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Articles of 2005

Lennox Lewis-Frank Bruno: What If In Cardiff

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Special to TheSweetScience.com, from the Pat Putnam Classic Series, this article originally appeared in Sports Illustrated.

This is one of my favorites, if only that it was the night that finally convinced me that if there was any more combat in my future, I sure as hell would not want Lennox Lewis on one of my flanks. For his inauguration, President George W Bush is having nine balls; if Lewis had been elected president, he still would have none. Also, it was a few nights before the fight that my buddy, Fast Eddie Schuyler, elected to order a martini in a Welsh restaurant. “Are you nuts,” asked Ken Jones of the Independent (London). Jones is a patriotic as any Welshman, but he knows where to draw the line. “Nobody in Wales knows how to make a martini.” Undaunted, Schuyler, a beer and Jack Daniels drinker, told the waitress he wanted his straight up, no ice, two olives. After a long wait, she returned with God only knows what in a tall water glass. Schuyler took a tentative sip of the evil-looking concoction and then spit it on the floor. “God, I’ve been poisoned,” he shouted.

Cardiff, Wales, October 1993 – Settled in among the other 20,000 fans in the Cardiff (Wales) Arms Park arena last Saturday morning was Tommy Virgets, the trainer of Tommy Morrison, the muscular American heavyweight who will get the next shot at Britain's Lennox Lewis. Virgets was there in the cold damp night air to see Lewis defend his WBC heavyweight championship against Frank Bruno, another in a lengthy chain of lumbering British giants with Wedgwood china chins. When the last cannon had been fired, and after referee Mickey Vann had taken Bruno into protective custody to prevent more serious damage in the seventh round, Virgets found it hard to believe that Lewis, while remaining undefeated, could be so limited in skills.

“I came over here wondering if Tommy was ready for Lewis,” said Virgets. “Now I wonder if Lewis is ready for Morrison. If this doesn't motivate Tommy to keep away from the booze and women for the next six months, nothing will.”

Ten hours after the fight it was announced that Morrison and Lewis would meet March 5 at the new MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which could put a serious dent in the plan to have the British boxer go against Riddick Bowe, the heavyweight champion, in a unification fight late next year. “Lewis is made for Tommy,” said Virgets. “Tommy loves a war and Lewis obviously doesn't. He retreats under the slightest pressure. If anything, he has gone backward, back to fighting like an amateur.”

Before Lewis, Morrison has another fight scheduled, against young Michael Bent Oct. 29 in Tulsa, a match up that should put a dent in nothing but Bent's undefeated record. Bent is a skilled boxer, but is short of power and has a delicate chin. While no doubt now wondering if he has delayed too long to put Lewis on his dance card, Bowe will defend his title against ex champion Evander Holyfield in their rematch Nov. 14 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. He has another defense scheduled against Michael Moorer in April.

“People want to see Bowe fight Lewis,” Seth Abraham, HBO's chief executive for sports programming, said late Saturday morning, “but if they fool around and delay it much longer, nobody will care. The public has begun to lose interest already.” No matter what happens, Abraham hopes to force the winner of Morrison Lewis to fight the winner of Bowe Moorer to unify the title next October or November. “Enough is enough,” he said. “I don't want any more interim fights.”

Seven rounds of two British heavyweights fighting for anything on a cold and damp Welsh early morning is more than enough. Not in this century, or any other, have two Brits fought for a heavyweight title, and now we know why. Somewhere Tommy Farr, the great Welsh heavyweight who gave Joe Louis all he could handle for 15 hard rounds, is trying not to weep.

“I have nothing against Bruno,” on Friday said Wale's Lord Brooks, the senior steward of the British Boxing Board of Control, “but for the credibility of British boxing, I have to hope that Lewis hits him on the chin in the first round.”

A magnificently built man without a suggestion of malice outside of the ring, which has made him greatly adored by the British public, Bruno's record of 36 victories in 39 fights was vastly misleading. Most of the men he hammered to the floor could not have survived two minutes in a Philadelphia gym. When he moved up in class against Americans, Bruno's carefully woven reputation came unraveled.

Bonecrusher Smith, then a fighter of no reputation with a bleak future, lost most of nine rounds to Bruno. Bonecrusher knocked out the big slow muscular Brit in the tenth. It took Tim Witherspoon 11 rounds to find that porcelain chin when the pair fought for World Boxing Association title. Mike Tyson needed only five rounds to end Bruno's challenge for the undisputed crown. Alas, one good shot on that fragile jaw leaves Bruno with the survival capability of an ant in the middle of a Mummer's parade.

At a luncheon in Cardiff the day before the fight, the British Boxing Board of Control auctioned off a pair of boxing gloves signed by Lewis and Bruno for the benefit of young Welsh athletes. (Because Bruno had been asked to sign the gloves first, Lewis at first refused, but later relented.) The enterprising Welsh auctioneer, a desperate when the bidding stalled at $2,400, offered to erase Bruno's name.

“Stop that,” said Lord Brooks, trying not to laugh.

Bruno's reputation as a fighter took another dip when he retired briefly four years ago to concentrate on a stage career in pantomime. In the tradition of pantomime, men play the women's roles; the women play the male parts. One of the 6'3″ 238 pounder's more vivid roles was Juliet, which makes you understand why Romeo, after seeing Bruno in a pink dress, killed himself.

