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Articles of 2010

CHASING JACK CHASE, Part 2: A Candle in the Glove

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Isaiah Chase was finally released from the Colorado State Penitentiary on a cold December day in 1935. It is unknown whether Nancy Walters had the money or the means of transportation to visit over the previous two years, but she may have been there to greet him as the iron doors opened. There, with flint-faced guards lingering nearby, perhaps mother and son were reunited.

He was now one month shy of his twenty-second birthday. As he stepped outside and took in the brisk mountain air, did he allow himself to feel a glimmer of hope? If so, that hope would be shadowed by bleak reality. In the Dust Bowl just east, nature itself rebelled with drought and wind after farmers spent years over-plowing and over-grazing the prairie. Experts met in Pueblo that month and estimated that the Southern Plains lost 850,000,000 tons of topsoil. It had blown away, blotting out the sun and further crippling the economy. One in four Americans were unemployed at the height of the Depression. It was worse for Isaiahs demographic -50% of African Americans couldnt find work. And here he was an ex-convict. Still, hope doesnt stop glimmering when the sun turns black. There were 18 lynchings in 1935, yet it would be the last year in American history where such numbers climbed higher than 8…

Americas redemption, a long time coming, was coming along. Isaiahs was too.

YOUNG JOE LOUIS
Early in 1936, a professional boxer calling himself Young Joe Louis began appearing on undercards in and around Walsenburg, Colorado.

He fought as if making up for lost time.

Prone like any novice to throw wild roundhouses and slap a lot, this unknown fighter tried his best to win. Whats more, he tried his best to knock his opponents over the ropes and into those abandoned mine shafts littering the landscape. His best wasnt so good at first. He won a four round fight at St. Marys auditorium in Walsenburg on January 30th that was booed by a crowd that felt the other guy won. Four days later he scored a knockout in the third round of a six-rounder at Raton, New Mexico. After that he earned a draw and then beat an Italian veteran out of Chicago named Nick Broglio.

He trained every day and improved quickly. By the end of June he won the Colorado State Middleweight Title. By the end of August he won the Colorado State Welterweight Title and boxing figures were raising eyebrows. Jerry the Greek Luvadis, Jack Dempseys old chief second, was training him by the time he faced sixth-ranked welterweight Jackie Burke that September. Louis sacrificed his end of the purse to satisfy Burkes financial demands and bring him to Walsenburg. Promoter Babe Shosky was confident enough to offer a money-back guarantee to any unsatisfied fan after the show.

Almost everyone in the small town came out to see the Louis-Burke bout. It didnt disappoint.

Young Joe Louis declared the World-Independent, was not only a smart boxer but surprised fans with his whirlwind attacks against Burke, driving him time and time again against the ropes. Jerry the Greek was instrumental in the corner, finding Burkes weakness without a minutes hesitation and then advising Louis how to exploit it. Burke won the first round ? and that was it. Louis became the welterweight and middleweight champion of the whole Rocky Mountain region.

Burke was crestfallen. I was really beat he said afterwards. Louis set his sights on world welterweight champion Barney Ross. Im going to keep on going until I reach the top he said, and I dont intend to stop and Im willing to take on all comers.

Young Joe Louis was Isaiah Chase, starting over.

Fighting under that soubriquet was good for marketing. Heavyweight contender Joe Louis was making headlines and breaking down a color line in place since Jack Johnsons heyday. There was just one problem Young Joe Louis was in fact three months older than Joe Louis. So Chase cooked the books. He pushed his birthday up one year later than it actually was. He had another good reason to conceal his name -if his lengthy criminal record got out his fan base would be as dry as that soil blowing all over Gods country. Sometimes he had to lie outright. After his third fight, a local reporter asked him what his Christian name was. Isaiah answered Billy Chase.

He had several fights in his hometown. It would not have been surprising to see Nancy in the audience, proudly watching her son make something of himself. By the spring of 1936, neighbors might have rushed over to her apartment with a copy of the Walsenburg newspaper. He is considered one of the finest battlers this city has ever had it read.

Soon enough, her son made his debut in the Mile-High City.

