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Avila’s Picks for Best Fighters and Moments of 2015

David A. Avila

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BOXING’S BEST FIGHTER 2015

Gennady “GGG” Golovkin didn’t need Floyd Mayweather to retire to prove he’s the new king of boxing. He’s arrived like a comet from Kazakhstan with his “Mexican style” bent on elimination of the opposition as quick as possible. Two times he met and defeated world title challengers with crushing knockouts against Martin Murray and Willie Monroe Jr. Each time the crowds grew larger. Finally, this past October, he met Canada’s David Lemieux the owner of the IBF middleweight title in New York City. Fans quickly shelled out cash and filled 20,000 seats at Madison Square Garden. It was the first time two non-Americans sold out the historic sports palace. The middleweight championship fight was tougher than expected as Golovkin showed off his boxing skills that some doubted he possessed. Jabs, movement and counter-punches rained from the man known as “Triple G” and soon the continuous pounding could not be withstood any more from the courageous Lemieux. Now the boxing world knows all about Golovkin’s abilities. No longer do fans wonder where the next big star will come from, he’s already arrived.

Runners Up: Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Sergey Kovalev, and Tyson Fury.

BEST 12-ROUND SCHEDULED FIGHT 2015

Francisco Vargas entered the ring against WBC super featherweight titlist Takashi Miura in Las Vegas on November 21. Both had reputations for high energy action. Both did not disappoint. In the opening round Vargas connected and wobbled the champion badly. It did not look good, but if you saw his fight two years ago in Mexico against Yeyo Thompson it was business as usual. Miura survived and actually turned things around. In the fourth round he knocked down Vargas with a clean one-two combination. Then he proceeded to gain momentum and nearly ended the fight with Vargas in the eighth. It seemed the ninth round would be the end for Vargas, but in a quick turn of events, it was Miura who was caught with some vicious blows and staggered to the ground. Vargas pounced on the valiant Japanese but to no avail. The crowd was in shock at how quickly the fight turned around. Have you ever heard 12,000 fans suddenly go breathless?

KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR 2015

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez met James “Mandingo Warrior” Kirkland in a super welterweight match that everyone and their cousin predicted would end in a knockout. They were not disappointed. Mexico’s Alvarez and Houston native Kirkland were not about to pull another Mayweather- Pacquiao bore fest and gave the more than 30,000 fans fireworks in May. Dukes were flying and heads were snapping as each had their moments. Suddenly, Alvarez connected with a right that turned Kirkland 180 degrees around and out for the count. It was a brutal and expected ending. The replay of the knockout in slow-motion showed how expert timing and technique can make a difference measured in micro-seconds. Kirkland launched a slightly wide left cross and Alvarez connected with a short quick right cross. It was over immediately. Fans cheered wildly though the fight did not reach the end of three rounds. It was exactly what they paid for and the fighters delivered. Some say it washed the stigma of stagnancy of Mayweather’s very underwhelming win that had America asking itself why they spent nearly $100 on a Mayweather fight card that had no excitement at all after the opening bell. Alvarez and Kirkland gave the fans a reason to return to boxing.

Runner up: Nonito Donaire KO of Anthony Settoul in round 2 on July 18, 2015 in Macao, China.

MOST INCREDIBLE ROUND 2015

12th round Nonito Donaire vs. Cesar Juarez

It was a fight that started slowly with Nonito Donaire winning several one-sided rounds against Mexico’s Cesar Juarez on Dec. 11 in Puerto Rico. Those were the warm up rounds. After the halfway point Juarez began warming up and Donaire’s speed started waning. Suddenly, a real fight was taking shape. It was like watching the Rocky movie as speed, reflexes and power of Donaire were being tested by strength, endurance and willpower of Juarez as fans stared awestruck as each round seemed better than the next. By the 12th and final round, Donaire seemed out of breath and the younger Juarez was near the end too. But they came out swinging from the heels with blood streaming down the face. Each expended every ounce of energy and both seemed super human in their ability to withstand crushing blows. It was mesmerizing as the final bell rang and both warriors continued firing with chests heaving. They both had nothing left to give to the fans and they had given their very best. No other round this year seemed better.

