MARK Anthony Barriga has been labeled the 'Pocket Pacman,' but in terms of stature and the disadvantages they had to overcome inside the ring he is much closer to fellow Olympian Mansueto 'Onyok' Velasco.
The similarities are not lost on Velasco, the last Filipino to win an Olympic medal who said he sees a little bit of himself in the country's brightest hope for a medal in the London Games.
“Si Mark, parang ako ’yan, sanay sa malalaking kalaban,” said Velasco in an interview with radio station DZSR-AM.
The similarities are striking. Both are listed, generously it should be pointed out, at five-foot-two. Both light-flyweights cut taller foes down to size inside the ring with their fearless style. Like Barriga, Onyok was also a first-timer when he won silver in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Barriga opened his bid in London by beating a much-taller Italian foe in Manuel Capai, 17-7, and is two wins from a guaranteed bronze medal and three from duplicating Onyok's silver-medal feat in Barcelona.
Onyok dropped a controversial decision in the finals to Bulgaria’s Daniel Petrov Bojilov in Atlanta. Barriga, 19, is four wins away from a gold medal.
Velasco, now a bit actor and TV personality, is one of only two Filipinos to win a silver medal in the quadrennial games and is rooting for Barriga to match if not surpass his feat.
Barriga, by the way, is coached by Velasco's older brother, 1992 Barcelona Games bronze medalist Roel.
“Gusto ko rin na may makakuha na gold o kahit silver uli para hindi tayo naiiwan,” Velasco said.
After facing a foe six inches taller than him, Barriga’s bid for a medal in London is bound to become more difficult. The Panabo City native will face in the round-of-16 another much taller opponent in Kazakh Birzhan Zhakypov, who reached the quarterfinals in Beijing four years ago.
If Barriga hurdles Zhakypov, he could be in for a showdown with Beijing gold medallist and many-time world champion Zou Shiming of China.
Onyok has one unsolicited advice for Barriga on how to fight taller opponents.
“Galaw galaw ka lang kung makapasok siya, 'wag na niya pigilan,” said Onyok.