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Barriga fights Thai for WBO int’l crown

Mark Anthony Barriga
 

MANILA, Philippines — It will be a leap of faith for London Olympian Mark Anthony Barriga as he engages battle-scarred Thai veteran Wittawas Basapean of Thailand in only his seventh pro fight for the chance to crash the top 10 ratings in a scheduled 12-round match for the vacant WBO International minimumweight crown in Beijing on Sept. 29.

The bout will headline an eight-fight card to be staged by Dancing Sports Industry of Beijing and Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s MP Promotions, sanctioned by the Professional Boxing Commission of China. Pacquiao tapped Las Vegas matchmaker Sean Gibbons to assemble the card which will feature five undefeated boxers and a six-round female encounter.

Barriga, 24, is a young man in a hurry and his trainer Joven Jimenez said he’s ready for the big time. If Barriga beats Wittawas, he’ll be elevated to No. 1 or No. 2 in the WBO ladder as the new International champion in the 105-pound division. Barriga’s record is 6-0, with 1 KO, but Jimenez said it’s no indication of a lack of experience or power. Barriga, a southpaw, fought extensively in the amateur ranks and has travelled around the globe facing boxers of different nationalities, including Zou Shiming of China and Paddy Barnes of Ireland so he’s no stranger to high-level, pressure-packed competition.

Wittawas, 32, is a grizzled warrior with a 33-6 record, including 12 KOs, and will be a big test for Barriga. The Thai has fought twice for the world lightflyweight title, losing to Naoya Inoue in 2014 and Akira Yaegashi in 2016, both by knockout. He was in the Philippines twice, bowing to Denver Cuello in Angono in 2011 and to Randy Petalcorin in Mandaluyong in 2012. Two of his victims were Filipinos Jimmy Masangkay and Richie Behec. He’s coming off two straight wins.

In Barriga’s corner in Beijing will be Jimenez and IBF superflyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas, his co-managers. Jimenez said it’s been a process for Barriga to adapt to the pro style but he’s making progress. Ancajas is his mentor and Barriga even lives in the champion’s home in Kawit with his older brother Edcel. Barriga’s parents stay in their hometown of Panabo, Davao del Norte.

“Mark is ripe for this title shot,” said Jimenez in Pilipino. “He’s like a hero in Kawit and Kawit Mayor (Angelo) Aguinaldo and Vice Mayor (Arman) Bernal will try to fly to Beijing for moral support. Training has been perfect. Mark is now about six pounds over the limit so it’s no problem to make weight. This chance is what he’s been waiting for. Mark was impressive in his last two fights and I know he’ll be impressive in Beijing.”

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Jimenez said Barriga has been working on putting more power in his short punches. “As an amateur, he got used to punching long, far and wide,” he said. “That’s how it is in amateur boxing. But he’s learning to punch like Jerwin. Even if his record doesn’t show it, Mark has knockout power with his left straight and right hook. Wittawas is an aggressive fighter with power. He’s tailor-made for Mark who’ll hit and run, box from a distance and counter.”

Barriga, Jimenez and Ancajas will leave for Beijing on Friday. Gibbons will be at ringside to evaluate Barriga’s performance. Jimenez said Barriga is ranked No. 14 by the IBF but isn’t rated anywhere else. A hand injury in 2015 is now a thing of the past, added Jimenez. Barriga underwent surgery to repair torn ligaments and tendons in between knuckles in his right hand. The operation was performed by hand specialist Dr. Ida Tacata.

In the Beijing undercard, China’s rising star Jin Xiang Pan takes on Australia’s James MacDonald in a 10-rounder for the WBO Youth superfeatherweight title. Jin, 20, is 5-10 1/2 with a 72-inch wingspan and has a 7-0 record, including 4 KOs. Ronnie Baldonado of Cotabato del Norte meets Indonesia’s Iwan Zoda in a 10-rounder for the WBO Oriental flyweight diadem. Baldonado, 21, has a record of 9-0-1, with 6 KOs and is fresh from scoring three wins in a row, all by first round knockout. 

In other fights, Jay-Ar Inson of Davao City tangles with Yang Cheng Jin in an eight-round lightwelterweight duel, Rene Mark Cuarto of Zamboanga del Norte tackles Guang Xiong Li in an eight-round lightflyweight match, unbeaten Vincent Astrolabio of General Santos City takes on Chao Peng in an eight-round superflyweight clash, Genesis Libranza of Agusan del Sur tangles with Yu Jie Zeng in an eight-round flyweight tiff and undefeated Indonesian Sopida Satumram squares off with Jing Cheng in a six-round female curtain raiser.

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