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LONDON—Mark Anthony Barriga climbs the London 2012 boxing ring on Tuesday lacking in height and experience but not with a big fighting heart.
“I maybe the shortest and they [opponents] may be the best in the world—and I’m not—but we will all have to settle it in the ring,” said Barriga in Filipino on the eve of his light-flyweight preliminary bout against fellow 19-year-old Manuel Cappai at the 10,000-seat ExCel (that’s ExCel) South arena at the heart of London.
Barriga is the shortest in the field at 5-foot-2, giving away 4 inches to the Italian.
“But all my opponents were taller than me, so Cappai won’t be a surprise tall opponent,” said Barriga, the country’s lone entry in London 2012 boxing.
The Barriga-Cannai duel is second on Tuesday’s program and would commence at about 1:45 p.m. here (about 9:45 p.m. in Manila).
On Barriga’s fists lie one of two of the country’s best hopes for a medal in London 2012—the other being Daniel Caluag in BMX cycling—but the pressure does not show on the pride of Panabo City.
“All are Olympians and champions in their respective countries and continents, but when we’re up there in the ring, we’re all the same athletes,” he said.
Barriga punched the mitts with coach Roel Velasco, a light flyweight bronze medalist in Barcelona 1992, in an empty room at their apartment inside the Olympic Village.
“It’s just too cold outside and Mark could not sweat if they train out there,” said Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines Executive Director Ed Picson.
Velasco is as confident as his ward.
“Look at him, he’s happy and in good shape,’’ said Velasco, the elder brother of Atlanta 1996 silver medalist Mansueto “Onyok.”
“I’m ready,’’ said Barriga. “I’ve trained for almost two years and I must say I’m ready.”
Barriga is described as a quick and intelligent boxer. Cannai, on the other hand, is also quick in both hands and feet and at times resembles the move of two-time Olympic champion Zou Shiming of China.
“But he’s no Zou,” said Picson.
Velasco acknowledged the Italian’s physical advantage but stressed they have always prepared for taller opponents.
“That’s a worry for us [Barriga’s height disadvantage], but Mark is definitely a faster boxer. It should be an interesting fight,’’ said Velasco.
Velasco added they are aware of their mission in London 2012, which Team Philippines would want to accomplish in London.
“It’s a tough group. But I have confidence in Mark. He worked hard to earn this one, he persevered for two years only to make it to the Olympics. I know he’ll not dissappoint us,’’ said Velasco.
Barriga had what all he needed to prepare for the Olympics behind the backing of Manny V. Pangilinan.
On Tuesday morning Barriga will be subjected to the general weigh-in where he does not expect to encounter any problem.
The top four seeds—based on current international boxing rules—Shiming, No. 2 Shin Jonghun of South Korea, No. 3 David Ayrapetyan of Russia and No. 4 Serdamba Puevdorj of Mongolia, drew opening-day byes in the 26-boxer field.
Ayrapetyan, incidentally, was Barriga’s victim for the gold medal in the Sydney Jackson Memorial tournament in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, earlier this year.
If Barriga survives the former Italian featherweight champion, he could be up against the rated Birzhan Zhakypov of Kazakhstan, who is heavily favored to beat Jeremy Beccu of France. And if he further advances, he could be facing in the quarterfinals Shiming or Cuban Sosbany Soto.