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Articles of 2005

Milton LaCroix: Twenty Years to an Overnight Success



Eureka moments. We all know of Newton’s apple or the implications of Ben Franklin’s kite getting struck by lightning. Boxing trainer Milton LaCroix’s great revelation came about 20 years ago, when a girlfriend he was arguing with slapped him so hard and swiftly across his face, he had no idea what had happened. Disoriented, he thought that maybe a cantankerous neighbor had dropped a potted plant on his head from a third-story fire escape.

When he collected himself, the 6’1’’ LaCroix walked slowly towards her and asked, “What did you do?” He wasn’t seeking retribution but a simple answer. So she demonstrated the slap—this time in slow-motion. “I started thinking, Damn, maybe there is something to this. And I began to watch boxing differently.”

Thus was born Milton LaCroix’s unconventional approach to boxing, which will be on display when Shannon Briggs fights tonight, and which ignores virtually every principle of “proper” technique:

· Hold your hands high. “Garbage!” Milton responds. “Drop your hands. If you’re orthodox, let your left hand hang all the way down and cross your right over your chest—not even touching your face—like you’re doing the Pledge of Allegiance.” 

· Never pull your head back from a punch. “That’s retarded!” (Not one for politically correct language, Milton frequently employs the word “retard” in every conceivable manner.)

· Sit down on your punches. “I don’t care if you’re a midget, stand tall!”

· Don’t lead with your face. “I dare you to hit me. As soon as you throw the right, since you couldn’t reach me with your jab, I touch my toes.” (He’s speaking literally here.) “My body automatically turns to the right, and I’m gone. You see daylight and look stupid. Try it again and you look more stupid.”

· Make your punches short and tight. “I laugh at that too! Those short punches are never gonna hit a good boxer. Let them out long and loose. Listen, you have bulls and matadors. Boxers like Muhammad Ali are the matadors.  Sometimes you get two bulls that meet in the ring and fight each other. What happens is the less bloody bull is gonna win. I’ll stick with being the matador.”

· An ideal left hook is “snappy” and describes a 90-degree angle. “Nah, make big circles. I tell my fighters,‘Stir the pot! Stir the pot!’”

Certain boxing fans may not want to read further. Others may continue, but with furrowed brows. Milton welcomes such skepticism. The deceptively youthful, 48-year-old Newyorican loves disproving critics and then reprogramming their pugilistic mindsets.

It’s hard to argue with LaCroix’s methods when you consider his remarkable accomplishments in the New York amateur scene. From the mid-1980s through 2000—at which point he moved to southern Florida—he churned out champions as fast they could make those necklaces with the golden gloves attached to them. In 1996, for example, LaCroix’s “Supreme Team” placed seven fighters in the Golden Gloves finals at the Garden; five of them came out victorious. (Another five fighters who made it to the Garden that year trained at Milton’s 14th Street gym, although they were not officially members of his team. He’ll tell you that he shaped them too, even if through osmosis. They morphed into a product that looked awfully Miltonesque.) Now training amateurs in Miami, LaCroix’s fighters are dominating the Golden Gloves there.

If Milton’s name rings a bell, you might know it from Robert Anasi’s well-received book “The Gloves.” Released in 2002, the book chronicled the writer’s experiences in the world of New York amateur boxing as a member of Supreme Team. Although Anasi has said in interviews subsequent to the book’s publication that he “liked” and “admired” Milton, one gets a different sense upon reading the book. He is portrayed as a largely abusive, bullying, self-mythologizing braggart—and also a gifted coach.

All of the above is true, to an extent. LaCroix is highly confident and apt to state his exploits as a trainer and put them up against yours (particularly if you’re a fellow amateur coach competing against him). He has some rough edges and a formidable temper. He doesn’t conceal this fact, sheepishly admitting, “You know the story on me [in New York].  I’m always punching the referee in the face, or somebody in the face, because I just don’t get along with too many people. But don’t hate somebody because they’re great or they do things differently than you do—which everybody winds up doing.”

“We [Milton and his Supreme Team] were kicked out of more gyms than anybody in the history of New York,” says Stella Nijhof, a 4-time national champion and former pupil of LaCroix’s. “We kind of enjoyed being hated everywhere we went.” But Nijhof speaks warmly of Milton and says she never exchanged a cross word with him. She recalls him fostering an esprit de corps among her teammates that she’s never experienced before or since. Another Supreme Team member, nicknamed “Busdriver” by LaCroix (yeah, he drives a bus for a living), explained how when he thinks of Milton, it’s of his constant encouragement: “‘Believe in yourself, believe in yourself.’ He’d just preach that,” says “Busdriver,” “and those words are always stuck in my mind.” Unlike Nijhoff, “Busdriver” was a thirty-something, C-level fighter with a wife and five kids, but says LaCroix turned him into a solid B. “He can take a doofy kid with glasses and turn him into a superstar.”

Most poignantly, Milton has taken countless underprivileged kids off the streets and given them direction and hope through boxing. One of his prized students was a 156-pound teenager named Efrain Ortiz. His father was in jail and his mother an alcoholic.  “Efrain won the Golden Gloves in 1996 because I went to his house, with a suitcase. ‘Yo, where’s your room at?’ He took me to his room. I start throwing all his sh** in a bag and he goes, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Nigga, you winnin’ the New York City Golden Gloves this year if it kills me. You’re gonna win. And he goes like this, ‘But where am I going?’ I said, ‘You’re moving in with me.’ So I moved him out of his house, into my house. And the nigga won the Gloves. Five days after the fight, he was in jail.  I took care of Efrain since he was seven years old. The same thing I’d do with anybody.”