COMEBACK FIGHTER OF 2015

Tim Bradley

After fighting to a draw a year ago and losing to Manny Pacquiao, Tim “Desert Storm” Bradley seemed on the down side of his brilliant career. The Palm Springs speedster had not won a fight in two years. This summer he was matched with junior welterweight champion Jessie Vargas in a welterweight match and dominated most of the fight. In the last round, Bradley was nearly decked by Vargas and seemingly saved from a knockdown when the referee erroneously stopped the fight prematurely a few seconds before the actual bell. Maybe it was destiny. He then was matched against dangerous Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios who had earlier in the year annihilated Mike Alvarado. For the fight Bradley switched trainers and that’s usually a bad thing. But the 32-year-old seemed to benefit from the change of scenery and eager to meet Rios. It was a fight that pit two fighters on the edge of the down side. Bradley prevailed with a scintillating performance that saw him not only out-box Rios but stop the rugged warrior with body punches for a knockout win. It was a surprise ending that nobody saw coming. Bradley certainly does not seem to be waning any longer. He actually seems stronger.

Runner Up: Nonito Donaire.

WORST FIGHT CARD MONEY COULD BUY 2015

When the fight was finally made between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao a gasp was collectively made around the world. It didn’t matter what sport you followed or if you even followed sports. Everyone seemed to want to see the mega fight that had been brewing for nearly nine years. Television stations that commonly ignore boxing suddenly were asking for credentials. Entertainers and news reporters that had no clue about boxing like the Good Morning America show on ABC were talking about “the fight.” Mayweather and Pacquiao both walked away with more than $100 million each. It was staggering how many people wanted to see this fight. Suddenly, America was tuned into the world of boxing. The subsequent fight card should have tipped people to what to expect. It was a lackluster fight card that had no drama and little action. So when the main event took place and Mayweather basically did his best to avoid a fight, fans around the world were shutting down their senses by the fifth round. Pacquiao later said he had injured a shoulder before the fight. Maybe he should have waited. Or maybe, it was just too much Mayweather’s “don’t exchange punches unless it’s safe” philosophy that did Pacman in? Whatever the case the record breaking 4.5 million pay-per-view audience were treated to one of the greatest heists in boxing history. They definitely did not get their money’s worth. Who was to blame?

BEST FIGHT CARD MONEY COULD BUY 2015

Mexico’s Saul Canelo facing Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto on Nov. 21 in Las Vegas was a surefire affair. Any time you match Mexicans against Puerto Ricans fans perk up. History has shown that matching these two countries is gasoline to fire. Just to guarantee action two more match ups featuring Mexicans against Puerto Ricans were added and they did not disappoint. Fans at the Las Vegas fight card got their money’s worth in each of the nationalistic wars. Ronny Rios vs. Jayson Velez; and Jose Martinez vs. Oscar Mojica rounded out the Mexican and Boricua wars that had flag wavers and screamers shouting from the rafters. Each was a razor close war including the main event between Cotto and Alvarez. Despite the wide scores, it seemed Cotto and Alvarez battled heavily for every single round. It was a 12-round fight that seemed to sprint to the end. The action didn’t rival Rios-Velez but did offer a competitive fight that saw Alvarez win the vacant WBC middleweight title. And if you add the Francisco Vargas versus Takashi Miura contest, overall, it was the best fight card of the year.

Runner up: Gennady Golovkin vs. David Lemieux October 17 fight card at Madison Square Garden.

