WHEN two lucky boxers collide in the ring, one of them is bound to run out of luck.
Such was the case when light flyweights Mark Anthony Barriga and Birzhan Zhakypov crossed paths in the round of 16 of the Olympic boxing competitions in London.
The boxers showed up in the squared circle with a whole lot of good luck riding on their shoulders. Barriga, a 19-year-old native of Panabo City, Davao del Norte, actually lost to China’s Zou Shiming in the quarterfinals of the 2011 World Amateur Boxing Championships, a qualifying tournament for the Olympics. However, a last-minute change in the rules gave Barriga a ticket to London.
On the other hand, Zhakypov, a 28-year-old veteran from Kazakhstan who also lost to Shiming in the 2008 Beijing Games, was extremely lucky to make it to the final 16 of the tournament. Like Barriga, Zhakypov was also given a last-minute ticket to London despite losing his first match in the 2011 World Amateur Boxing Championships. In his opening match in the London Games, Zhakypov barely escaped defeat with an 18-17 victory over France’s Jeremy Beccu. Beccu was ahead, 11-10, going into the third and final round, but Zhakypov somehow got away with a one-point victory. Zhakypov seemed ready to accept defeat and was wiping what appeared to be tears in his eyes when he was announced as the surprise winner.
Beccu did not mince any word in claiming he was robbed of a clear victory against Zhakypov, with his coach, Jean Savarino, labeling the outcome an “injustice.”
Nothing came out of the Beccu’s “French cries” as Zhakypov advanced to the next round. Unfortunately for Barriga, it was his turn to be victimized by Zhakypov’s lucky streak.
In a three-round fight marred by a lot of wrestling and clinching, Zhakypov got away with yet another one-point victory, 17-16. Barriga was ahead, 10-8, going into the third and final round when Zhakypov received unsolicited support from Canadian referee Labie Roland. In the middle of the third round, Roland slapped a two-point deduction on Barriga for head-butting. Without the deduction, Barriga would have won the fight.
Officials of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines lodged a protest, but the International Amateur Boxing Association predictably did not waste any time in junking it.
And so this is how it ends for Barriga. The country’s only bet for the boxing gold is eliminated by one, teeny-weeny point. And you thought it could not get any more heartbreaking.
Barriga’s luck just ran out against Zhakypov. He looked good, even splendid, in the second round, but seemed winded in the final stanza. In his second fight in the tournament, the diminutive Barriga had to deal with another taller, heftier adversary.
The favorite to win the gold in the light flyweight class remains the fleet-footed Zou Shiming, who booked a trip to the next round by whipping Cuba’s Yosvani Soto, 14-11. The 31-year-old Zou, who initially took up martial arts as a kid but abandoned it for being too “constrained,” is the most accomplished amateur boxer in China’s history. He collared a bronze medal in the 2004 Athens Games, three amateur world titles in 2005, 2007 and 2011, and a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Games. Zou gave China its first Olympic boxing gold medal in 2008 when he defeated Pürevdorjiin Serdamba of Mongolia. Shiming is on track for a second Olympic gold in London.
It will be interesting to see if Zhakypov’s luck will continue to hold against Shiming.