LONDON –- Light flyweight Mark Anthony Barriga scored the Philippines first win in the London Olympics Tuesday, outpointing Italy’s taller Manuel Cappai in the first round of the boxing competitions at the ExCel Arena.
The 19-year-old Barriga repeatedly scored left straights and combinations, counterpunching most of the time to score a lopsided 17-7 victory over the taller Italian.
Barriga set the tone of the fight by knocking down the Italian in the first round and later jarred him with a wicked left to the face that prompted the referee to give Cappai a standing count.
The first round ended with the Filipino leading at 5-2
Barriga continued the barrage on Cappai in the second round, forcing the Italian to swing a miss wildly as he moved from side to side, forward and backward. At times the right-handed Italian tried to confuse the left-handed Filipino by matching his southpaw stance, only to continue absorbing punishment from Barriga, who widened his lead to 9-4 at the end of the round.
The third round was more of the same, and by that time, there was no doubt as to the outcome.
Barriga, described by fans and fellow fighters as Little Pacman because his style of fighting resembled that of world champion Manny Pacquiao, arrived in London last week after a three-week training camp in Cardiff, Wales, where he trained and sparred with some of the fighters entered in London.
He started fighting six years ago, when he was 13, in his hometown of Panabo, Davao Oriental, fueled by a dream to fight in the Olympics and winning a gold medal.
He qualified for the Olympics, ironically by losing in the quarterfinals of the world championship in Azerbaijan earlier this year. To win the Olympic slot, he had to pray that his tormentor, China’s Zou Shiming, would win the world championship. His prayers were answered: Zou won and the first leg of the dream was fulfilled.
In Barriga’s corner was Roel Velasco, bronze medallist in the same division in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Since he was the only boxing coach in the Philippine delegation, he was assisted in the corner by Kevin Smith.
Smith was an Irishman based in Liverpool and is the head coach of Nigeria in the London Games. According to Ed Picson, executive director of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines, Velasco and Smith struck up a friendship only a few days ago at the Athletes’ Village.
“We asked Kevin to assist in Mark’s corner and he agreed,” Picson said.