TRAINER EXTRAORDINAIRE

Abel Sanchez

Abel Sanchez sits like a wizard on top of a mountain and receives prizefighters from around the world. After a short period, they emerge like sharpened Ginsu knives ready to cut and destroy all opponents. Of course not every pupil is successful but Sanchez’s numbers are impressive. At the Big Bear training camp called The Summit, he’s wheeled out fighter after fighter into the winner’s circle beginning with Golovkin and including others from all parts of the world. Not many people realize this is not his first walk around the park. Sanchez has been churning out champions for years like Terry Norris, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Lupe Aquino and several others. But now he has finally been given his due. He’s like an ambassador of the “Mexican style” that may not be defensive-minded, but he’s mindful that fans do not pay mega bucks to see someone run from a fight or seldom throw punches. Offense sells tickets, not defense. Television loves offense too. Suddenly, Sanchez is the biggest ticket in the boxing world. It’s definitely his year and Golovkin is his sword.

Runner up: Chepo Reynoso

PROMOTER EXTRAORDINAIRE

Tom Loeffler of K-2 Promotions

It’s the third consecutive year Tom Loeffler has been awarded the Best Promoter designation. Just look at Gennady Golovkin to understand the reason. Not only did Loeffler raise Golovkin from the ashes of European also-rans, he then strategically maneuvered the middleweight from obscurity to the pin up for Nike and Apple television ads. If anyone could do what Loeffler did I’d like to see it. The Los Angeles-based promoter did what a real promoter should do and used his brains and business savvy to plan and implement the course to take. So far, Golovkin stands poised to defend his IBF, WBA and IBO titles and meet Saul “Canelo” Alvarez for the WBC middleweight title in September 2016. The mega event is tentatively set. First, both fighters have other business to attend. Canelo in May against an opponent to be signed and Golovkin will be fighting at least one other opponent before meeting Alvarez. It’s Mexican style versus Mexican style. Loeffler is responsible for the boxing world discovering Triple G. Thank you Mr. Loeffler.

Runner ups: it’s a tie between Kathy Duva of Main Events and Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions.

WORST SCORING

Nicholas Walters and Jason Sosa scoring

Nicholas Walters and Jason Sosa of New Jersey clashed in a 12-round super featherweight bout that most observers felt the Jamaican did the more effective work. The judges scored it a majority draw. It came as a shock to everyone including most of the media attending the fight in Verona, New York. Once again New York judges showed their tendency to award the more local fighter with a favorable judgment to the chagrin of Walters and outsiders.

Runner up: Saul Alvarez vs. Miguel Cotto. It seems Cotto got little credit in their fight that seemed closer than the judge’s scores. I’m not saying Canelo did not win, but those scores were pretty wide.

TOP REFEREE RETIRES

Pat Russell retires this year as a ringside referee. He has been refereeing world title events for decades and throughout the years has been among the best of the best. “I’ll still be judging fights, but I’m done getting in the ring,” said Russell who lives in Southern California. Many consider Russell one of the top judges in professional boxing.

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Larry Merchant: Spence Should Look Upward to Canelo

Bernard Fernandez

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Retired HBO boxing commentator Larry Merchant, like a lot of people, took a keen interest in IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr.’s dismantling of Mikey Garcia, whose decision to move up two weight classes and take on the naturally larger man proved to be ill-advised.

But that doesn’t mean that Spence, for whom Merchant has a burgeoning admiration, can’t succeed where Garcia didn’t. To hear Merchant tell it, the matchup all fans should demand, if not now then sometime in the not-too-distant future, is a bulked-up Spence against WBC/WBA middleweight titlist Canelo Alvarez.

What about Spence (25-0, 21 KOs) in a unification showdown with WBO welterweight champ Terence Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs), the most appealing pairing that can be made at 147 pounds? Both fighters are in the pound-for-pound discussion and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the oddsmakers made the bout a pick ’em proposition when – if – it happens. Shouldn’t that fight be atop everyone’s wish list for both men? And if more marination is required, shouldn’t these terrific champions make full unification of their present division a priority?

Well, yes. Probably. But Merchant, 88, believes the 5-foot-9½ Spence doesn’t need some sort of tournament to establish himself as the true king of the welters, even if Crawford is lurking on the horizon. He also thinks it is inevitable that Spence’s body will fill out to a point where it eventually will be necessary that he look upward, to middleweight, and the Mexican superstar who would present him with the sternest possible test, as well as the most intriguing and profitable.

