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Articles of 2009

FIGHT OF THE YEAR! JuanMa Escapes With Win In NYC

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Find me one person who thought that Saturday night’s Juan Manuel Lopez-Rogers Mtagwa pairing had fight of the year potential. Please, who amongst us thought 25-12-2 Mtagwa would do more than simply make it tough for the Puerto Rican being groomed as the successor to Miguel Cotto? Not I; but that doesn’t stop me from calling the JuanMa-Mtagwa bout the 2009 Fight of the Year.

WBO super bantamweight champion JuanMa, out on his feet for the end of the 11th and much of the 12th after being knocked down, managed to stay on his feet, and came away with a unanimous decision, by scores of 115-113, 114-113, 116-111. TSS agreed with the decision, even if many fans in the theater at Madison Square Garden in New York booed with gusto. The card was titled “Island Warriors-Latin Fury 12” and ran on pay-per-view. Hopefully, promoter Top Rank will make it available on HBO, Showtime or ESPN, or just YouTube, to let everyone check it out.

Mtagwa said after he thought he won, and said he’d like a rematch. “The referee missed three knockdown,” said JuanMa’s promoter Bob Arum, who believed his man deserved a wider margin on the cards.

In the first, JuanMa  (from PR; 121 pounds; 27-0) scored a knockdown with his first punch, which had Mtagwa’s glove touch the mat, but it wasn’t called. It was a right hook, with an added ¼ shove. The lefty showed heavy hands and accuracy, and movement, and composure, in the first minute. A right then put Mtagwa (born in Tanzania; 121 pounds; lives in Philly; now 25-13-2) down, but again, the ref didn’t see fit to call a knockdown. In the second, JuanMa’s fast, accurate blasts kept Mtagwa off balance. The overmatched foe tried to score with overhand rights, and at the end of the round, woke up JuanMa with a sweeping left hook. In the third, the right hand worked for Mtagwa, though he paid dearly for getting off. He opened a nick on JuanMa’s left eye, and one could see what Russell Peltz was telling us last week about the challenger’s heart. Mtagwa’s right scuffed up JuanMa a tad, it was noted.

In the fourth, JuanMa’s right hook behind the ear kept on doing damage, but Mtagwa kept plodding ahead. He ate sharp punches but stayed in JuanMa’s grill, making the Puerto Rican work 24-7. In round five, a right hook sent Mtagwa down, and it was correctly scored a knockdown. JuanMa does give a little push-off to finish his hooks, so I guess it can be hard to separate the punch from the push. Even with the knockdown, it was clear that Mtagwa wasn’t out of it, and was making the puncher-boxer JuanMa earn every penny of his purse. In the sixth, JuanMa did a better job sticking to boxing, as opposed to slugging with the bottomless pit of heart, Mtagwa.

In the seventh, Mtagwa let loose with nasty right hands, and he buzzed JuanMa midway through. He may have depleted his gas tank with so much movement in the prior round. The Tanzanian may well have taken the round on a card, even. In the eighth, JuanMa came forward more to start, trying to dictate pace. It worked but that tenacious Tanzanian was still bringing it to end the round. In the ninth, the crowd roared when Mtagwa landed a right hand. JuanMa was warned for a low blow, but of course, Mtagwa kept winging. JuanMa complained of a head clash. They warred to end the round, and the crowd was transfixed. In the tenth, JuanMa complained of a low blow. Was he getting frustrated? Mtagwa, like out of a zombie flick, kept on coming on. He ate shots, was staggered slightly, but refused to cave. Meanwhile, JuanMa stayed composed, and for the most part, on message. A right to the body and left hook buzzed JuanMa, but he too showed stellar heart. Left hooks and a right hand JuanMa just about out on his feet, but the bell saved him.  In the 12th round,  JuanMa hit deck, but no knockdown was called, as he was down simply from exhaustion. He was good to go for about two minutes, but somehow stayed aloft, and exited the round. We’d go to the cards.

