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Articles of 2005

Marco Antonio Barrera: What’s Done . . . What’s Left To Do

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After fifteen plus years and sixty pro fights, most fighters would be winding down their careers, and reflecting on all that they accomplished over the years. Some would have long ago enjoyed their best moments and are either contemplating retirement or stubbornly hanging around, reluctantly forced to play the role of steppingstone for the next generation of fighters.

If there is one thing that Marco Antonio Barrera has proven throughout his career, it’s that he is not like most fighters.

In an era where fighters are written off after one loss, and a complete write-off after a loss late in their career, Barrera has always defied the odds. Be it resurrecting his career after suffering a career-worst performance, or his one-man protest against the alphabet organizations, Barrera did things his way and has not only live to talk about it, but does so from atop the heap.

Many simply associate his name with that of longtime archrival Erik Morales. But his potential Hall of Fame career certainly extends further than the trilogy provided by two of Mexico’s all-time greats. So with Barrera preparing for a title defense this weekend that won’t change his place in his history one way or another, the time seems right to assess where Marco stands, where he came from and where he could possibly be heading.

Long before Morales even became a player in the lower weight classes, Barrera was carving out a name for himself on the Forum Boxing circuit. Often spotted in preliminary features on PPV cards headlined by a pair of Gonzalez’s – Miguel Angel and Chiquita – many knew as early as his dominant points win over Daniel Jiminez that the “Baby Faced Assassin” was a star in the making.

HBO knew the moment he steamrolled through Eddie Croft beneath the Riddick Bowe – Evander Holyfield rubber match in November 1995. To quote Jim Lampley from that evening, “Marco Antonio Barrera… you’ll be seeing A LOT more of him in the near future.”

Lampley called it right on the nose; three months later, “Boxing After Dark” debuted. Barrera was the headliner, and twelve brutal yet breathtaking rounds with former junior featherweight champion Kennedy McKinney turned him into an overnight star. The Ring magazine – in the same issue in which they ranked the top fifty fighters of the past fifty years – ran a story on that fight. The title: “Greatness Confirmed.”

Toward year’s end, Barrera was one more big win away from stating his case for being 1996’s Fighter of the Year. He had made three more title defenses after the McKinney fight, giving him an incredible eight defenses in just eighteen months! A November defense against former bantamweight champion Junior Jones was all that remained on Barrera’s calendar. Rumor had it at the time that even Jones’ camp considered the fight to be a foregone conclusion. So much so that his management team didn’t even take a cut of his purse. The fight was to be a fond farewell for “Poison,” and grounds to begin comparing Barrera to the greatest Mexican fighters of all time.

HBO started before anyone else, with references to the late great Salvador Sanchez made throughout the pre-fight showcase segment. Five rounds and a bunch of Junior Jones right hands later, HBO was made to look the fool. Barrera, whom many had ranked as high as top five in their pound for pound rankings, watched his Fighter of the Year honors go flying out the window as he hit the deck twice en route to getting stopped (it was officially a disqualification as Barrera’s corner supposedly entered the ring before the bell to end the fifth round) against the born again – in and out of the ring – Junior Jones. Barrera’s star fizzled, while Junior kicked off what would be a clean sweep for the Joneses that night, with Roy winning the interim WBC light heavyweight title in the main event.

The rebuilding process began immediately, and it showed a different side of Barrera, one that can box in a controlled manner. Marco made all the right adjustments in the rematch, boxing beautifully for six rounds, while remaining poised and composed throughout. However, Jones made adjustments of his own midway through, and took advantage of a suddenly complacent Barrera, who simply stopped throwing punches over the course of the final six rounds. When all was said and done, Barrera left the ring a loser for the second straight time after tearing through forty-three previous foes.

After the rematch, people began to doubt whether Marco could come back, even though he was a mere twenty-three years old at the time. It was suggested that he fought as well as he could, but that he could never beat Junior Jones. And that the age wasn’t what needed to be looked at; it was the fact that he was already in his ninth year as a pro, and perhaps may have already peaked.

The comeback Marco embarked upon became one of three things in which Barrera would go on to be remembered for:
– Always finding a way to return to the top no matter how many chose to write him off
– Never allowing the politics of the sport to stand in the way of his goals
– Never letting them see him smile.

So when six straight wins would lead Barrera to Morales, who by now had begun to hit his groove as one of the sport’s premier fighters, the boxing world knew that an all-time great would emerge from the rubble. Twelve rounds and a controversial decision later, many believed that the fight, while confirming greatness both ways, might have very well ruined both fighters.

Barrera’s subsequent fights against mid-level competition led featherweight phenom Naseem Hamed and his team to believe that he was in fact ruined from the epic war with Morales. Desperate to score a high-profile name, Team Hamed decided that Marco carried enough name value to sell to HBO as a PPV fight. What they were banking on was Barrera being valuable ONLY in name.

But once again in a Las Vegas ring, Marco managed to pound out a career resurrecting – and defining – performance, dominating Hamed from bell to bell en route to a clear cut unanimous decision. Those that questioned how much Barrera truly had left in the tank prior to that night were quickly convinced that he filled up and was ready to once again cruise.