Lewis, a 4-1 favorite, was under pressure to end it quickly and violently. His credentials as a champion were shaky at best in Britain, non-existent in the rest of the world. Born in England of Jamaican parents, in 1988 he had won an Olympic title while fighting as an amateur in Canada. Ignored by the major American boxing players, he had returned to England to fight as a professional; many Brits still look upon him as a Jamaican by blood, Canadian at heart, and only British for financial considerations.

“Bruno worked very hard at being popular,” said Lewis, who denied a charge by Bruno that he had called his rival for British affections an Uncle Tom. “He did a lot of things I wouldn't do. I certainly wouldn't wear a dress.”

Lewis had taken the title as a gift, after Bowe had tossed it aside, and while he won his first defense, a boring 12 round affair with Tony Tucker last August, he had displayed few championship qualities. Against Bruno, until he found that tortured chin with a left hook early in the seventh round,, he displayed even less.

“He pushes his jab,” said Viruets. “He doesn't throw combinations. He doesn't attack. When he did get aggressive, Bruno came right back at him and he immediately backed off. He just doesn't want to get hit.”

Bruno came in wearing large plastic bags over his shoes, with The Real Brit stitched across the rear of his boxing trunks, and to the tune of Land of Hope and Glory, an English patriotic song that excludes the Scots, Irish and Welsh. Lewis was more considerate of his surroundings; he entered to reggae music under both the British Union Jack and the Welsh Red Dragon flags.

The decidedly anti-English crowd was unmoved by the challenger's gaffe and the champion's gesture. The cry went up for the challenger: Bruno, Bruno, Bruno deep and drawn out. Only the Welsh national anthem Land Of My Fathers was sung. Lord Brooks wisely had ordered that the British anthem not be played. “The crowd will only boo,” he said. “It would not be fitting.”

With everyone casting an anxious eye at the sky, the start of the fight was delayed when the ring physician failed to arrive, among his duties was to bring coagulants for each corner's cutman. A suggestion from the press row that they use model airplane glue went unheeded. After the physician arrived, there was a further delay when he had trouble prying the tops off the tiny bottles.

Finally, under a black but arid sky, the fight began. In the early rounds, Bruno built a comfortable lead with a hard and accurate jab, which if the rain had fallen as feared, could have turned the outdoor fight into an even greater farce. It had showered hard and often, always with swirling winds, in the small Welsh capital most of the week, and the prediction for more of the same during the outdoor fight was 40 per cent.

If it was raining at the scheduled 1 a.m. start, the promoters had provided for a 24 hour postponement. The ungodly late start was so that HBO could telecast the fight live back to the United States, where the time in the Eastern portion of the country is five hours earlier.

The joker in the rules would appear only if the rain began falling after the fight had started. Left to the referee's judgment, if the fight was halted before three rounds had been completed, it would be ruled a technical draw. If Mickey Vann halted the fight after three rounds, the man leading on the scorecards would have been judged the winner.

If it had rained after the third round Saturday morning, Frank Bruno, the mute Juliet, would have been the WBC heavyweight champion of the world. After three rounds, he led on all three cards 29 28. In the eyes of many, although the judges disagreed, which seems to be the fashion in WBC judging circles these days, he was still well ahead after six.

While Bruno's crushing jab turned the left side of his face swollen and bloody, Lewis operated in retreat behind a pushing jab and an occasionally thrown overhand right, most of which followed a Western Union message announcing their departure. The few attacks Lewis made seemed spurred by anger, like a man goaded by a bully until he can take no more. When Bruno responded to the assaults with a barrage of his own, Lewis quickly backed off.

And what were the WBC judges watching? After six rounds, Adrain Morgan, a Welshman, had Bruno ahead 59 55, the same as Sports Illustrated. The two Americans, Jerry Roth and Tony Castellano, had it 57 57, which would have made it a majority draw, another WBC bad habit of late.

No matter. At that point, Bruno's chin got in the way of a Lewis left hook and the sound of glass breaking echoed throughout the lovely 99 year old rugby stadium. “I saw him pulling back to throw a right hand,” said Lewis, “and I hit him with a perfect hook, which everybody said I didn't have.”

The result was stunning. Once hit, Bruno—the almost world champion—stands stark still, as if suddenly beset by paralysis. Most fighters, at least the good ones, when hurt will grab their opponent in a bear hug, or quickly retreat, or fire back until their heads clear. Tommy Hearns once when stung hard by James Kinchen, snared both Kinchen and referee Mills Lane in a bear hug and refused to let go until his head cleared.

With his opponent suddenly little more than a heavy bag, Lewis turned vicious. Right hand after right hand slammed against the unmoving head. As Bruno began to sag under the savage barrage, Vann moved in, pushed Lewis away—and warned the champion for hitting with an open glove. “I knew I was giving Bruno a few extra moments to recover,” said Vann later, “but a foul is a foul.”

When Lewis was released from the penalty box, Bruno just stood there waiting, defenseless, his hands down, a motionless mime playing Marie Antoinette wondering why it never rains when you need it. After a few more needless punches, Vann stepped in again, this time to negotiate a lasting peace.

An hour later Bruno was on his way back to London, where it had rained all night.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More

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A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at TheSweetScience.com)

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights

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Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

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Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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