WBA featherweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa (from Cuba, living in Florida; 124 ½ pounds; 16-0, 14 KOs) took out Panamanian Whyber Garcia (22-7; 124 ½ pounds) in the fourth round, after taking some time to get warmed up and sizing up his somewhat hesitant opponent. As usual, Yuri didn’t bother with the jab, preferring to bang with meaning when banging at all. Garcia’s hands looked to be in slo-mo compared to the Cuban, big time. In two, the smooth operator Gamboa played it patient, easy to do as Garcia mostly posed. In the third, Garcia was a bit more aggressive, as Gamboa was not. Was the Cuban looking to get rounds in? In the fourth, we learned. A right dropped Garcia. Gamboa closed the show, via TKO,  after Garcia arose, jumping on him and swarming him with everything in his arsenal. Ref Steve Smoger interceded and pulled the plug, at  :58. Garcia gave less than one would’ve hoped, and if I paid money to see this card, I would’ve liked Gamboa to be in tougher.

Odlanier Solis (15-0, 11 KOs; from Cuba, living in Florida; 271 pounds, about 20 pounds over his usual weight) ran over late sub Monte Barrett (37-8; from Queens, NY; 218 pounds). Barrett, who subbed in after Kevin Johnson and Fres Oquendo walked,  played the boxer, and he stayed mobile, knowing Solis would have a power edge. “Run and gun,” trainer Tommy Brooks yelled to Barrett. Solis was the busier and more effective man in the first. One wondered if Barrett’s legs were as sturdy as we’d seen before, or if at 38, he was right close to the tale end of his career. Barrett got dropped by a long left hook, and was up at eight in the second. He went down again, it was called a push, but he couldn’t tie up big Solis, or weather the rain. He hit the deck again, after being clubbed repeatedly, and the ref Wayne Kelly waved his arms to signal a finish. The time of the ending was 1:54 of two, via TKO.

Is Barrett done? He’ll have to strongly consider that option, one would think. Is Solis a prospect? Absolutely; though bloated, he has above average power, and fights in a calm way, with professional intensity. The eating habits, we’ll have to see on that…

Carlos Nasciemento (154 pounds; from Brazil; 24-2) came in with an inflated record, and Pawel Wolak (155 ½ pounds; from Poland, living in NJ; 25-1) showed all in attendance that the resume and record were misleading. With an in-your-face fury, Wolak worked Carlos over, and was rewarded with a TKO win after five completed rounds. After two knockdowns, one official, and with his red trunks that much redder from his own blood, reason prevailed and the ring doc told the ref No Mas for Carlos. Wolak had won three straight after a 2008 loss to Ishe Smith; Carlos’ sole loss came to current WBO 154 pound titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk in 2007, but most of his wins came against suspect hitters in Brazil and Mexico. Wolak hurt Carlos with a right cross, soon after a gash appeared over the Brazilians’ right eye in round one. Carlos’ corner gave him the business, because he came out winging, less willing to let the Pole dictate terms in the second. The fighters were glued to each other for much of the time, both squared up, cracking. Wolak seemed to have the power edge, if the sound effects from his throws were to be a measuring stick. Carlos went down, but it was called a push late in the fourth. Wolak pinned him on the ropes, and was thisclose to getting a stop. Would Carlos’ corner or the doc let him come out for five? Danny Milano couldn’t stop the cut, and though Carlos came out energized, Wolak was back to business. He scored a knockdown, which looked like a push. Points to Carlos for making it out of the round. The ref David Fields came to Carlos’ corner after the round, and on the advice of the doctor, stopped the bout.

John Duddy (161 pounds; ranked No. 10 by WBO; from Derry, Ireland, now living in NY; now 27-1) took a UD-8 from Michi Munoz (160 pounds; from Mexico, living in Kansas; now 21-4), by scores of 80-73, 79-73, 79-73. You had to notice right away that the legions of amped admirers who used to follow Duddy have somewhat drifted away; it felt like maybe 30% of the people in the building were there to see the Derryman. In the first, Duddy worked the jab, and had Munoz backing up. He  ate a few hooks, and his nose was bloodied by the underdog. The blood still dripped to start round two. A right uppercut snapped Munoz’ head back, but the Kansan didn’t drop. In the fourth,  Munoz dropped in a combo which psyched up his corner, but didn’t seem to faze the Irishman. Duddy was in total control through four, in a comfortable but not overwhelming outing. The fight progressed the same way in following rounds, with the barrel-bodied Munoz landing the occasional launch, but for the most part taking two for every one he hit with. Munoz looked like he was deteriorating some in the seventh; his reflexes diminished somewhat and Duddy landed cleaner than before. In the eighth round, Duddy moved more, choosing not to press for a stoppage, but he did eat a clean right, and Munoz tried to press more fiercely. He didn’t have the gas, though, and Duddy ran out the clock, save for a final trade at the bell. The judges spoke and there was zero drama that they’d bungle the obvious call.