Barrera’s rebirth came at the perfect time; Morales had just finished going life and death with Guty Espadas, lifting the WBC featherweight title in a decision many viewed to be far worse than his controversial points win over Marco the year prior. A tougher-than-expected title defense against In Jin Chi now led people to believe that perhaps young Erik had already peaked, and perhaps he was now ripe for the taking against a resurgent Barrera.

The two were reacquainted in December 2001, at a press conference announcing their April 2002 rematch. It was there that the bad blood between the two was showcased at its most hostile. After trading insults, Barrera took a cheap shot at Morales, forcing both camps to intervene. The rematch couldn’t come soon enough. So naturally, an injury forced a two-month postponement.

Fast forward to June. One of the more shocking developments in this fight was the fact that neither came close to resembling the firing-breathing dragons we all came to know and love. The result was a sequel far less entertaining than the original, with a decision every bit as questionable. This time it went Barrera’s way via unanimous decision. What made the decision such a bitter pill for most to swallow was the fact that, in addition to Morales seemingly having outfought Barrera, a blown call in the eighth round wound up costing Morales the fight. What appeared to be a knockdown was ruled a low blow. What should have been a 10-8 round for Morales wound up a 10-9 round for Barrera on all three cards. That three point swing became the difference between a second split decision win for Morales and the unanimous decision that wound up going to Marco.

The bout was for the WBC title, but Barrera passed, instead offering nothing but disdain for the organization. Instead, he was content to sport The Ring belt, and become HBO’s poster child in its own war against the alphabets.

What he was not was bulletproof. Subsequent fights against faded former champs Johnny Tapia and Kevin Kelley left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. More grumbling began when HBO announced that Barrera’s next fight would be against 122-pound Filipino buzz saw Manny Pacquiao. Many viewed the bout as little more than Barrera attempting to cash in on a name while picking on a smaller fighter.

Going into the November 2003 fight, there were quite a few developments that Marco did not count on. He did not count on the San Diego brush fires forcing him to relocate training camp. He did not count on the “metal plate scandal”, where reports of Barrera sporting a plate in his head as early as 1997 began to surface (thanks to ex-members of Team Barrera leaking the news to the media). Finally, he did not count on Pacquiao tearing through him for what still serves as the worst eleven rounds of his sixty-plus fight career.

And once again, fans did not count on Barrera to recover. How many times can he come back, we asked?

One year later, he forced us to revise the question: how many times can we prematurely write him off?

After retiring Paulie Ayala in June 2004, Marco looked to seek revenge against Pac Man. When such a rematch did not materialize, promoter Golden Boy Promotions went after another rematch – a rubber match, in fact. And once again, as Barrera was rebuilding, Morales was back on the rise. Having scooped up the WBC and IBF super featherweight titles, it was now Erik who was one win away from being anointed an all-time great. Barrera moving up in weight would be enough to do the trick, many figured.

When will the “experts” ever learn?

Back to Las Vegas, as Barrera and Morales played the strip a third time. The theme for the evening was “Once and for All.” After twelve of the best rounds of 2004, Barrera found himself in a familiar spot: back on top with yet another gigantic win.

This time, Barrera decided to back off from the political end. Rather than continue to voice his displeasures against the WBC, Marco instead left the ring as their champion. In fact, this weekend will be his first defense of a major world title (WBO notwithstanding). Not only that, but against a mandatory challenger (Mzonke Fana). Who would have thunk it? After years of campaigning against the WBC, he now wears their belt with pride.

Perhaps the defense this weekend is meaningless. It’s certainly not worth spending $40 to invest in the pay-per-view. But at least it gives fans more time to reflect on where Barrera stands in boxing history. Some suggest that he needs to avenge his loss to Pacquiao, even with Manny dropping a close yet seemingly clear decision to Morales three weeks ago. Others will suggest that perhaps a fourth fight with Morales is necessary. Barrera last year pulled ahead of Morales, who beat Pacquiao, who sixteen months prior beat Barrera. In a six degrees of separation kind of way, perhaps there is unfinished business between the two, even if Barrera has proven to be better than Morales in their best-of-three.

Whatever the case, fans can no longer dispute one thing: Barrera’s rightful place in boxing history. The Ring magazine confirmed Barrera’s greatness nine years ago. Barrera has now confirmed it at least twice more in the past four years.

With a move to lightweight most likely out of the question and unnecessary, all that is left for Barrera are fights which may prove to be anti-climactic in a historical sense. A win over Pacquiao does mean a little less with Manny losing to Barrera’s arch nemesis. A fourth fight with Morales figures to be fun, but doesn’t figure to offer much upside for Barrera. A fight with Juan Manuel Marquez would be nice, but it would be just as nice if Marquez did something – anything – to salvage any remaining drop of momentum from his thrilling draw with Pacquiao last May.

Perhaps he should become the type of fighter who winds down after fifteen years and sixty-plus pro fights. If it’s come down to honoring mandatory defenses for previously long-despised alphabets, then it seems that Barrera may have run out of items to check off on his To-Do list.

Simply put, Barrera’s name is already affixed in boxing history. The search for the next Salvador Sanchez and Julio Cesar Chavez can all end. Marco is neither. Nor does he need to be.

He has accomplished enough throughout his career to where we can now begin to search for the next Marco Antonio Barrera.

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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