MANILA, Philippines – All eyes are on Mark Anthony Barriga, the Philippines' lone boxer in the 2012 Olympic Games, as he tries to revive the country's hopes for Olympic gold.
Barriga will face Italian Manuel Cappai at the ExCel South Arena in London today (late night in Manila), and according to Ed Picson, the executive director of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (ABAP), the 19-year-old pug is ready for his first challenge.
"Mark is listed at 5-foot-2 and Cappai (at) 5-foot-6, so he comes in with a big height advantage," Picson told Joaquin Henson of The Philippine Star.
"They're both 19 but Cappai is about nine months older. We’ve watched him in action on YouTube and (coach) Roel (Velasco) thinks he's slower than Mark," he added.
"Cappai likes to switch-hit like most Italian orthodox boxers. Mark's not taking anybody lightly. We've talked to him and he’s very focused."
Picson said Barriga is prepared to face not only Cappai and reigning Olympic champion Zou Shiming of China, but all the other boxers as well.
"He's very focused, not just on Zou but on anyone he fights. It's dangerous to prepare for only one fighter or only style," Picson told Henson. "In Olympic boxing, you anticipate the un-anticipatable. You prepare for all."
Barriga is just one of several Filipino athletes vying for a shot at Olympic gold since the Philippines made its Olympic debut in 1924. The country last took home a silver medal in boxing in 1996, courtesy of fighter Onyok Velasco.
Picson said Barriga has made a name for himself while training in Cardiff, Wales, wherein he was dubbed "Little Pacquiao" after Filipino fight king Manny Pacquiao.
"Mark was the smallest fighter in the camp and the crowd favorite," Picson said. "He's a thinking fighter, very smart, very disciplined."
"In Baguio, Mark used to go to the Shape-Up Gym to watch Manny train and he picked up a few things from Manny, like grunting whenever he throws a punch," he added.
"He's confident. He's not nervous."
If Barriga can defeat Cappai in his first fight, he will take on the winner of the match between Birzhan Zhakypov of Kazakhstan and Jeremy Beccu of France. The Filipino pug will have to win five straight bouts to win the gold medal.
Picson believes Barriga has a chance to become the first Filipino to win a medal in the London Games, noting, "You'll never know what can happen inside the ring."