Tough semis foes await Pinoys in Asian Games semi


It won’t be a cakewalk for the four Filipino fighters who are seeing action in the Asian Games semifinals at the Seonhak Gym in Incheon today. Lightflyweight Mark Anthony Barriga, bantamweight Mario Fernandez, lightweight Charly Suarez and middleweight Wilfredo Lopez are a win away from barging into the finals and two victories shy of claiming a gold medal. But the road to the throne is a virtual obstacle course.

ABAP president Ricky Vargas arrived in Incheon yesterday to provide a moral lift to the four men standing in their last push. “The boys want to win,” said Vargas. “They are determined to give their best for their loved ones, family and country. Winning the gold is the boxers’ ticket to better their lives and that of their families. I ask for prayers for our boxers’ continued success – puso, abilidad, kompyansa. Sumbag, Pinoy, laban!”

Barriga, 21, faces hometown bet Shin Jong Hun, a London Olympic veteran who took the silver medal at the AIBA World Championships in Baku in 2011. Shin, 25, claimed a bronze medal at the 2009 AIBA World Championships in Milan. Incheon has fond memories for Shin as it was in this Korean city where he captured the Asian title in 2011. Early this year, Shin decisioned Kazakhstan’s Temirtas Zhusupov to clinch the gold medal at the Chemistry Cup in Halle, Germany.

To reach the semis, Barriga outpointed Syria’s Hussin Al Masri, Japan’s Tosho Kashiwasaki and Uzbekistan’s Hasanboy Dusmatov. The win over Al Masri was by a split decision. ABAP executive director Ed Picson said Barriga ran rings around the Syrian who was about five inches taller. “Mark was in control from the start, darting in and out but when it was over, he wasn’t happy with his performance,” said Picson. “Mark felt he wasn’t fast enough. He puts a high standard on himself.”

Shin drew a bye in the first round then disposed of North Korea’s Jong Hyok Ham and India’s Laishram Devendro Singh. Against Singh, Shin started strong and built a huge lead to stave off a late surge by the Indian Olympian. Barriga will engage a Korean who is highly motivated to win before his countrymen.

Fernandez, 21, takes on China’s Zhang Jiawei, a two-time AIBA World Championships veteran and a silver medalist at the 2010 Asian Games. Zhang, 25, prepared for the Incheon competition by claiming the silver medal at the Chemistry Cup in Germany and the Giraldo Cordova Cardin Memorial Tournament in Havana and the gold medal at the China Open in Guiyang this year.

Fernandez’ guile is his biggest asset, said Picson. “He’s not a power puncher but Mario is cunning, shifty and clever,” noted Picson. “He relies on his speed and doesn’t stop attacking which is what he has to do to beat Zhang.” On the way to the semis, Fernandez took out Thailand’s Donchai Thathi, Nepal’s Puran Rai and India’s Asian champion Shiva Thapa. Zhang blanked Uzbekistan’s Murodjon Akhmadaliev and Japan’s Kenji Fujita by unanimous decision in his first two bouts then struggled to eke out a split verdict over Kyrgyzstan’s Omurbek Malabekov to book a seat in the semis.

Suarez, 26, battles Jordan’s poster boy Obada Mohammad Mustafa Alkasbeh in the semis. Alkasbeh, 20, is unbeaten in two tournaments this year, topping the Jordan National Championships and the Taimanov and Utemisov Memorial Tournament in Atyrau, Kazakhstan. He bagged the silver medal as a bantamweight at the Asian Championships last year and his resume lists three appearances in Cuban competitions.

Suarez’ three victims so far were Uzbekistan’s Elnur Abduraimov, India’s Akhil Kumar and Iraq’s Ammar Jabbar Hasan Hasan. Picson said Suarez had a shaky start in his first outing. “That was because Charly wanted to impress the Gilas players who were watching,” said Picson. “Charly easily took the first two rounds but in the third, went for a knockout and lost his rhythm. He ended up losing the third round on points but still won by a split decision. Charly admitted he strayed from the fightplan. In his second fight, Charly was all business and won hands-down in a superb performance.”

Alkasbeh beat Kazakhstan’s Berik Abdrakhmanov, Pakistan’s Ahmad Ali and South Korea’s Soon Chul Han to arrange the showdown with Suarez. After ousting Soon, the Jordanian was carried to the dugout on his trainer’s shoulders like a hero. Alkasbeh said he won’t be satisfied until he wins the gold.

Lopez, 29, is a surprise semifinalist. The 5-10 South Cotabato veteran nearly lost his first fight to Turkmenistan’s Aziz Achilov but managed to win by a close split decision. He went on to defeat Iraq’s Waheed Abdulridha Waheed Waheed and Mongolia’s Shinebayar Narmandakh. In the semis, Lopez will face Jordan’s Odai Riyad Adel Alhindawi who drew a bye in the first round, won over Nepal’s Thapa Ujjar Singh by disqualification and outpointed China’s Zhou Di to make it.

Alhindawi, 23, has competed twice in Cuba and won the Jordan lightheavyweight title this year. Lopez took only 125 seconds to stop Narmandakh who was ruled unfit to continue because of a deep cut over the right eye and appears to be favored over Alhindawi. “We’ve reminded Willy to use combinations,” said Picson. “He has a tendency to throw one punch at a time then run. He must be more aggressive and press the attack. We’re happy that he’s gone this far. He was robbed of a gold medal at the Southeast Asian Games last year and settled for the silver. Now, he has a chance to go all the way to the finals.”

Source : Joaquin Henson |

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