LONDON — They call him Pacquiao or Little Pacman by fellow Olympians and countrymen alike while deep in training in Cardiff, Wales.
When Mark Anthony Barriga and his coach, Roel Velasco, left that little city for London , his countrymen wished him the best of luck and prayed he’d do a Manny Pacquiao while inside the ring as he competes in the 30th Olympic Games starting July 31.
"Pacquiao o Little Pacman ang tawag sa akin,’’ said Barriga, dwarfed by towering foreign players going in and heading out of the huge dining hall where he took a breakfast in the company of Velasco and amateur boxing official Ed Picson on Wednesday after a workout.
Velasco and Picson said the light flyweight won the hearts of Cardiff-based Filipinos and the respect of fellow boxers in the course of his 19-day training in Wales because of his style, exuberance and dedication to training.
"Siya yung pinapanood ng mga fans and other boxers,’’ said Picson while noting the many lessons gained from the experience of sparring with fellow light-fly bets from Cameroon, Ghana, Mozambique, Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras.
"It’s a good experience. I can say he’s ready for this Olympics,’’ said Picson of the Panabo City, Davao del Norte native.
Still a bachelor at 19, Barriga made it to the Olympics not on merit but only because the boxer who beat him in the quarterfinal during the world championship qualifier went on to win the gold medal. That guy was defending Olympic titlist Zhou Zhiming, who outpointed him, 12-5, in their quarterfinal match.
Since checking into the Athletes Village on Tuesday morning, weight was never a concern for Barriga, one of only two athletes in the 11-member PH squad given a fighting chance of ending the country’s medal drought that started in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
"Walang problema sa timbang. Under weight nga kung minsan,” said Velasco, the last Filipino to make a podium finish after settling for the bronze medal in the light-fly division in the 1992 Barcelona Games.
In his first full day at the Village, Barriga worked out for a little more than an hour in the morning, shadow boxing, doing abdominal exercises, sprinting, sharpening his reflexes and hitting the punchmitts which all went well.
"Maganda naman ang training niya kanina. Ganadong mag-praktis,” said Velasco, who joined the national coaching staff a few years after retiring from active competition.
Then he blurted out the words which brought a smile on the face of PH team chief of mission Manny Lopez.
"Malaki ang pagasa ni Mark, sir,’’ Velasco told Lopez, his boss at the amateur boxing body when he was at the height of his career like his younger brother, Atlanta silver medalist Mansueto Velasco.
As he was about to leave the hall, Barriga saw South Korean Jong Hun shin, the No. 1 light-fly in the world, who was seating at the far end of the long table. He told Lopez of who Jong is, saying he’s now the No. 1 in the world based on the latest rankings, dislodging Zhiming.
After giving Barriga good luck wishes, Lopez told the boxer not to mind the rankings, telling him that he’ll be fine if he works well and follows the battle plan come fight time. Barriga is ranked 43rd.
"Huwag kang matakot sa rankings. Basta pagbutihin mo sa ring at malayo ang mararating mo,” Lopez said, before touching Barriga’s Mohawk-styled hair like a dear son.