In speaking to numerous former fighters of Milton’s, not one saw him as anything less than a true friend, a “real person.” (Regarding certain fellow trainers, gym owners and amateur boxing bureaucrats, that’s a different matter.) They described Supreme Team as family. They said Efrain was just one of many poor kids from a broken home whom Milton essentially raised. Nearly everyone stays in touch.

The boxing savant LaCroix fell into boxing unexpectedly. He had had a promising career in the music business, having discovered numerous rap and soul artists and produced a few successful albums. One of those albums was “Masters of Ceremony” by the Brand Nubians. “They had a bunch of songs out—“Sexy,” “Crime,” and “Cracked Out,” Milton says. He also produced other artists such as Busy B, Don Baron and Evelyn Champagne King, and staged entertainment legends such as Red Foxx. “I worked with everybody.”

But LaCroix explains that a top executive at CBS Records commissioned him to produce an album, which he dumped most of his own money into, and never got signed. “I got so mad I wanted to smash him (the exec) in his f-ing head. So I was walking on 42nd Street and I saw a boxing gym and I went upstairs. And I started talking to this guy, Donald Hayes. He told me I was too old to do this, da da da—”

He wanted to be a fighter right then and there?

“Oh, yeah, I wanted to smash him in his f-ing head.” Milton, who was in his mid-twenties and had never laced on gloves, was confident that if he projected the record exec’s face onto future opponents, he’d do OK.

But what made him think he could do this? Just the act of walking into a boxing gym for the first time is an intimidating experience.

“I mean, I was born and raised in Queens!” he replies incredulously. “I was hittin’ niggas on the head and taking their sneakers.”

He became a gym rat, and headed up to the Bronx to spar with the likes of Pinklon Thomas. It was moving around with bigger men that he developed the slickness he attempts to instill in his fighters.

“You had to be slick,” he says, “because once you pissed them off, they wanna kill you.  People don’t realize, you don’t have to run from a big motherf***er. It’s when you do that that the punches really start landing. If you stay there and maintain your ground, and you get the guy to try to hit you . . . you can just have fun with him and watch him get mentally frustrated. It’s all about fun. It’s a fun sport that people don’t take as fun because they’re not comfortable and relaxed.”

                                                          * * *

Comfortable and relaxed is what I found Milton’s latest project, Shannon Briggs, to be, as I watched him spar last week on a raised outdoor ring in Hollywood, Florida. He was putting in the finishing touches on his preparation for (the once “Merciless”) Ray Mercer.  Beneath the ring lights it was 110 degrees and Briggs had clearly melted off the needless extra weight he’s been lugging around the last few years.  His trademark orange-gold dreadlocks looked like a roached mane proudly shooting through his headgear. To compare him to the Roy Jones of old would be farfetched, but when he tripled up his left hook on sparring partners Otis Tisdale and Sherman Williams, Milton reflexively touched the side of his face—a flashback to that bitchslap the trainer received 20 years ago.  Briggs’ jab was a ham-fisted flyswatter, and when he moved on his toes, it was as close to balletic as a 33-year-old, 250-pound man ought to be.

After his sparring, seemingly happy with his work, Briggs spoke glowingly of his trainer.  “Milton doesn’t have the notoriety that the other guys have,” he said, looking thoroughly displaced among chubby, white, red-cheeked southerners. “But I’m confident with his style and that makes me feel good. I believe in what he says. We work on certain things you won’t work with a ‘pro trainer’ because they may say, ‘Oh, nah, that’s amateurish.’  But the bottom line is punches getting to the home plate. And that’s what they’re doing.”

The trainer says that after five years of working together off and on, he sees his style finally clicking in with Briggs. The boxer, who used to peter out after three rounds, looked like he had reached a greater sense of his body-mind potential. Milton simply explained that his charge was finally “having fun with it.” But the hands held so low will undoubtedly receive raised eyebrows, to which Milton, almost reading my thoughts, launched into a lecture that is not foreign to me.

“When did having your hands glued to your face come in?  If you look at John L. Sullivan, Jack Johnson, James Corbett, all them fighters from way back when, they had their hands way out front. All of the sudden, everybody is ‘Keep your hands up! Keep your hands up! Keep your hands up! And they’re still getting knocked out. It’s a style that I didn’t invent,” Milton confesses in a surprising moment of humility.

Opponents to his way of thinking will say the Naseem Hameds and Floyd Mayweathers are unique athletic talents, blessed with so much quickness and natural ability, one would be insane to attempt their daring moves. Milton believes otherwise; if you learn to fight this way from the beginning—or in Briggs’ case practice it endlessly for a few years–you will develop the necessary instincts to master the style.

I told Milton that I was buying, to get him to stop selling. Briggs does look physically ready to make one final assault on the anemic heavyweight division; of all the super-sized retreads, he seems to me the most promising.  But in lieu of a crystal ball or the ability to read his mind, all we can do is wonder at the state of Briggs’ whimsical psyche. If Mercer has anything at all left, we will hopefully get some answers.

If you’re helplessly hardcore and plan on getting this dubious PPV tonight, know that while Shannon Briggs is the main attraction, the man in his corner may be a future star of equal weight and brilliance. Milton LaCroix will tell you as much.

Articles of 2005

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



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

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights




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



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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