Cuban/Miamian Yan Barthelemy (listed as 29-years-old) went at it with Jorge Diaz, a slickee from NJ. They traded, and the crowd dug it. The lefty defector swings wide, and ate a left hook, which put him down and out in the final round. He laid and stayed on the canvas, and the ring doc evaluated him earnestly, checking his pupils for severe damage. Bart, who arose after a few minutes, dropped to 8-2, and the winner Diaz is now 10-0, with 6 KOs. The end came at 1:06 of the sixth.

Omar Chavez went to 18-0-1 with a win over New Yorker James Ventry. Julio’s youngest son has an even steeper ride to the top than does his brother Junior. He wasn’t life and death with 7-10 Gentry, but not as much one might think. The judges saw the junior welter bout 58-55, 58-55, 59-54.

Light heavyweight Carlos Negron (from PR; 5-0) showed some skills and potential with a UD win over Larry Pryor (from Texas; 4-5). Pryor has an iron beard. Guy ate a ton up top and to the body and hung tough. He definitely earned his wage.

Michael Torres of Yonkers tasted loss for the first time, at the hands of Martin Tucker (from Ohio; 7-4). The judges scored it 57-56, times three, I the lightweight scrap which kicked off the card.

Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva

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Former champion Rashad Evans meets Brazil’s venerable Thiago Silva in a non-title belt that can lead to a return match with the current champ, but first things first.

Evans (15-1-1) and Silva (14-1) meet in Ultimate Fighting Championship 108 in a light heavyweight bout on Saturday Jan. 2, at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. A win by either fighter could result in a world title bid. The fight card is being shown on pay-per-view television.

Events can change quickly in the Octagon and anybody can beat anybody in the 205-pound weight division. Just ask Silva or Evans.

Silva and Evans are both experienced and can vouch firsthand about the capriciousness of fighting in MMA and especially as a light heavyweight. On one day this man can beat that man and on another day, that man can beat this man. It can make you absolutely daffy.

Evans, 30, is the former UFC light heavyweight world champion who only defended his title on one occasion and lost by vicious knockout to current champion Lyoto Machida of Brazil. It’s the only defeat on his record.

Silva, 27, is a well-rounded MMA fighter from Sao Paolo, Brazil who is versed in jujitsu, Muy Thai and boxing. He can end a fight quickly in a choke hold just as easily as with a kick or a punch. His only loss came to who else: Machida.

Evans and Silva know a win can push open the door to a rematch with current UFC light heavyweight champion Machida.

“A win against Rashad would put me in the track against Lyoto,” said Silva, in a telephone conference call. “That's what – what I want to do.”

When Silva fought Machida the two Brazilians were both undefeated and feared in the MMA world. The fight took place in Las Vegas and with one second remaining in the first round a perfectly timed punch knocked Silva unconscious.

“I was humbled big time, man,” says Silva who fought Machida in January 2009. “I learned a lot from that fight.  I think I can correct the mistakes from that fight, not overlooking anything else right now, but just I want to get the chance to fight him again.”

For Evans it was a different circumstance. The upstate New Yorker held the UFC title and was defending it after stopping then champion Forrest Griffin by knockout. Still, many felt Machida was far too technically versed. Evans was stopped brutally in the second round.

“I've made it a point to not – to not get distracted on what I want to do, because you know Thiago (Silva) is a very hungry fighter,” said Evans who has not fought since losing the title to Machida last May. “My focus is just on Thiago so much.  You know I don't want to overlook him, you know, not even a little bit.”