“To me, it’s a natural progression,” said Merchant, who thinks Spence would “wreck” not only anyone he might face at welterweight, but also at super welterweight. “To me, the biggest fight that can be made at some point is Spence and Canelo. Virtually all the great welterweights eventually moved up to middleweight, which is a more glamorous division. That’s what great fighters did back in the day, whether it was looking for better competition or for bigger paydays.

“I think it’s fair to say Oscar De La Hoya went up too far when he fought Bernard Hopkins, but he took the shot. Carmen Basilio went up to middleweight to fight Sugar Ray Robinson. I covered both of their fights.

“There are many other examples. Emile Griffith fought many good middleweights, including Carlos Monzon twice and Dick Tiger. But that was a time when you could lose a fight and nobody would think you’re damaged goods. You could still come back. There’s a different economic model now. Everybody says they want big events, but they’re more impressed by unbeaten records and so forth.”

It should be noted that Spence has had 13 bouts at 147-plus pounds, and was a career-high 156½ pounds, for all intents and purposes a middleweight, when he stopped Chris van Heerden in eight rounds on Sept. 11, 2015. Alvarez (51-1-2, 35 KOs), on the other hand, is 5-foot-8 and has a 70½-inch reach, an inch and a half less than Spence. He also turned pro at 139 pounds and had 21 fights at 147 pounds or less before he won his first world title, as a super welterweight.

“Canelo is not a big middleweight,” Merchant said. “If Spence does move up, he might want to test his strength at super welterweight, which would put him in a good spot to get a fight with Canelo.”

In addition to the examples cited by Merchant, other welterweights who moved up to middleweight for dare-to-be-great (or greater) fights were Sugar Ray Leonard against Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Jose Napoles against Monzon, Amir Khan against Alvarez and Marlon Starling against Michael Nunn.

“Maybe it’s just me, but I think Spence (who’s 29) and Canelo (28) could be a gigantic fight someday,” Merchant said. “But don’t wait too long to make it.”

What say you, TSS Nation?

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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The Avila Perspective, Chap. 39: A Boxing Journey on L.A. Freeways

David A. Avila

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a boxing journey in LA

Life as a boxing journalist can be like an Uber driver, especially dealing with the bumper-to-bumper traffic of Southern California.

Prizefighting has leaped to another speed warp since last year and this year makes last year seem like the Griffith Park carousel standing still.

Another barrage of boxing cards sweeps the Southern California region beginning tomorrow in Hollywood, the film capitol of the world, then followed by Saturday and Sunday events. Golden Boy Promotions begins its DAZN deal this Thursday that entails a monthly fight show on Thursday nights.

First up will be gentleman prizefighter Mercito “No Mercy” Gesta the southpaw lightweight contender who trains with the venerable Freddie Roach. The main event takes place at the Avalon Theater and doors open at 4 p.m. DAZN will stream the event.

A.M.

If covering the prizefighting world has appeal, one must realize that waking up early or staying awake late comes with the territory. These are not banking hours.

On Monday, around 3 a.m. the day started for me. Making coffee without waking up our dog (a boxer) has become an art I’ve learned to master. I proceed to plant myself on a recliner sofa with my laptop and begin the week’s work.

Waking up this early allows me to catch up with fighters, promoters and managers in the East Coast before they slip into higher gear. It also provides me time to get stories written before I drive through the heart of Los Angeles. Traffic is your enemy at any time of the day or night. And any time I venture into L.A. it’s an all-day affair.

Lawnmower man

First destination on the list: a Premier Boxing Champions press conference took place at the Palm Restaurant near LA Live. Former two-division champion Danny “Swift” Garcia and Adrian Granados met the media at the swanky restaurant that serves $100 steaks. It’s an 11a.m. event and for me and photographer Alonzo Coston that means taking off from our location in the Inland Empire at 9:30 a.m. at the latest.

We arrive a few minutes late but just in time to grab a seat as Garcia and Granados walk in dressed in dark suits.

Both are quick-witted guys.

