Hope it won’t be “arrivederci” for Barriga

Mark Anthony Barriga is competing in a loaded division but still has a chance. (Photo courtesy of Ronnie Natha …

Most Filipino fans are hoping if not praying fervently that little Mark Anthony Barriga, our country's lone entry in boxing at the 2012 London Olympic Games won't say "arrivederci" or farewell when he faces Italy's European qualifier Manuel Cappai in the opening round of light flyweight competition on Tuesday in a fight to be telecast by AKTV IBC 13 at around 7:00 — 7:30 p.m. right after the Men's basketball game between China and Russia.

While Barriga is 18 years old and Cappai 19, the Italian enjoys a four-inch advantage in height which, in amateur boxing, can prove to be a major advantage since the boxers tend to use the jab to effectively ward off their smaller opponents and to pile up points.

In a report on the boxers to look forward to at the London Games, a popular Internet site referred to Cappai as an "Italian rising star maturing fast at this level." In fact, Barriga is not even mentioned in most assessments by media of the favored contenders.

As expected, all eyes will be on China's Zou Shiming who has virtually dominated the light flyweight division for most of the decade.

He is a triple world champion who won the gold medal before a roaring hometown crowd at the Beijing Olympic Games.

As is common in the sport of boxing, many fighters emerge ready to challenge the champion and at 30 years of age there are those who believe that Zou, away from the influential hometown persuasion of China would have a harder time getting the nod of the judges.

Among the strongest contenders for gold is 23-year -old Jonghun Shin of South Korea who is certain to have learned from his losing effort against Zou Shiming in the finals of the AIBA World Boxing Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2011. He is expected to be smarter being a year older in London.

Shin won the bronze medal at the 2009 World Amateur Boxing Championships which was his first international competition and highlighted by his victory over Cuban champion Daniel Matellon Ramos in the quarterfinals.

At the 2010 Asian Games, the South Korean was a big disappointment, dropping a lopsided 3-17 decision to Birzhan Zhakypov.

Shin clearly learned from that setback and came back strong to win a silver medal at the 2011 World Amateur Boxing Championships, losing to Zou Shiming in the finals and qualifying for London.

Powerhouse Russia will be represented by its captain David Ayrapetyan who at the age of 28 is regarded as a serious contender for the gold medal and a boxer with the skill and the experience to back up his bid.

In the 2009 World Amateur Boxing Championships the Russian fighter dominated Shin to win a 9-1 decision in the semifinals.

AIBA, the International Boxing Association, said the European champion and the AIBA World Championship silver medalist had taken part in Russia's elite squad preparation camp in Kislovdsk where he was named captain of the boxing team.

A fighter of Armenian descent born in Baku in 1983, Ayrapetyan's career began at the age of nine. His first breakthrough came when he won a valuable silver medal at the 2001 Russian Junior National Championships.

He joined the national squad in 2002 before winning the gold medal at the AIBA Junior World Championships in Santiago de Cubas and captured his first national elite title in 2004.

Cuba has been an awesome force in the Olympics but failed to win a single gold medal in Beijing. However, the Cubans are determined to avenge their dismal performance in the London Games anchoring their early hopes on Yosbany Veitia Soto, a classy boxer typical of the Cubans.

The 20-year-old southpaw was stopped by Mongolia's defending champion Purwevdorjiin Serdamba in the 2011 World Championships and in the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico lost in the finals to hometown boy Joselito Velasquez by a wide 20-12 margin.

Ireland's Patrick Barnes will be backed by a hometown crowd and is also expected to pose a challenge if not a threat to the medal contenders, while another fighter with solid credentials is Puerto Rico's Jantony Ortiz Marcano.

The pundits would do well not to ignore Barriga. The kid has a fighting heart and typifies the courage of Filipinos in the ring.

Trained by former Barcelona Olympics bronze medalist Roel Velasco with some added advice from "Fighter of the Decade" Manny Pacquiao, Barriga may have his hands full against his much taller Italian opponent but if he can work on the inside, use his speed and lateral movements to stay out of punching range and connect with some powerful body shots, he may be able to wear the Italian down and then begin to work on him in the third and final round.

For the Philippines, boxing has been the richest medal sport in the Olympics and despite the overwhelming odds there is no reason that Barriga cannot bring home a medal and end a long, agonizing 16-year-drought.

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.