FINAL AVENUE CLOSED
Mark Barriga was all smiles as he went out of the dugout on his way to the ring to face Birzhan Zhakypov of Kazakhstan Saturday night.
The Excel Arena speakers were blaring an old Michael Jackson ditty.
"Don't stop 'til you get enough," would have meant more for Barriga than just an opening song before he was slaughtered by the Kazakh as he faded through the third and final round of their 48-kg match.
Zhakypov halted Barriga's dream of becoming the first Filipino boxing Olympian to win a medal since Mansueto "Onyok" Velasco salvaged a silver medal in Atlanta in 1996.
Zhakypov's 17-16 victory over the young Filipino boxer was not without controversy, an incident that harks back to Velasco's loss to Daniel Bujilov of Bulgaria. It placed the International Boxing Federation (AIBA) under scrutiny once more as countries participating in the Summer Games are questioning the sloppy judging system that was very evident during several matches.
Magomed Abdulhamidov of Azerbaijan was ruled winner of his bantamweight fight with Japan's Satoshi Shimizu despite going down five times in one round and being assessed a two-point penalty in a third round he spent mainly on the canvas.
"I was shocked, I don't understand" Shimizu exclaimed. Neither does anyone else!
Organizers later admitted the judging mistake. Referee Ishanguly Meretnyyazov of Turkmenistan was sent home.
Shimizu was later given the victory.
In another controversial match, referee Lars Brovil of Denmark was given the pink slip for mishandling US welterweight Errol Spence's fight against Krishan Vikas of India. The Indian was declared winner, but was quickly overturned after an AIBA review of the video of the fight, which glaringly showed Brovil's failure to acknowledge eight holding fouls committed by Vikas in the final round.
AIBA president Wu Ching-kuo acknowledged the scoring loopholes despite changes implemented before the 2011 World Championships. He now plans to re-introduce the 10-point "must scoring system" used in professional boxing before the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
It will replace the controversial computerized system being used after another judging scandal rocked the 1988 Games in Seoul.
Barriga's loss, however, wasn't as much scandalous as those reversed outcomes.
Even the AIBA board is convinced of Shakypov's win that it threw out Team Philippines' protest in hopes of achieving a reversal like those which favored Spence and Shimizu.
Barriga was huffing and puffing in the third and final round. He was obviously gasping for air and had lost his bearing despite leading after a big chase in the second round, 10-8.
Barriga was assessed with two deductions, the last in the third round which was negated by a similar penalty against Shakypov.
But those deductions hurt Barriga's bid.
Barriga went back to the dugout past a handful of lonely countrymen in the hallway, his face awash in sadness over a painful loss which he found hard to believe. Michael Jackson was also gone, replaced by another song of pain that played only in the mind of Barriga and the rest of the Philippines' Olympic crew.
“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.
“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.
Barriga's bid was halted in just his second outing, failing to advance into the quarterfinals, where a victory would place him within shot of an Olympic medals.
It was a match which Barriga had well under control until he faded down the stretch, allowing his taller and more experienced rival to come back and eventually letting 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.
About half an hour after filing the protest and paying $500, RP officials received a bad news as the board of jury decided to throw out the protest, claiming “it (the protest) was subjective and not based on technicality.”
“They (the board of jury) made the decision even without watching the tape of the bout,’’ said Picson, bitter at the result and fuming mad at the stands as the referee raised the hand of the Kazakh at the end of the close encounter.
The warning came at a bad time for Barriga. He was leading by two points (10-8) going into the third round when he was slapped a warning, something that seemed to have taken the fight out of the brave Pinoy pug.
“Parang nawalan na ako ng gana ng mabigyan ako ng warning,” Barriga told a Team RP 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.
In a statement, Vargas said “it was a painful experience for Barriga, a young and promising boxer who worked so hard and fought with a big hear to lose due to a controversial call by the referee who gave two bonus points to his opponent.”
“We felt we owed it to Mark to place the fight under protest, to fight for him as he fought for us. Unfortunately, the jury did not entertain it, not even reviewing the tape of the fight. It seems in the battle of ‘giants,’ justice is more difficult to attain for a small country like ours,” Vargas continued.
“Things like giving warning in the closing seconds of a close match should not be made. It’s a pity the referee did it to the disadvantage of Mark,” said Team RP chief of mission Manny Lopez, his voice almost hoarse from egging on the Filipino fighter.
Good thing, Barriga managed to say good words for the Kazakh even in his lowest moments.
“Magaling, mataas at magulang. Marami ng experience. Napag-aralan siguro ang style ko kasi madalas kaming mag-spar dati,” he said of Zhakypov, who meets defending champion Zou Shiming in the quarterfinals. By Aldrin Cardona and POC/PSC pool report