“Your a** is grass and I’m the lawnmower baby,” chided Garcia to Granados that immediately ignited laughter from the reporters and others.

That comment was countered.

“Nobody cuts grass better than a Mexican,” said Chicago’s Granados, a Mexican fighter that elicited more laughter from the crowd.

Anytime you get a Mexican and a Puerto Rican in a prize ring expect an explosion of unusual proportions. Anything can happen as boxing fans saw last month when Mexican-American fighter Andrew Cancio knocked out Puerto Rico’s Alberto Machado to take the WBA featherweight title away. Machado had never lost.

Granados, 29, has six losses but has never been beaten decisively despite trading blows with Shawn Porter, Adrien Broner and Felix Diaz. Many could even argue he won each and every one of those fights.

“Adrian Granados could arguably be sitting up here with a record of 27-1, since all but one of his losses have been by split or majority decision, and usually it’s in his opponent’s backyard,” said Tom Brown president of TGB Promotions.

Puerto Rico versus Mexico never disappoints. They meet on April 20 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif.

Norwalk

After speaking with both Garcia and Granados we jumped back in the car and headed to the suburban city of Norwalk, Calif. about 20 miles southeast.

Expected to be at the Legendz Gym but who could not make the media day was Ryan “The Flash” Garcia. Instead, the several dozen reporters at the outdoor boxing complex received their first glimpse of world champion Angel “Tito” Acosta of Puerto Rico who holds the WBO light flyweight belt.

“My goal right now is to keep defending my title, but if the opportunity to unify presents itself, we will take it,” said Acosta who is co-promoted by Golden Boy Promotions and Cotto Promotions. “But right now, I’m not thinking about any other opponent. I’m focused on Ganigan Lopez. After that, we can talk about other opponents.”

It’s another Puerto Rico versus Mexico matchup.

Acosta (19-1, 19 KOs) defends against Mexico’s Ganigan Lopez (35-8, 19 KOs) on March 30 at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif. DAZN will stream.

Also on the same card will be Ireland’s undefeated welterweight Aaron McKenna. The tall prizefighter known as “the Silencer” has spent more than a year in Southern California. In that time he’s noticed the difference between Ireland and Southern California.

“There are so many more gyms here. In every gym there seems to be a world champion or contender,” said McKenna, 19, from Smithborough, Ireland. “The sparring is brilliant.”

Top Rank in OC

Heavyweights and featherweights lead the Top Rank fight card on Saturday March 23, at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, Calif. The fight card will be shown on ESPN.

A battle of former super bantamweight world champions finds Rico Ramos (30-5, 14 KOs) meeting Jessie Magdaleno (25-1, 18 KOs) in a featherweight clash set for 10 rounds.

Ramos, 31, trains in Maywood with Rudy Hernandez and has been racking up wins since his last loss back in 2015 against Claudio Marrero. He’s beaten some tough guys but has met the enemy and that enemy is making weight. Working with Hernandez is sought to be the remedy for that problem. This is a make or break fight for the slick fighting Ramos.

Magdaleno, 27, fights out of Las Vegas now and like Ramos his enemy is the weight scale. He has not fought since losing the WBO world title to Isaac Dogboe by knockout and that was nearly a year ago. He’s a southpaw with serious pop and will need to be sharp against Ramos. It’s a very good match between former world champions.

Also, heavyweight contender Kubrat Pulev (26-1, 13 KOs) of Bulgaria meets Bogdan Dinu (18-1, 14 KOs) of Romania in a 10 round fight.

Pulev, 37, has only lost to Wladimir Klitschko and that was back in November 2014. Since then he’s beaten Dereck Chisora, Samuel Peter and others.

Dinu, 32, has only lost to Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller and that was this past November in Kansas. He’s accustomed to fighting in Eastern Europe and now faces an Eastern European in Pulev. Somebody has got to go.

Doors open at 3:30 on Saturday.

Hollywood Again

Tom Loeffler’s 360 Promotions returns to the Avalon Theater in Hollywood for another of its popular shows on Sunday March 24. This time super welterweights lead the card.