DENVER????
Patrick R. Gallagher was Denvers foremost boxing man. Called Reddy because of his red hair and his readiness to put his dukes up, he had been a professional himself at the turn of the twentieth century before writing for the Post. The old featherweight took note of the new prospect and liked what he saw. Young Joe Louis, he said, is an extraordinary boxer with a lightning left hand and an attitude to go with it; he doesnt hand pick his opponents and is ready to fight anybody at any time. He was a boxer after Reddys own heart.

Theyre going to send Young Joe Louis into the lions den tonight wrote Gallagher in December. George Black had a record of 25-10-2 and could boast of a win over future king Tony Zale. He represented a stern test and was considered by a few in-the-know as the toughest young middleweight in the game today. If the local welterweight emerged victorious, Gallagher asserted, we will have with us one of the greatest prospects in Colorado boxing history. With that, an incognito ex-con entered the ring at Denvers City Auditorium with 3,000 eyes on him. He was a 10-6 underdog.

Over the first three rounds Black was boxing easily and tying him up. Experience seemed to be taming youth. The African American calmed his nerves and began to fight aggressively out of a crouch, bobbing and weaving and punching from every angle. Sitting at ringside, Gallagher was struck by their contrasting styles. Black was a stand-up fighter and counterpuncher who seemed stiff and rigid whereas Young Joe Louis was very unorthodox and confusing. They were more opposite than Gallagher knew. Black was a white medical student at Marquette University who would retire at the age of twenty-five. In the early forties, he would be working as a guard at Alcatraz.

In the fourth round, Chase landed a left hook to the future prison guards flank, followed by a whistling right cross to the chin. Black went down as if he was clocked by a nightstick. He got up at the count of eight and was driven around the ring by a hail of punches. He would go down five more times and was spared from a knockout loss only by the final bell. His handlers told Gallagher after the fight that Black was absolutely out of his head since those wicked shots in the fourth round. Black agreed.

Gallagher found one flaw in the victors otherwise notable performance -the ?Fancy Dan clowning in the closing minutes. Denver boxing figures all agreed that Louiss speed and unorthodox style were his strongest assets. Hes all head and shoulders when he moves in said one, its pretty hard to get a clean shot on his chin. Another noted how well the young fighter varied his style and preferred to fight in close. The sports editor of the Denver Post suggested that most colored are natural counter punchers though that soap box he stood on shook less when he recognized that Louis is a radical exception. He set a hectic pace, the editor continued, and was in fine shape at the finish.

Evidently, Chase had given up smoking and drinking -at least temporarily. He probably had no time for it. Five days later he was in New Mexico fighting Eddie Murdock. Murdock, like Black, was leading after the first three rounds when suddenly Louis came out for the fourth with a changed style. He led with his right and proceeded to punch Murdock silly before knocking him out in the seventh round.

The Associated Press reported that this was his sixty-sixth consecutive victory.

MYSTERY FIGHTS
Joining the Associated Press in reporting that astounding 66-0 record was the Denver Post and The Ring magazine. It has been assumed since then that Louis/Chase had many professional bouts before 1936. Indeed, an article in Walsenburgs World-Independent dated March 24th 1936 first mentions his having won 34 of his last 36 bouts by knockout. This information seemed to have come from Bill Mathews, a local fight manager handling him. In December 1936, that same newspaper states that Louis started his victory march in Walsenburg some two years ago. This simply isnt so. Furthermore, it provides the first clue to the truth. Simply put, Isaiah Chase wasnt marching anywhere two years earlier except to the chow hall. He was in prison.

Isaiah himself offers the best evidence against the claims. Not only did he give his accurate age on intake records only before he was campaigning as Young Joe Louis, he also stated that his occupation was dry cleaner in 1932. In 1933, his occupation is recorded as stationary engineer. Before 1936, he did not indicate that he was a boxer. In fact, from 1930 until 1936, Isaiah Chase was locked up about 82% of the time. If he entered the professional ranks at the age of 16, that would have left him no more than fourteen scattered months of freedom to train, find and maintain a relationship with a manager, and fight approximately thirty-two times in a state that was no hotbed of boxing activity.

