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Mark Anthony Barriga (right) loses by one point to Birzhan Zhakypov.  (Getty Images)


LONDON — It seemed like a different sport — not boxing — that was on display in the ring when Filipino bet Mark Anthony Barriga tangled with Kazakhstan’s Birzhan Zhakypov in a lightflyweight bout at the ExCel South Arena here on Aug. 4.

From the way Zhakypov used his superior size to bully Barriga and push him around, he should’ve been in wrestling or judo or mixed martial arts.

Barriga, 19, is listed 5-2 but may be two inches shorter while Zhakypov, 28, stands 5-6.

The difference in their physiques was evident when they met in a round-of-16 eliminator.

Zhakypov eked out a 17-16 squeaker over Barriga.

Canadian referee Roland Labbe slapped a penalty on Barriga for head-butting midway the third round to give Zhakypov an automatic two-point edge.

Labbe’s tolerance over Zhakypov’s wrestling tactics took a toll on Barriga who was visibly exhausted after the brawl.

ABAP president Ricky Vargas, who was appalled by the decision, instructed team official Ed Picson to file a protest if only to show AIBA that the Philippines stands for what is right.

The protest was later rejected by the competition jury headed by Brazil’s Luiz Boselli who said the basis was “groundless” and driven by emotion.

“Of course, I got tired because he kept throwing me around and the referee didn’t even give him a penalty despite at least three cautions,” said Barriga in Pilipino.

“I gave it my all. I wanted to win for our country. I really appreciate what Mr. Vargas did to protest the fight and put it on record that we thought the decision was unfair. But I just have to move on. That’s boxing.”

Barriga’s coach Roel Velasco, a bronze medalist in the same division at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, said the decision didn’t reflect the true outcome of the fight.

“I thought Mark did enough to win by at least two points,” he said.

“He fought until the end even if the referee allowed Zhakypov an unfair advantage with his wrestling tactics.”

Barriga said his first opponent Italy’s Manuel Cappai was a better fighter than Zhakypov.

The Filipino dominated Cappai, 17-7, to advance to the second phase of eliminations.

“All Zhakypov did was to push me around,” said Barriga.

It was clear that Zhakypov lacked the boxing skills of Cappai or Barriga.

Asian Boxing Confederation secretary-general Aziz Kozhambetov of Kazakhstan consoled ABAP secretary-general Patrick Gregorio after the verdict was announced.

“Barriga is still very young,” said Aziz.

“He still has a lot of years to win medals.”

Aziz and Gregorio sat beside each other at ringside.

When Barriga seized a 10-8 lead at the end of the second round, Aziz couldn’t control his emotions and had to be told by spectators behind him to sit down.

Kazakhstan is an influential nation in AIBA with two representatives in the 27-man Executive Committee.

It is also the headquarters of the Asian Boxing Confederation and host of the AIBA Boxing Academy in Almaty.

In the competitions here so far, two Kazakh fighters have won a total of three bouts under dubious circumstances.

Zhakypov was the beneficiary of two controversial victories, 18-17 over France’s Jeremy Beccu and 17-16 over Barriga, while lightweight Gani Zhailauov pulled off a hairline win over Thailand’s Saylom Ardee on a count-back after a 12-12 draw.

Actor Derek Ramsay, who is here as an ABC-5 and AKTV broadcaster, said controversial decisions are slowly killing boxing all over the world and giving rise to the popularity of rival combat events like mixed martial arts.

Former world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis, who captured a gold for Canada at the 1988 Olympics, was upset by the rash of poor officiating here and called for an overhaul of the AIBA’s panel of referees and judges.

In Barriga’s case, he would’ve won if only Labbe penalized Zhakypov for repeated wrestling tactics or if he wasn’t docked for head-butting.

“I was ducking under Zhakypov’s punches because I’m smaller,” explained Barriga.

“There’s nothing wrong with that. I got a caution once then I was penalized, meaning Zhakypov got two extra points. The referee told me I was fighting with my head. Then, he penalized both of us for wrestling late in the fight. Why penalize me? I was the one who was pushed down. I went down because of Zhakypov. I didn’t push him down.”

Gregorio said in a close fight, the referee shouldn’t decide the winner with a penalty.

Labbe apparently overstepped his authority by awarding two extra points for Zhakypov at Barriga’s expense on an infraction that in itself was debatable.

“Zhakypov’s violations were blatant because he kept pushing Mark around like a bully,” said Gregorio.

“Yet the referee let it go until before the end of the fight, he gave him a penalty but as if to add insult to injury, also penalized Mark a second time. What the referee did was demoralizing.”

Vargas said despite the heartbreaker, the ABAP will persist in its quest for that elusive Olympic gold medal.

He vowed to work even harder.

“It’s not easy to qualify fighters for the Olympics as we’ve experienced,” said Vargas.

“But we’ll keep on trying. We may have lost a boxing match in London but definitely, not our Filipino pride.”

Barriga’s parents Edgar and Melita were downhearted at ringside.

They were flown in by Procter & Gamble who took the initiative to sponsor the trips of relatives of about 150 Olympic athletes from all over the world under its “Thank You Mom” campaign.

The Barrigas were accompanied here by Anama Dimapilis, P&G corporate communications manager.

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