LONDON -- As his Kazakh opponent was shedding extra pounds, Mark Anthony Barriga was bulking up as he declared himself ready for another battle that meant the whole world for Team Philippines in the 30th Olympic Games on Saturday.
In his own words, Barriga said he could take a quarter-pounder for a snack and still make the 49-kilogram limit hands down.
“Forty-eight kilos lang ako sir. Kaya pwedeng kumain ng marami,” said Barriga, helping himself to a plateful of rice, noodles and two slices of bread as he took his breakfast at the huge dining hall together with coach Roel Velasco and boxing official Ed Picson on the eve of his second bout.
The 19-year-old Barriga, one of only two athletes in the 11-member Team Philippines given a chance to win a medal along with BMX rider Danny Caluag, climbs the ring for the second time in five days at 1:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m., Manila time) to meet Kazaksthan’s Birzhan Zhakypov, with the winner making it to the quarterfinals.
“Pakiramdam ko mas maganda ang kundisyon ko ngayon keysa noong lumaban ako sa Italian [Manuel Cappai]. Mas maganda ang pakiramdam ko,” said Barriga, shortly before Panamanian boxing coach Jose Lara approached the team and said something that was music to the ears.
“You (Barriga) are quick and talented. You can beat him,” said Lara, a one-time Olympian, adding he was not impressed with the way Zhakypov handled his opening round bout on Tuesday. “He was lucky he hit a couple of good punches in the closing minute.”
According to Velasco, Zhakypov is reportedly having trouble making the 49-kilogram limit, something that resulted in a lackadaisical showing against Frenchman Jeremy Beccu, whom he defeated by the closest of margins, 18-17.
On the other hand, Barriga was a sight to behold, punching, moving and defending impressively like his idol Manny Pacquiao as he hammered out a 17-7 decision over Cappai before a huge crowd that included mother Merlita and father Ed.
On a cold but sunny Thursday morning inside the Athletes Village, Barriga trained for almost an hour in a routine that included four 50-meter sprint runs and abdominal exercises, which the coach and the boxer would replicate in the afternoon.
“Parang nagbabawas ng timbang. Ang daling hingalin doon sa unang laban,” said Velasco, who was quick to point out this will not in any way lull the team into complacency. “Trabaho pa rin. Mahirap ng mag-kumpiyansa.”
Unless the Kazakh comes up with a new game plan once the bell rings, the strategy for Barriga remains the same.
“I will ask him to go for the body, where Europeans are known to be weak,” said Velasco, a bronze medalist in the same division during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and an older brother of Atlanta Games silver winner Onyok.
After their 45-minute workout in the afternoon, Velasco and Barriga watched the video of Zhakypov’s fight against Beccu, studied their game plan again, took their dinner together before calling it a day.
Barriga, whose grandfathers on both sides fought in the pro ranks with limited success, will be giving away six inches in height when he mixes it up with Zhakypov, 28.
But that’s no longer a major concern for the team since the 5-foot Barriga proved he could handle rivals much taller than him when he cut the 5-foot-6 Cappai down to size on Tuesday.
Barriga’s parents have reset their trip back home just to see their son fight again, and lead the cheering along with a lot of countrymen who exploded in delight once the referee raised the Filipino fighter’s right hand as victor over the Italian.
Also in town to provide moral support are boxing body president Ricky Vargas and his lieutenant, Pato Gregorio.
In what could be the most-awaited fight in the program, defending champion Zou Shiming, who drew an opening day bye, takes on Cuban Yosbany Veitia Soto, who debuted with a masterful 24-6 annihilation of Australian Billy Ward on Tuesday.