Scouring the World-Independent during the time that he was not locked up in 1932-1933 reveals a lively local boxing scene headed by Babe Shosky. There is no mention of Young Joe Louis or any variation of Isaiah Chases known aliases. He is first mentioned in the sports section of his hometown newspaper on January 29th 1936 ?about a month and a half after he was released from prison. Young Joe Louis the article announces, a Walsenburg negro, newcomer, will take on Bill Pryor of Pueblo. Theres nothing ambiguous about the word ?newcomer. It is also significant that he fought a four-rounder. New prizefighters typically begin their careers in scheduled four round fights.

The evidence grows and looks agreeable until a question peaks out like a mole in a garden: How on earth could a tenderfoot defeat established boxers like Jackie Burke and George Black?

The answer takes us further along to the truth.

The best theory about the mystery fights is this: they took place behind concrete walls. They were not professional bouts. It was not uncommon during this era for the press to publicize a fighter as unbeaten notwithstanding the fact that most of the said victories were at the amateur level. In fact, the Colorado State Reformatory and the Canon City Penitentiary had boxing programs. Many of the bouts held at the reformatory were open to the public. At Canon City, boxing was very popular and regular contests were held in the prison auditorium. According to the Wardens biennial report, the success of these contests is due to the many admirers inside and outside the institution.

Chase almost certainly learned the Sweet Science as an inmate and compiled many wins before turning professional early in 1936. Manager Mathews may have scouted the prison boxing program and recruited him. This would give Chase a head start, which would explain why he had his first bout so soon after his release. Once his charge proved to be a prospect, Mathews would want to protect his investment, so he told the press that Young Joe Louis had been campaigning and winning during those years that he was actually incarcerated. It wasnt quite a lie. Chase could have easily engaged in thirty-odd boxing matches in a ring and before a crowd in 1934-1935. Reporters may have been tied in enough with Mathews to go along with the story because nowhere in the World-Independent or the Denver Post is a specific claim made that the undocumented wins were professional wins.

Thus it is. Chase learned how to box while incarcerated and gained experience fighting other inmates in supervised matches. His professional career, however, began with a four round fight at a high school auditorium in Walsenburg, Colorado on January 30th 1936. Anything else is unlikely.

Anything else would be less remarkable.

By Christmas Eve 1936, Young Joe Louis had advanced from preliminaries to main events and was demonstrating the passion of a great fighter. He was trumpeted as the top welterweight and middleweight of the Rocky Mountain region -and a sports idol of the same state that once convicted him.
?

Photograph courtesy of the Denver Public Librarys Western History and Genealogy Department.

Springs Toledo can be contacted at scalinatella@hotmail.com.

Articles of 2010

Judah To Fight Mbuza March 5 In NJ

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Totowa, NJ – Kathy Duva, Main Events CEO, announced their promotional firm won the purse bid held at IBF headquarters in East Orange, NJ, Thursday. The bid was for the right to hold the IBF's junior welterweight title fight between Zab Judah of Brooklyn, NY and Las Vegas, and South Africa's Kaizer Mabuza.

IBF Championships Chairman, Lindsay Tucker explained, “It is a 50-50 split of the earnings between the two fighters. Kaizer is ranked No. 1 by the IBF, and Judah is No. 2. Where the fight will be held is up to the winning bidder.”

Judah (39-6, 26 KOs) is promoted by Main Events and his own firm Super Judah Promotions, and Branco Milenkovic, of South Africa, promotes Mabuza (23-6-3, 14 KOs).

Kathy Duva confirmed the fight will take place at Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, late February or early March this year as part of Main Events' Brick City Boxing Series.  (Saturday Update: the fight is March 5th, in NJ at the Pru Center. The bout will be part of a PPV card.)

“We are very happy that Zab has the opportunity to fight for the IBF Junior Welterweight title right here in New Jersey.  Winning this fight will put Zab right in the mix with the winner of Bradley-Alexander and Amir Khan.” Duva elaborated, ” Zab will work very hard to win this fight so that he will be one step closer to his ultimate goal of unifying all of the Junior Welterweight titles by the end of 2011!”