Serhii “El Flaco” Bohachuk (12-0, 12 KOs) has an extremely tough assignment facing southpaw speedster Cleotis “Mookie” Pendarvis (21-4-2, 9 KOs) in the main event set for eight rounds.

Bohachuk, 23, is part of the Big Bear crew and is taught by Mexican style trainer Abel Sanchez. This will be his fourth appearance on the Hollywood Fight Night series on Vine Street near Hollywood Blvd. that usually brings a celebrity or two to the party. On paper this might be the Ukrainian’s toughest foe.

Pendarvis, now 32, has been around the block and has a defensive style that is tough to crack. He won’t be standing still for Bohachuk unless the legs are gone for the lefty speedster who has fought talented foes like Mauricio Herrera, Dierry Jean, and Steve Quinonez. He was often hired as a sparring partner by those facing Floyd Mayweather.

Though talented, Pendarvis never met expectations and after a nearly four-year layoff he was signed by a manager who took him to Mexico where he reeled off four consecutive victories the past two years.

Also on the card will be two other Abel Sanchez proteges from Kazakhstan Ali Akhmedov and Meiirum Nursultanov in separate bouts.

A number of local L.A. fighters fill the card including bantamweight George Navarro whose last fight at the same venue ended in a spectacular knockout win. Another returning fighter will be stylish Adrian Corona a super featherweight from Rialto, Calif.

Doors open at 3 p.m.

The marathon of prize fights continues in Southern California and we’re only in March. Imagine once the weather heats up. This year looks to be the busiest in the history of prizefighting in Southern California. It might possibly be the busiest any region has ever been for staging prize fights in history.

I may need a helicopter to get around.

Photo credit: LA Magazine

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Looking at Odds for GBP on DAZN This Thursday

Miguel Iturrate

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DAZN

Oscar de la Hoya and his Golden Boy Promotions are set for a full night of fights at L.A.’s Avalon Theater this Thursday night that sees the main events air on DAZN.

The main event is a 10 -round lightweight bout featuring Mercito Gesta (33-2-2) as he faces veteran Juan Antonio Rodriguez. Gesta lost to Jorge Linares in a world title fight in January of 2018 and back in 2012 he lost his first world title shot to Miguel Vasquez. After the Linares loss he returned to win an eight rounder in June and he has been off since then.

Gesta sees himself in the world title picture and will be heavily favored to start a winning streak on Thursday as Rodriguez, 29-7 overall, is coming off a layoff of more than two years. Prior to being on the shelf, he was 3-3 in his last half dozen fights, but that includes losses to Jezreel Corrales and Javier Fortuna, both of whom went on to win world titles.

Featherweight prospect Manuel Avila faces Jose Santos Gonzalez as the 23-1 Avila returns to action after a 15-month layoff. Avila took the lone loss of his career in May of 2017 when he faced GBP top gun Joseph “JoJo” Diaz. He bounced back to win an eight rounder in November of 2017 then he took all of 2018 off. In Gonzalez he is facing a fighter with a 23-7 overall record who has lost five of his last six fights.

A welterweight match-up featuring two undefeated fighters from the Golden Boy roster is set for eight rounds as Ferdinand Kerobyan (10-0) faces Blair Cobbs (9-0-1).  The odds for this one widely favor Kerobyan who hails from Armenia and brings a big amateur resume with him in terms of experience. The pro records look pretty much the same, with this clearly being a step up fight for both men.

Below are the odds at the sportsbooks as they stand a few days before fight time. Check your local listings for start times on DAZN.

 Welterweight 8 rounds – 

Ferdinand Kerobyan -3000 Under 5 ½ +400

Blair Cobbs +1500 Over 5½ -550

Featherweight 8 rounds –

Manuel Avila -1600 Under 5 ½ +525

Jose Santos Gonzalez +1050 Over 5½ -860

Lightweight 10 rounds –

Mercito Gesta -2000 Under 7½ +285

Juan Antonio Rodriguez +1250 Over 7 ½ -375

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