Dana White, president of UFC, says the winner of this fight could conceivably fight Machida in the near future. Evans and especially Silva are motivated by the open window.

“I learned a lot from that fight. I think I can correct the mistakes from that fight,” says Silva. “Not overlooking anything else right now, but I just want to get the chance to fight him again.”

What a prize. The winner gets to face the man who beat him: Machida.

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Articles of 2009

Ten Boxing Wishes For 2010

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As 2009 comes to a close, one reflects on what went well and what went wrong during the year in boxing. There were many highlights. Pacquiao vs. Cotto and Showtime’s Super Six tournament were part of the best that boxing had to offer. But there were some low points too therefore the industry has some work to do in order to keep generating fans. Here are some suggestions for 2010:

10. Better pay per view cards

Paying 40 to 50 bucks to watch the main event gets old real quick. Why do we have to sit through a horrible under-card to get to the main course? It’s like being fed spam appetizers before the Thanksgiving turkey. It seems that the pay per view promoters just don’t get it. Are they watching what they put on or do they only watch the “big fight” as everyone else is slowly being conditioned to do so?

9. Time to make Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fight

Okay, I understand he’s the son of one of the greatest fighters that ever lived. But he’s had 42 fights against low to mid level competition and has never managed to look spectacular. It’s time to throw the 23 year old out of the nest to see if he can fly. My suggestion is a fight against Sergio Mora or maybe even Yuri Foreman. Neither of these guys can punch. They may outbox Junior but they won’t totally humiliate him.

8. No more ridiculous Pay Per View mismatches

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Juan Manuel Marquez should’ve never been made. It was a ridiculous fight when it was announced and it was more ridiculous when it took place. Unable to bring Manny Pacquiao to the bargaining table for a third match against Juan Manuel Marquez, someone figured that pairing up the 135 pound champion against a natural 147 pounder like Mayweather would be a great idea. The pay per view generated over a million buys but the fact that millions of people were treated to an incredibly boring mismatch is what’s truly worrisome. I can guarantee you one thing about this card. The sport of boxing lost fans once the show was over and done with. Talk about short term thinking.

7. Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola shows up for a fight in amazing shape

It was painful to see Chris Arreola take a beating from the Ukrainian giant, Vitali Klitscho. The champion certainly earned his “Dr. Ironfist” moniker as he plowed his powerful shots into the former #1 WBC heavyweight contender’s face. He reddened and bloodied the young Mexican American with an assortment of weapons and foot movement seldom seen on a six foot seven inch heavyweight. Arreola was brave and unrelenting in battle. He never stopped coming forward and took chances when he could. His work in the ring at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles wasn’t the problem. Where Arreola let himself down was outside the ring. His unwillingness to condition himself into a finely tuned athlete cost him certain immortality as the first ever heavyweight champion of Mexican descent. Arreola has the heart and skills but it was his mental fortitude that broke down. Anyone who’s followed the Riverside fighter knows that his best weight is somewhere in the 230 pound range. It certainly isn’t at the 252 pounds he registered on the scale at the Staples Center.  Those fifteen to twenty extra pounds might have made all the difference in the world. Maybe he would’ve been a little quicker, maybe he could’ve sustained a faster pace in order to tire out the champion. In his most recent fight against Brian Minto, Arreola weighed in at a career high 263. It looks like “The Nightmare” isn’t willing to change for anyone. At this pace, the only nightmares he’ll be providing will be to the management of Hometown Buffets all across Riverside.  Just kidding “Nightmare”!

6. More respect for the lighter weights

Real boxing fans know that the most exciting fighters in the sport are usually found toiling in weight divisions south of 154 pounds. Pacquiao, Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez, Edwin Valero, Israel Vazquez, Juan Ma Lopez, Vic Darchinyan, Rafael Marquez and countless others have been the real driving force behind this sport. It’s those great fighters that have made boxing fanatics out of casual fans. The heavyweights may get all the money and glory but it’s the little guys who make the sport shine and it’s time they received greater compensation. It’s dismaying to think that a mediocre heavyweight can make three or four times as much as the great Rafael Marquez.