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Articles of 2010

UFC 125 Preview: Frankie Edgar Vs. Gray Maynard

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UFC_Edgar_and_Maynard_Dec._2010
Few predicted Frankie Edgar would grab the UFC lightweight championship last year but he did. Most felt he would eventually win it but Edgar not only took the title, he beat one of the best mixed martial artists in history to do it.

Edgar (13-1) has emerged from the milieu of nondescript MMA fighters to become one of the more brilliant performers for Ultimate Fighting Championship. Next comes a rematch with Gray “The Bully” Maynard (11-0) tomorrow at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas. UFC 125 will be televised on pay-per-view.

All it took was not one, but two victories over BJ Penn.

If you’re not familiar with Penn, he’s one of the most versatile fighters in MMA history and had been nearly unbeatable in the 155-pound lightweight division. That is until he clashed with Edgar. Until he met New Jersey’s Edgar, the Hawaiian fighter chopped down lightweight opponents with ease. It was only the heavier welterweights he had problems against. Namely: Canada’s Georges St. Pierre.

Edgar showed poise, speed and grit in defeating Penn in back-to-back fights. The world took notice.

“You know, if I keep winning fights, the respect will come eventually,” said Edgar during a conference call.

Now Edgar will find out if he can avenge the only loss on his record.

“I just think I grew as a fighter. You know, mentally, you know, physically I, you know, possess differently skills, increased – you know, I think I boxed and got better, my Jiu-Jitsu got better and, you know, just have much more experience now,” Edgar says.

Maynard seeks to find out if Edgar has added any more fighting tools to his repertoire. Back in April 2008, the artillery shelled out was not enough to beat the Las Vegas fighter.

“It’s a perfect time. He had the chance and, you know, he took it and the time is now for me and I’m prepared,” said Maynard (11-0). “Any time you’re going up against the top in the world, you evolve and change and so I’m prepared for a new fight, so it will be good. I’m pumped for it.”

Though Maynard’s record indicates he is unbeaten that’s not entirely true. He did suffer a defeat to Nate Diaz during The Ultimate Fighter series and subsequently avenged that loss last January.

The UFC lightweight title is in Maynard’s bull’s eye.

“Looking to take the belt for sure,” said Maynard. “We’ll see on January 1.”

Edgar versus Maynard should be a good one.

Other bouts:

Nate Diaz (13-5) faces Dong Hyun Kim (13-0-1) in another welterweight tussle. Diaz is the only fighter with a win over Maynard. Anyone watching TUF remembers Maynard tapping out from a Diaz guillotine choke. The Modesto fighter has a tough fight against South Korea’s Kim.

Chris Leben (21-6) fights Brian Stann (9-3) in a middleweight fight. Leben is a veteran of MMA and if an opponent is not ready for a rough and tumble fight, well, that fighter is not going to win. Stann dropped down from light heavyweight and we’ll see if the cut in weight benefits the Marine.

Brandon Vera (11-5) meets Thiago Silva (14-2) in a light heavyweight match up. Vera is trying to rally back to the promising fighter he was tabbed several years back. Silva is a very tough customer and eager to crash the elite. A victory by either fighter could mean a ticket to the big time.

Clay Guida (27-8) versus Takanori Gomi (32-6) in a lightweight bout. Guida has become one of the most feared fighters without a title. No one has an easy time with the long-haired fighter. Gomi lost to Kenny Florian but knocked out Tyson Griffin. Can he survive Guida?

Marcus “The Irish Hand Grenade” Davis (22-8) clashes with Jeremy Stephens (18-6) in another lightweight fight. Davis is a go-for-broke kind of fighter and is looking to get back in the win column after a tumultuous battle with Nate Diaz last August. Stephens needs a win too. In his last bout he lost to Melvin Guillard.

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Articles of 2010

Borges Looks Back, And Forward With Hope

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PacquiaoClottey_Booth_6

As the end of another year approaches, there’s no need to invoke Charles Dickens to describe what went on in boxing. It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times. It was just too much time spent on The Fight That Never Took Place.

For the second straight year the sport could not deliver The Fight, the only one fans universally wanted and even casual fans craved – the mix between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao.  No one has to be singled out for blame for that failure because this time there’s plenty to go around on both sides. The larger issue is what does it say about a sport when it cannot deliver its top event?

