LONDON -- Mark Anthony Barriga left the boxing hall to the joyful applause of several countrymen and volunteers in the hallway, heading out in a hurry with his team in tow and proceeding to a little corner to meet a couple dearest to his heart.
A few moments later, loud shouts rang out and tears of joy were shed as the Filipino boxer fell into the tight, happy embrace of his parents, who watched their son outclass Italian Manuel Cappai on Tuesday afternoon in the 30th Olympic Games.
Counter-punching effectively and defending splendidly, the 19-year-old Barriga dominated the fight from the moment it started and scored a runaway 17-7 decision in a win that came like a whiff of fresh air after a week of grim tidings for Team Philippines.
“Malakas din sumuntok pero nalusutan natin,” said Barriga, resting his tired legs and body and listening to the music of the Bee Gees and Everly Brothers as he laid down in his unit at the Athletes Village.
With mother Merlita and father Edgar watching and a handful of Filipinos shouting “Kaya mo yan, Mark, Kaya mo yan Mark,” the Filipino southpaw never gave Cappai a chance despite giving up six inches in height in a one-sided match that left the Italian champion’s coach fuming mad.
“I told him to attack,attack, attack but he didn’t do,” said coach Francisco Damiani, the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics heavyweight champion who showed his disappointment after the bout by throwing one of Cappai’s gloves to the floor.
The way Barriga did his thing for three solid rounds didn’t go unnoticed for Damiani.
“He’s the better fighter. He counterpunched very well. He’s shorter but that’s no problem with him,” said Damiani, adding the fight was practically over as early as the second round. “He dominated it (fight).”
Filipino coach Roel Velasco and boxing official Ed Picson did all the talking as Barriga politely asked not to be interviewed, telling everyone he’s going to rest and think of his next bout which his team said is not going to be easy.
They are telling the truth since his round-of-16 bout will be against Kazaksthan’s Birzhan Zhakypov, who rallied in the third round to escape with an 18-17 win in one of the closest light-fly fights in the day’s program.
Velasco said Zhakypov is not new to the team. Although Barriga and the Kazakh haven’t met yet in an international tournament, they know each other pretty well since they’ve sparred several times during the Asian Qualifier in Kazaksthan.
“Magaling din pero kakayanin ni Mark,” said Velasco while noting that Barriga once bloodied the nose of the Kazakh in one of their sparring sessions ahead of the Asian qualifier early this year.
Velasco said Cappai hurt his boy only once in the nine-minute, three-round encounter. It came as the second round was winding down when the Italian hit him with a solid straight to the chest.
“Nasaktan daw siya doon sa suntok sa dibdib,” Velasco remembered Barriga telling him inside the bus that would take them to the Village after the bout.
It was Barriga who was on top of everything. In fact, he scored a mandatory eight-count nearing the end of the first round which ended with the Filipino well ahead, 5-2.
“It gave a ray of hope to our quest to end our disappointing campaigns in three previous Olympics,” said Team Philippines chief of mission Manny Lopez, his voice rising above the din as he shouted encouraging words to Mark in the heat of battle. “We are all elated by this win.”
Shortly after his win, the boxer received a text message from sports patron Manny Pangilinan, who asked the Panabo City native “to stay positive, stay strong.”
“Kaya mo yan, Mark. Huwag kang bibitiw at nandiyan Siya palagi sa tabi mo,” said the other text from the man who has spent a fortune bankrolling national teams in boxing and basketball.
Without a doubt, the presence of his parents was most welcome for Barriga who hasn’t seen them since he went to the training camp in Cardiff, Wales early last month.
Watching from the lower box section of the hall, the Barrigas made it here as part of a special program sponsored by Olympic partner Procter and Gamble.
With Velasco in Mark’s corner during the bout was Irishman Kevin Smith, coach of the Algerian squad who volunteered to assist the team being a friend of the Filipino mentor.