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Articles of 2005

The Three World Title Claim Syndrome – Anyone for Four?

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Intro by Charles Jay
Editor-in-Chief of The Sweet Science

I remember having a talk with a young writer who, by virtue of his membership in the Boxing Writers Association of America, happened to be a voter for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The subject matter involved the candidacy of flyweight Betulio Gonzalez and featherweight Barry McGuigan.

I extolled the virtues of non-Hall of Famers like Holman Williams, the Cocoa Kid, Peter Kane, Kid Norfolk, Ken Overlin, Al Hostak and Ernesto Marcel – all outstanding fighters who competed in divisions which had some depth at the time, and who had either held world titles, or, in the cases of Williams, Cocoa and Norfolk, never got the opportunity because of racial considerations. I argued that, as legitimate candidates, they were head and shoulders above Gonzalez and McGuigan. The writer countered with, “But Gonzalez won the world title three times.”

Well, yes and no. Gonzalez won a share of the world flyweight title on three different occasions, but he also LOST eight title fights, meaning he was, among other things, the likely beneficiary of an atmosphere created by the existence of sanctioning bodies, which fostered the splitting of titles. He received more opportunities to fail than nearly anyone.

The case could hardly be made that Gonzalez was clearly the world's best fighter in a deep division for any sustained period of time. The same can be said for someone who is being inducted this year. McGuigan was a good fighter, but he was never the world's best featherweight; if he were active in an era with just one champion in each division he would invariably rank below Azumah Nelson and perhaps others.

It's not that this writer lacked knowledge. Rather, he lacked perspective.

We have not quite yet gotten to the point where we are inundated with Hall of Fame candidates whose perceived success was a byproduct of the proliferation of world titles available through additional weight divisions and additional sanctioning bodies. But that day is coming very soon, and when it happens, they're going to have to be put into a whole different chronological category in order to maintain a semblance of legitimacy in the voting process. You simply can't use the same criteria in comparing fighters of 10-15 years ago with fighters of previous eras. In the 1940s and 1950s, you could be a great fighter and still not have held a world championship, because generally there was just one titleholder, less attention was paid to the junior divisions, and there were a lot more participants who fought a lot more often.

In the “sanctioning body era” (from 1976 and forward, when these organizations became dominant), it is rare to find a fighter possessing any degree of true worthiness who has not had a shot at a world crown.

Was Herbie Hide a better heavyweight than Roland LaStarza or Jimmy Young just because Hide was a “champion,” but neither LaStarza nor Young were? Of course that would be a ridiculous notion.

But for many of the young writer/voters who make up the electorate for the Hall of Fame, and who are products of an era where there are more than five dozen world champs at any given time, that is the only culture they are familiar with; the only period they are comfortable contemplating.

There are so many guys winning titles in different weight divisions over the course of recent history that it would be understandable if it is regarded almost casually. That's why it is important to put people like Henry Armstrong and Sugar Ray Robinson in their proper frame of reference. As many people are aware, Armstrong held the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight titles. For the moment, let's forget about the sanctioning bodies, which provide many a “back door” method to pad a resume; you'd be hard-pressed to find any fighter of recent vintage who established himself as the absolute best in three different “senior” weight divisions.

Then consider that Armstrong came within a whisker of winning middleweight honors, and show me who has gotten close to that feat in such disparate weights as those four divisions (which had 34 pounds between all of them), without employing any gimmickry.

I'm not even going to discuss Armstrong's simultaneous ownership of his three titles, because that accomplishment has never been approached and is in all likelihood unapproachable. Armstrong was an anomaly in an age of fighters who, by the standards of today, may be considered anomalies themselves. He beat Petey Sarron to win the featherweight belt. Then, just seven months later, he beat Barney Ross for the WELTERWEIGHT crown, after having fought FOURTEEN fights in the interim. He then won the lightweight championship in his next fight, actually GAINING a half-pound to do so. Comparing any of today's “stars” to Armstrong carries with it a degree of insult that is not insignificant.

Some fans and media people marvel at Oscar De La Hoya's ability to win championships in six different weight classes, from 130 pounds all the way to 160. It's not that it should be completely discounted, but it deserves an asterisk. Let's go “retro” for a moment – projecting today's landscape into yesterday. Armstrong, during his multiple title reign, certainly would have annexed belts at 130, 140 and 154, without having to go through the back door to do it. And having boxed to a draw with Ceferino Garcia, do you seriously think he would have been denied a crown at 160 if the time during which he fought had made four different middleweight titles available?

As for Robinson, if four different chances at a junior welterweight title were out there, you know he would have won at least one of them, as well as something at 154 and 168 pounds. If he gave Joey Maxim life-and-death in a light heavyweight championship fight (indeed, he was winning after 13 rounds), would he not have been able to beat a lesser man for a title at 175 pounds if it had been split four ways? And few people realize that Sugar Ray fought almost his first two dozen pro fights hovering not far from 135 pounds, during which time he beat Sammy Angott. Who's to say he couldn't have been a lightweight champ if he had been able to follow a Miguel Cotto-like path to a title shot?

Under the 21st-Century dynamic, both Armstrong and Robinson may well have earned themselves seven world titles each.