What would the NFL be without the Super Bowl? Where would major league baseball be without the World Series? Golf without the Masters? College basketball without March Madness?

They would all be less than they could be and so it was with boxing this year. Having said that, the sport was not without its signature moments. It was not bereft of nights that left those of us with an abiding (and often unrequited) love for prize fighting with good reason to hope for the future.

Three times promoter Bob Arum took the sport into massive stadium venues just like the good (very) old days and each time boxing drew a far larger crowd than its many critics expected. Twice those fights involved the sport’s leading ambassador, Pacquiao, who brought in crowds of 40,000 to 50,000 fans into Cowboys Stadium against inferior opponents Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito. Imagine what he might have done had Mayweather been in the opposite corner?

While both fights were, as expected, lopsided affairs, they showcased the one boxer who has transcended his sport’s confining walls to become a cultural icon and world celebrity. Pacquiao alone put boxing (or at least one boxer) on the cover of TIME and into the pages of such varied publications as Esquire, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, the American Airlines in-flight magazine and even Atlantic Monthly.

As history has proven time and again, that is what happens when boxing has a compelling personality to sell it and Pacquiao is that. Mayweather is such a person as well,  but for different reasons.

The one night he appeared in a boxing ring, he set the year’s pay-per-view standard against Shane Mosley while also leaving a first hint of dark mystery when he was staggered by two stinging right hands in the second round.

Mayweather was momentarily in trouble for the first time in his career but the moment passed quickly and Mosley never had another. By the end he had been made to look old and futile, a faded athlete who’d had his chance and was unable to do anything with it. So it goes in this harsh sport when the sands are running out of the hour glass.

As always there were some surprising upsets, most notably Jason Litzau’s domination of an uninterested and out of shape Celestino Caballero and Sergio Martinez’s one-punch demolishment of Paul Williams. The latter was not so much an upset as it was a stunning reminder that when someone makes a mistake against a highly skilled opponent in this sport they don’t end up embarrassed. They end up unconscious.

SHOWTIME did all it could to further the future of the sport, offering up a continuation of its interminably long but still bold Super Six super middleweight tournament as well as the launching of a short form bantamweight tournament which already gave fans to two stirring and surprising finishes with Joseph Agbeko decisioning Jhonny Perez and Abner Mares upsetting Victor Darchinyan in a battle of contusions.

While the Super Six has had its problems – including several of the original six pulling out – it also lifted the profile of former Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward from nearly unknown to the cusp of universal recognized as the best super middleweight in the world this side of Lucian Bute. If Ward continues winning he’ll get to Bute soon enough because that’s why SHOWTIME signed a TV deal with the Canadian and America may get its next boxing star if Ward proves to be what I think he is – which is still underrated and underappreciated.

HBO and HBO pay-per-view put on 23 shows, few of them compelling and many of them paying big money to the wrong people while doing little or nothing to grow the sport that has helped make their network rich. But they did have the knockout of the year – Martinez’s second round destruction of Williams – and some fights in the lower weight classes that were left you wanting more.

Two new names popped up who are causing the kind of fan reaction that also gives us hope for 2011 – American Brandon Rios and Mexican Saul Alvarez. They are two of the sport’s brightest young prospects because each comes to the arena the old-fashioned way – carrying nothing but bad intentions.
Aggression and knockouts still sell boxing faster than anything else and each exhibited plenty of both this year and left fans wanting to see more. Alvarez is already a star in Mexico without having yet won a world title and Rios is the definition of “promise.’’ Whether the star will continue to shine and promise will be fulfilled may be answered next year and so we wait anxiously to find out.

Backed by Golden Boy Promotions, there is no reason 2011 shouldn’t be Alvarez’s year and if it is people will notice and remember him because he has a crowd-pleasing style that is all about what sells most.

That is what boxing needs more of – fresh faces and new stars… so as fans we should root for guys like Alvarez, Ward, Rios and young Brit Amir Khan, who is a star in England but still a question mark with a questionable chin but a fighter’s heart here in the U.S.