5. An American Heavyweight champion

Speaking of heavyweights, two Americans tried and failed at dethroning Vitali Klitschko this year. Both Kevin Johnson and Chris Arreola did their best to wrestle the belt away from “Dr. Klitschko” but came up short since they were easily outclassed. What happened to the great American Heavyweight? Where’s our new Joe Frazier or Ali? Even a new Gerry Cooney or a Ken Norton would do at this point. I’ve got a feeling that the only way we’re going to see an American champion is if Klitschko retires. My money is on Arreola. Although undisciplined and rough outside the ring, he’s got tons (no pun intended) of natural talent. He’s without a doubt the most talented American heavyweight on the scene.

4. More ShoBox

The Showtime Cable network gave us the best boxing on TV for the price of a cable television subscription. Their ShoBox series has been a proven hit for Senior VP of Sports Programming Ken Hershman. The concept is simple yet brilliant. Match up two up and comers with great records and let’s see what happens. Sometimes the results are surprising. Many have passed the ShoBox test and went on to bigger and better things. Others have been exposed as having padded records and eventually their careers stall and take a dive.

3. More safety in Mexico so I can attend a show without a gun battle breaking out

Having lived near the Tijuana border all my life I’m dismayed at the war zone that the city has evolved into. Every day there are reports of shootings fueled by the drug war trade. Believe it or not, there was a time when Tijuana was safe and most wouldn’t have thought twice about crossing the border for some seafood and nightlife. No more. Having covered several boxing cards on Revolucion Avenue many years ago, I got a taste of just how important the sport is to Mexican fans. It’s also important to me but not that important. For now I’ll stick to covering shows at the Pechanga Casino and in the less dangerous city of L.A. I never thought I’d say that.

2. Pac Man vs. Mayweather

This is the fight everyone wants to see. Seeing how Mayweather dominated Pac Man’s arch enemy, Juan Manuel Marquez, you have to wonder if the Filipino can handle Lil’ Floyd’s speed and size. One thing is for sure, betting against Pacquiao doesn’t usually work out for me. It never has. There’s no future in it. So if the fight gets done it’s Pacquiao by TKO in ten.

1. And finally

One final wish is reserved for all the readers of TheSweetScience.com I wish you all a healthy and happy 2010. Thank you for your continued loyalty to the site. It’s very much appreciated.

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Articles of 2009

A Very Special New Year's Day Column

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It has been just over four months since Nick Charles, the play-by-play announcer for Shobox: The New Generation, was diagnosed with stage IV bladder cancer and forced to take a medical hiatus from the monthly show that has aired since 2001.

Since then he has undergone grueling chemotherapy treatments that have resulted in him losing all of his hair as he forces himself to live as normal of a life as possible. Through sheer force of will, as well as the strength and support that he receives from his wonderfully loving family and his strong Christian faith, the 63-year-old Charles has managed to keep his weight up while not falling prey to the always lingering threats of depression, cynicism and negativity.

If one was unaware that he was battling such an insidious disease, you’d never know from talking on the phone to him that he has been to hell and back. He has lost none of the inspiring energy that has endeared him to members of the boxing community and legions of worldwide viewers.

“I’m doing great,” Charles said during a telephone conversation on December 30th. “I’ve been off the chemo for a month, and the doctors have told me that I’m 80 percent in remission. I’m going to see them again in three months. It may come back, but if it takes one year, or two years, or however long, I’m going to make the most of the good time.”

As physically and emotionally wrenching as the grim diagnosis and subsequent treatment has been, even for someone as perpetually positive as Charles, the longtime announcer said a lot of good things have come from it.

Having been married three times, Charles is the father of four children: Jason, 38, Melissa, 34, Charlotte, 22, and Giovanna, 3 ½.

While Charles is not big on regrets, he is the first to admit that he wasn’t always there for his older children. For many years he traveled the world as a CNN correspondent, often putting the demands of his career above all else, including those closest to him. Nowhere was the strain more evident than in his relationship with Melissa.

Having been divorced from Melissa’s mother since 1977, Charles said his relationship with that daughter has been especially “hot and cold, all of our lives.”

