italian Manuel Cappai in men's light flyweight first round of the 2012 London Olympics boxing competition on Tuesday.

He shunned interviews though, but later issued a statement for declining to be interviewed by media as reported by BoxingScene.com.

In the statement, he said they've been studying the tape of the Kazakh fighter.

"I believe it will be a good fight because we sparred before and he is good and strong. He (Zhakypov) greeted me before my fight against the Italian. He told me I could beat him and I told him he too could beat the Italian,” the statement said.

Barriga and Zhakypov sparred two or three times during the Asian Qualifying tournament where the Panabo pride no longer competed having had qualified for the Olympics via backdoor of the Aiba World Boxing Championship in Baku, Azerbaijan last year.

The Filipino pug, monickered as “Little Pacman,” even bloodied the Kazakh's nose during one exchange of those exciting sparring sessions. The unassuming Barriga, however, said it was not an indication that their Round of 16 showdown will be just a walk in the park.

He also apologized, saying: “Please forgive me for not giving you an interview. I was shocked at the sudden attention after only my first victory. There is a long way to go before we win a medal. Tough opponents are waiting for me, that is why I don’t wish to celebrate just yet. I want to focus on training.”

On Saturday’s fight, he vowed it is going to be "war".

"He (Zhakypov) is kind but when we meet I will do everything possible to win," Barriga said.

He also apologized to his Facebook friends, especially to those who sent him messages of support and encouragement. He said he feels great knowing that so many people prayed and continue to pray for him.

He went on saying, "Pero sana maunawaan nyo na sa dami ng mga messages, hindi ko kaya na masagot lahat. Sinubok ko nung una pero di ko akalain na aabot pala ng libo ang kailangan kung sagutin. Kahit yung mga kaibigan at kamag-anak lang, sobrang dami na."

He assured Filipinos though that they've been serious in preparing for the next fight.

Coach Roel Velasco, a bronze medalist in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, advised him to also rest and recover from his last bout.

He intended to reply to all well-wishers considering that they give him inspiration and strength but he needs to focus and time was a luxury for him at the moment.

"Ang lahat ng sakripisyo at hirap ko ay nawawala kapag nababasa ko ang mga messages ninyo. Maraming-maraming salamat at sana kaawaan tayong lahat ng Poong Maykapal. Thank you uli sa inyong mga suporta," Barriga wrote.

In a separate entry, the first-time Olympian thanked former congressman Tonyboy Floirendo and Representative Anton Lagdameo, along with his fellow Barangay Una boxers, for their support and prayers.

He admitted that he will have to go through the odds just to win an Olympic medal.

He said Barangay Una taught him the discipline in training that gave him courage to face bigger challenges in his boxing career.

Barriga added in the vernacular, "Please forgive me for not replying to all your messages. I will never ever forget where I came from. Mabuhay ang produkto ng Barangay Una Boxing Team Panabo City-Davao del Norte! I miss you all."

The country last won an Olympic medal courtesy of boxer Mansueto "Onyok" Velasco, who won silver in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (Abap) regional technical director Ramon "Dodong" Revamonte earlier told Sun.Star Davao that Barriga, whom he considers a brilliant fighter, stands a good chance to beat Zhakypov but he also hoped that judges will be fair.

Zhakypov's controversial 18-17 win over France's Jeremy Beccu left Filipinos hoping that Barriga won't suffer the same fate as the French boxer who cried he was a victim of injustice.

Beccu put on a strong performance that would have won him the fight handily under professional scoring rules, but the amateur game is decided by punches landed in a complicated computerized scoring system.

"I knew I had to fight against the judges also, alas," Beccu said. "It's really unfair. I should have won. Nobody can convince me otherwise."

He was leading by one point going into the final round before losing by just a point in the judges' final tally.

Complaints about the judging have been down sharply so far in London after two weeks of seemingly nonstop whining in Beijing, although the sniping may rise again when the top-seeded fighters in each weight category begin hitting the ring on Wednesday and beyond. (With AP/Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)
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