Those guys and others not yet as well known are the future of boxing, a sport that for too long has been recycling the likes of Mosley (as it will again in May for one last beating against Pacquiao in a fight that's a joke), Bernard Hopkins (who can still fight although it is unclear why he bothers or where it’s all headed), Roy Jones and, sadly, even 48-year-old Evander Holyfield, who continues to delude himself but not many other people into believing he will soon unify the heavyweight title again.
If fighters like Ward, Alvarez, Rios, Khan, WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto and middleweight king Sergio Martinez continue their rise they could be the antidote for the art of the retread that Arum and Golden Boy have been forcing fans to buy the past few years at the expense of what boxing needs most – fresh faces.

The heavyweight division, which many believe determines the relevancy of boxing to the larger world, remains a vast desert of disinterest here in the US. The Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, hold 75 per cent of the title belts but few peoples’ imaginations in the US, although to be fair they are European superstars and don’t really need U.S. cable TV money to thrive economically.

Each defended their titles twice this year, Vitali against lame competition (Albert Sosnowski and Shannon Briggs) and Wladimir against better fighters (Sam Peter and Eddie Chambers) but not competitive ones. Sadly, there is no American on the horizon to challenge them, a comment on the division and on our country, where the athletes who used to be Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali now opt for the easier and frankly safer road of the NFL or the NBA. Who can blame them considering all the nonsense a fighter has to go through to just make a living these days?

The one heavyweight match that would be compelling and might lift the sport up for at least a night would be either of the Klitschkos facing lippy WBA champion David Haye. The fast-talking Brit claims to not be ducking them but he’s had more maladies befall him after shouting from the rooftops how much he wants to challenge them that you have to wonder if Haye is simply a case of big hat no cattle syndrome.

For the sake of the sport, we should all be lighting candles each night in hopes our prayers will be answered and Haye will finally agree to meet one of them. It may not prove to be much of a fight but at least it will give us something to talk about for a few months.

Whatever Haye and the Klitschkos decide the fighter with the most upside at the moment however seems to be Sergio Martinez.  He has matinee idol looks, a big enough punch to put Paul Williams to sleep with one shot and a work ethic second to none. The Argentine fighter had a year for himself, starting with a drubbing of Kelly Pavlik followed by his demolishment of Williams. Those kinds of victories, coupled with his Oscar De La Hoya-like looks, are the type of things that if HBO or SHOWTIME would get behind him could allow Martinez to capture the attention of both fight fans and more casual ones.

In general, Hispanics fighters continued to dominate much of the sport’s front pages with Juan Manuel Marquez’s two victories in lightweight title fights leading that storyline. His war with Michael Katsidis is a strong candidate for Fight of the Year and his technical skill and calm demeanor make him the uncrowned challenger to Pacquiao. The two have unfinished business that should be settled this year if Arum stops standing in the way.

Two other fighters who gave us moments to remember in 2010 were Juan Manuel Lopez, who knocked out three solid opponents including highly respected Mexican warrior Rafael Marquez, and Giovani Segura, who won four times (that’s three years work for Mayweather) in 2010, all by knockout. Along the way, Segura defeated one of the great minimum weight fighters in history, slick Ivan Calderon, to win the belt on Aug. 28.

Lastly, boxing gave us another magical cinematic moment as well with the release of “The Fighter,’’ a film based on the life and hard times of junior welterweight scrapper Micky Ward. The film has won rave reviews and many awards and seems likely to have several of its actors nominated for Academy Awards, most notable Christian Bale for his sadly humorous portrayal of Ward’s troubled half brother, former fighter Dickie Ecklund.

Boxing has a long history of providing the framework for memorable movies and it did it again with “The Fighter,’’ a film that did more for boxing than any promoter did all year.

All in all, it wasn’t the best of years for boxing but it was a good year that picked up speed in the final months and, like that great golf shot you finally hit out of the rough on the 18th, left us with reasons to hope for a better year in 2011. If somehow it gives us Mayweather-Pacquiao, the emergence of Alvarez and Rios, the ascension of Martinez and Haye vs. the best available Klitschko in addition to the kind of solid performances that always come along, it could be a year to remember.

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