And don't even get me started with Roberto Duran. He may have won titles at 126 and 130 if they were flying all over the place at that time. After all, Marcel lost to him about a year before he fought for a featherweight title for the first time. And Duran banged up Hiroshi Kobayashi only three months and one fight removed from Kobayashi losing his WBA super featherweight (130-pound) championship. Duran skipped the 140-pound division altogether, and may have snuck into the path of least resistance to win something at 168 pounds, if he had chosen to go that route. He could have won seven titles, and maybe even eight, if those opportunities had presented themselves.

Alright – I'm getting a little carried away with myself.

What's the whole point? Don't ask me – I'm just the warm-up act. Here's Hank . . .

                                                           * * *

As a matter of fact, on March 1, 1940, a phenomenon of ring history named Henry Armstrong entered the ring in Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles, probably at 142 pounds, and battled as tight as a pin crack against fierce-punching Ceferino Garcia for the middleweight title as recognized by the New York State Athletic Commission and the State of California. After ten rounds, the California limit for world title bouts at that time, the decision was announced to a breathless audience – a draw. Nobody has ever come closer to the ownership of four world titles than “Hammering” Henry did that night.

Some fifty years before that, lanky Bob Fitzsimmons started a trend which set a standard to be matched in future years, some in more impossible fashion and at other times with more ease. On the evening of January 14, 1891 at the Olympic Club in New Orleans, for the largest purse ever offered prior to that time, Fitzsimmons vanquished Jack Dempsey, “The Nonpareil,” in thirteen rounds to become the middleweight champion of the world. That fight generated almost as much national interest as the John L. Sullivan-Jake Kilrain bout the year before. But this fight started the Australian on a tour which eventually culminated with the ownership of three world titles. The next crown he donned came after his 14th-round knockout of James J. Corbett at Carson City, gaining the heavyweight title in 1897. Six years later he took George Gardner over the hurdles to win his third title, the light heavyweight championship.

Between the super-athletic achievements of Fitzsimmons and Armstrong, two sterling champions of the ring laid claim to three different weight division titles. The Crescent City's Tony Canzoneri pulled it off first. He started his quest to dominate the world titles on February 10, 1928 when he took the featherweight crown from Benny Bass. Later he startled the boxing community with a first-round knockout over Al Singer to win the lightweight bauble. Finally, while still holding fast to the 135-pound title, he squeezed into the junior welterweight throne with both titles, after he scored a third-round knockout over Jackie “Kid” Berg. And thereby lays a story of fringe benefits.

Tony Canzoneri lost his junior welterweight title to Johnny Jadick but won it back from Battling Shaw, again becoming the possessor of both titles. Along came Barney Ross, who copped both titles in a Chicago ten-rounder; Illinois at the time disallowed the longer limit. Fans took cheap shots at the junior titles in those days, so nobody paid the second title any mind. But Ross in fact was a double champ and defended the junior title regularly after winning it. Oddly, it was the more valuable lightweight title he relinquished in order to campaign for the welterweight crown. He captured the 147-pound title by decisioning Jimmy McLarnin, giving Ross world title number three. Outside a claim made by Harry Weekly, who beat Jerome Conforto in New Orleans for the vacant junior welterweight title in twelve rounds, the 140-pound division was set in longtime idleness after Barney Ross won the welterweight crown.

But it remained for Henry Armstrong, who came after Canzoneri and Ross, to achieve the supreme act of showmanship. He carried out the unparalleled heist of ownership of three world titles simultaneously. The importance of his historical triumphs is accentuated when one realizes his performance came at a time when there was singular recognition of world titles and the junior titles were nonexistent.

Many years were to pass before Emile Griffith, after gaining the welterweight title, won recognition of the new junior middleweight crown, at least in certain quarters, before winning the middleweight championship from Dick Tiger in 1966. His acquisition of the junior middleweight title was given credibility only by Austria, and thus was a feeble claim; it was, however, a claim Emile won by beating Teddy Wright in 15 rounds in Vienna in 1963 and defending it in Copenhagen by stopping Chris Christenson in nine rounds the same year. The popular holder of the 154-pound crown was Denny Moyer, who Emile had licked twice in the past, thus giving support to his claim of the title to some of his followers.

Two recent entries into the Three Title Club are, of course, Wilfred Benitez and Alexis Arguello. Both have performed eminently and history will paint them as great athletic figures. Because of junior titles, some separated by as little as three pounds, others will soon join the growing list of triple crown holders. Seemingly, the flyweight grouping, with the juggling of five pounds, would have a good shot at it. Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns and even Roberto Duran are in the running. Surprisingly, Duran, because of the lightweight crown once in his pocket, may become the next ring elitist. Wilfredo Gomez is talented enough to snare the next two higher weight classification titles.

It is convenient at this point to speculate as to who may be the first to step outside the three title zone and acquire a fourth title. Some had Tommy Hearns the prospective winner of four titles, before he even fingered his first brass ring with a sensational knockout over Pipino Cuevas in Detroit. His supporters claimed his height and potential growth piggy-backed with enough natural ability to cut a swath which would lead him to the light heavyweight division. Being more realistic, it appears that Arguello, who has already staked a claim on three world titles, would give the junior welters a run for their money. Alexis has the height and reach, he can sock, and with his newly disciplined boxing style, backed by vast experience, he would find support in many circles.

Anyone for five titles?

(Originally written August 1981)

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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