World body opens door for Mark Anthony Barriga

LOS ANGELES – WBA president Gilberto Jesus Mendoza’s advisor Oliver Gomez said the other day he will recommend Mark Anthony Barriga to be rated in the top five and pave the way for the “Baby Boy” from Panabo, Davao del Norte, to challenge WBA minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart of Thailand next year.

Gomez watched at ringside as Barriga staged a late rally to teach Mexico’s Carlos Licona a defensive boxing lesson but lost a split 12-round decision in a close fight for the vacant IBF minimumweight crown at the Staples Center here Saturday night. Gomez, a Panamanian, said Barriga should’ve won the contest and would’ve if the bout were held in a neutral country. The Mexico-born Licona lives in Westminster, California, which also happens to be where referee Jerry Cantu’s home is.

Gomez sought out Las Vegas international matchmaker Sean Gibbons the day after the fight and with Mendoza’s oldest son Alfredo beside him, offered Barriga a spot in the WBA top five ratings. Barriga earned the crack at the vacant IBF title by becoming the No. 1 contender after defeating Colombia’s Gabriel Mendoza last May. Barriga and Licona, the No. 3 contender, were picked to dispute the vacant throne.

Gibbons said the judges for the Barriga-Licona fight were designated by the California State Athletic Commission whose executive director is Andy Foster. “I questioned the choice of judges but the IBF couldn’t do anything about it because it was too late,” said Gibbons. The deck was stacked against Barriga with two Hispanic judges, one of whom Edward Hernandez lives in Monica Valley, California, where Licona’s manager Mikey Garcia resides. The other was Esther Lopez of New Mexico. Hernandez and Lopez scored it 115-113 for Licona while Tom Carusone of Connecticut had it 115-113 for Barriga. Carusone gave Barriga the last four rounds which he dominated but Hernandez and Lopez awarded him only two of the four. If Hernandez and Lopez had scored one more round for Barriga, it would’ve been a majority draw.

Gibbons said he registered his misgivings to the IBF and was offered a consolation. “The IBF will allow Licona one voluntary defense and if he wins, the order will be a rematch with Mark,” said Gibbons. “But Mark has to do one fight in the meantime, like an eliminator and a win will make the rematch happen, maybe in Manila or Las Vegas but not in California.”

If Barriga takes on Freshmart, it’ll be a duel of pint-sized but giant-hearted warriors. Barriga is 5-2 and Freshmart, 5-1. Veteran referee and judge Ver Abainza said Freshmart wouldn’t mind facing Barriga in Manila. Abainza was the referee in Freshmart’s win over Carlos Buitrago and a judge in his title defenses against Shin Ono and Chaozhong Xiong.

“Ang tawag kay Freshmart ay ‘Little Pacquiao,’” said Abainza. “Ang bilis at ma-kamay. Huwag kang magpapa-corner kay Freshmart kasi ‘di ka na makakalis at uupakan ka. Mabagal si Mark compared to Freshmart. Tinalo ni Freshmart ang mga magagaling na Pinoy sa 105 – Rey Loreto, Toto Landero.” Abainza said the only chance for Barriga to beat Freshmart is to start strong, let his hands go from start to finish and don’t be trapped in a corner.

“Si Mark, ayaw pag-aralan ang style ng kalaban sa video at mag-aadjust na lang sa laban,” said Abainza. “Ang advice ko, pag-aralan niya sa video bago lumaban. Huwag siya mag-aksaya ng rounds. Dapat sa umpisa pa lang, binabakbakan na niya ang kalaban.”

Abainza said he watched Barriga’s fight against Licona on YouTube and was convinced the Filipino did enough to win a “very close” fight. “Slow starter si Mark kaya nakuha ni Licona mga early rounds,” he said. “Nabasa ang kaniyang galaw sa umpisa kasi halos ‘di siya sumuntok. Sayang yung mga early rounds. Pero nakahabol si Mark sa dulo, ‘yun lang dalawa sa mga judges binigay yung laban kay Licona.”

Barriga said he was encouraged by Cantu, Licona and Licona’s trainer Robert Garcia to stay the course after the fight. “Sabi nila balang araw, magiging champion ako,” he said. “Huwag daw ako ma-discourage. Si Licona sinabi sa akin na wala pa siyang nakalaban katulad ko na nagpahirap sa kaniya. Kung si Freshmart ang kalaban, ‘di ako aatras pero huwag yung laban sa Thailand.”

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