His illness has enabled them to forge a relationship that has been “based on a massive amount of forgiveness and understanding.”

“This has had a tremendous healing effect on both of us,” said Charles. “My illness has had a fortifying effect on a lot of things, the most important of which is my relationships with my family.”

That also includes his first wife, with whom he has had an often acrimonious relationship over the past three decades.

“It took a long time for the scab to become a scar, but we had lunch one day and it was so great to once again see the gentle, soft sides of each other,” he explained. “The whole divorce process creates a hardness that doesn’t always go away.”

Charles is also the grandfather to three children, some of whom are about the same age as his youngest daughter. He jokes that he has a “nuclear 21st century family” because of the similar ages of two generations of children. One of the hardest things for him has been the realization that he can’t always play with them in manner in which he would like.

“The hemoglobin is the fuel in your tank, so when it’s low you can’t will yourself to do things no matter how much you want to,” said Charles. “You can’t just sleep it off or work through it. I don’t want the kids to wonder why I can’t play in the backyard with them, or kick a soccer ball, or throw them in the air.”

Particularly difficult is when Giovanna reminds her father of how handsome he is, but then innocently asks him what happened to his hair, eyebrows and lashes.

“You try to keep things on a need to know basis, which is not easy when dealing with curious kids,” said Charles.

While Charles might look like the kind of guy that things have often come easy to, the reality is that his beginnings were far from auspicious. But, he says, his often challenging Chicago childhood blessed him with the steely resolve that has helped him so much during the arduous journey he is now on.

“I had it pretty rough growing up,” he explained. “I remember the lights and the heat being shut off and eating mustard sandwiches. I went to work at 13 and always had insecurities about the future. But I always expected and saw the best in people, so when I got sick, never once did I say 'Why me?”

Since taking a leave of absence from Shobox, the outpouring of support from the boxing community has warmed Charles’s heart. For a guy that is battling for his life, he actually considers himself fortunate to be surrounded by so much goodness in both his personal and professional lives.

“I always hear that boxing people are ruthless, but I couldn’t disagree more,” said Charles. “I’ve probably received about 1,000 e-mails, and people are always following in sending their best wishes. From the relatively unknown people in boxing to many of the more famous people, there has been an outpouring of true affection.”

Charles said that the Top Rank organization has been exceedingly kind and gracious. He was touched beyond description when he learned that officials in Oklahoma got special permission to have a seamstress sew “Keep Fighting Nick” onto their sleeves. He chokes up when talking about cut man Stitch Duran giving up an endorsement opportunity so he could put Charles’s name on his outfit. He never tires of hearing shout-outs from fighters on television.

Charles has always been a people person with an inordinate faith in the goodness of his fellow man. Battling this illness has only made his already strong faith in humanity even stronger.

“Adversity is a great teacher, and it really teaches you who your genuine friends are,” said Charles. “I have a lot of friends.”

He also has a remarkable wife, Cory, a CNN producer to whom he has been married for 11 years. She is the daughter of an electrician, a self-made woman who exudes all of the warmth of her native Brooklyn. She has reinforced her husband’s spiritual base by her love, optimism and strength of character.

“If I get down, she reminds me to not get too caught up,” said Charles. “I believe in eternity, and that has put me pretty much at peace.”

More than anything else, Charles wants to get himself back behind a microphone sooner rather than later, and hopefully on Shobox. He is the first to admit that viewers “don’t watch the series to see Nick Charles,” but he is proud of the fact that he was “part of the identity” of such a popular show.

“And people love comeback stories,” added Charles. “That’s the message I’m getting from the people out there.”

In boxing the word “champion” is often overused because it pertains only to winning belts and receiving worldwide recognition for being the best at your craft. The reality is that life’s real champions have other qualities, such as the innate ability to treat people well and always make them feel better about themselves, especially when the recipients of the goodwill are in no position to give them anything back.

By that standard of measure, Charles is as much, if not more of a champion than all of the boxers he has covered during the nine years that Shobox has been on the air.

I know I speak for scores of others when I say, “Happy New Year, Champ. We hope that you are the comeback story of the year in 2010.”

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