LONDON — Mark Barriga went back to the dugout past a handful of forlorn countrymen in the hallway, his face awash in sadness over a painful loss which he found hard to believe on Saturday afternoon.
“Masakit ang nangyari. Hindi ako makapaniwala na natalo ako,” said Barriga as coach Roel Velasco and team official Ed Picson gave him comforting words, telling him he’ll have his turn in another time, another place.
Around 20 minutes or so ago, the young, courageous fighter from Panabo City absorbed a loss that broke a lot of hearts, taking a close 16-17 decision at the hands of the experienced Birzhan Zhakypov of Kazakhstan in their round-of-16 bout in the 30th Olympic Games before a big crowd at the Excel Arena.
It was a match which Barriga had well under control until he faded in the stretch, allowing his much-bigger rival to come back and eventually let a win get away from his grasps with some help from Canadian referee Roland Labbe.
Team Philippines put the outcome under protest, claiming the third man on the ring erred in giving a warning to Barriga for excessive ducking a little over a minute into the third round, which meant a two-point plus for the Kazakh fighter.
The protest was immediately junked by the board of jury, saying the grounds for the protest were "subjective to review."
"Parang nawalan na ako ng gana ng mabigyan ako ng warning,’’ Barriga told a Team PH official at the Athletes Village, turning serious after trading jokes in their Cebuano dialect with teammate Marestella Torres and London-based therapist Ester Latog.
‘’Kung hindi sa warning, sa akin na sana yun. Wala pang tatlong caution, binigyan na niya agad ako (warning). Sayang,’’ added Mark, who was later treated to a dinner by amateur boxing officials led by ABAP president Ricky Vargas.
Quick with his feet and sharp with his moves, the 5-foot-flat Barriga went to the body right in the first two rounds as part of the battle plan, and moved ahead 10-8 at the end of the second round which he dominated, (6-3). He lost the first (4-5).
Taller at 5-foot-6 and a lot older at 28, the Kazakh seemed to have gotten his second wind as Barriga started fading and losing the power of his fists in the third round, which looked more like a judo or a wrestling match on many occasions.
For doing it a lot of times, the ref gave both fighters a warning as the match was dwindling into its last few seconds. But it was the Filipino who found himself in the losing end as the Kazakh managed to salvage the third round (9-6) and eventually the match that gave him a place in the light-fly quarterfinals.
Both boxers failed to produce the punch that really hurt, but they figured in a lot of fierce, furious exchanges specially in the second round which the Filipino won after firing two good straights to the face of the Kazakh two minutes into the round.
Barriga managed to say good words for the Kazakh even in his lowest moments.
"Magaling, mataas at magulang. Marami ng experience. Napagaralan siguro ang style ko kasi madalas kaming mag-spar dati," he said of Zhakypov, who meets defending champion Zou Shiming in the quarters.
Shiming, who gave China its first ever Olympic gold medal in boxing with a controversial win over Ireland’s Paddy Brnes in 2008, outpointed Cuba’s Yosbany Veitia Soto (14-11) in an earlier bout in which he won every round.
"A warning that was given means a two-point addition. That gave two points to Mark’s opponent. That’s the one that really hurts. We should have won by one,’’ lamented Picson.
Back at the village, Barriga, as the volunteer therapist was taping his swollen right wrist, complained of headache for a while, before excusing himself and dressing up for the dinner with the boxing officials.
‘’Kain kami sa labas. Para maiba naman,’’ he said smiling.