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Michael Buffer: “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble”

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WBO welterweight champion Tim Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez had just fought twelve hard competitive rounds at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Both fighters were on edge. The outcome of their fight was very much in doubt. The winner would be ranked among the top pound-for-pound boxers in the world.

As the fighters paced nervously in their respective corners, a tall slender man wearing a tuxedo stood in the center of the ring, microphone in hand. He was meticulously groomed with perfectly manicured nails, every hair in place.

The man knew something that virtually no one else knew. The judges’ scores were on a piece of paper in his hand. Millions of people around the world were waiting for his next words. He was riding on the back of a tiger that he had tamed.

Michael Buffer is boxing royalty, better-known than all but a handful of fighters in the world today. He’s the gold standard by which ring announcers are judged, having taken his craft to a whole new level. There’s Buffer, and then there’s everyone else. Before the start of each main event that he works, the crowd waits with anticipation as he builds to his trademark phrase.

Five words: “LET'S GET R-R-R-READY TO RUMBL-L-L-L-E . . .”

Those words have become part of the pageantry of boxing. It’s hard to think of a parallel in any other sport. Buffer’s presence confers legitimacy on a fight, making it seem bigger and more important than would otherwise be the case. No other ring announcer in history has done that.

Buffer was born in Philadelphia on November 2, 1944. He began ring announcing in the early 1980s to supplement his income as a model, having worked previously as what he calls “the worst car salesman in the world.” He first used the phrase “Let’s get ready to rumble” in 1984.

I used to watch films of old fights on television,” Buffer recalls. “In the old days, the ring announcer would introduce the important fighters who were in attendance. But that had evolved to announcing five commissioners, three sanctioning-body officials, two ring doctors. And it chilled the crowd. I wanted something comparable to 'Gentlemen, start your engines' at the Indy 500; a hook that would excite people and put some energy back into the arena. I tried 'man your battle stations' and 'batten down the hatches' and 'fasten your seat belts,' but none of them worked. Then I remembered Muhammad Ali saying, 'Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; rumble, young man, rumble.' And when Sal Marchiano was the blow-by-blow commentator for ESPN, he'd say, 'We're ready to rumble.' So I took those ideas and fine-tuned them.”

By 1990, ring announcing was a fulltime job for Buffer. Today, he’s a brand unto himself. Retail sales of products that have licensed the phrase “Let’s get ready to rumble” are near the $500,000,000 mark.

Buffer estimates that, during the last three decades, he has been the ring announcer for roughly one thousand fight cards. He has plied his trade in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

Does he hope that someday he’ll be called upon for a fight card in Antarctica?

“No,” he answers after a moment’s thought. “I wouldn’t trust the runway.”

At present, he works thirty to thirty-five cards a year. By the time fight night arrives, most buyers have purchased their tickets. No one calls anyone at the last minute, saying, “You have to watch the pay-per-view tonight. Michael Buffer is going to be on.” But he’s good branding and he adds to the entertainment value of the show.

Buffer also works a dozen conventions and other special events annually, including past appearances at the World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Championships, and NFL playoff games.

“I enjoy the spotlight,” he acknowledges. “It’s exciting to be there. I was very nervous the first year. Then I got used to it. I’m comfortable and confident now, so I enjoy it more. Where boxing is concerned, I root for a good fight more often than I root for one fighter or the other. There are times when I like both fighters and feel bad for the one who loses more than I’m happy for the winner. But it’s all very gratifying to me. There’s a legacy there.”

What makes Buffer so good?

Ring announcing is an under-appreciated art. It looks easy. It isn’t.

Buffer is consistent and technically sound. He has a smooth silky baritone voice that’s a gift of nature. And the camera is kind to him.

In the old days, ring announcers shouted to the crowd through megaphones.

“I’m lucky,” Michael notes. “I came along at the right time. Television and today’s technology capture what I do and the overall scene very well. I’m a performer. And I’m never fully satisfied. After each fight, I go home and watch the introductions and my announcement of the winner to see what I could have done better.”

“And most important,” Buffer continues, “I always remember that the fighters are the stars. The cheers are for them, not me. I never forget that.”

Buffer appreciates the irony of his celebrity status and also the financial rewards that have flowed from his success. He and his wife live comfortably in suburban Los Angeles in a fashionable home on one-and-a-half acres of land with the mandatory swimming pool, waterfall, and fountains. They have five dogs, three of which are rescue animals. The garage holds a Mercedes S500 sedan, Mercedes SL55AMG, Cadillac Escalade, and Bentley convertible.

Friends appreciate Buffer for his loyalty and also his sense of humor. He has a talent for celebrity impersonations, the best of which is Johnny Mathis singing the national anthem while the public address system keeps cutting out.

He also has strong feelings on a wide range of issues from politics to the less savory aspects of boxing, but keeps them private.

“I’m troubled by the way things have changed for middle class families in America,” Michael says. “It bothers me that people are finding it harder and harder to get by and too many parents are no longer optimistic that their children will enjoy a better life than they’ve had. But I’ve made a conscious decision to not speak out publicly on political issues because I think that my job requires neutrality.”

There are hassles that come with being Michael Buffer. The evolution from occasional fans with Kodak Instamatics to everyone having a cell phone and wanting a photo equates to nuisance.

“And they give their cell phone to someone who doesn’t know how to use it to take the picture,” Buffer notes. “So they have to take the picture three times.”

“I get recognized in New York more than anyplace else,” he continues. “Or at least, New Yorkers are more open about. They’ll come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you’re Michael Buffer.’ About three times a week, someone asks me to say ‘Let’s get ready to rumble’ for them. If I’m in New York or a fight environment like a casino, it’s more like a half-dozen times a day.”

How does Buffer respond to the request?

“Sometimes, I’ll do it for children. Or if it’s red carpet stuff like the season premiere of Boardwalk Empire, I’ll do it for a video camera. Usually, I ask, “Do you have your checkbook with you?” and that ends it.’

But not always.

“Every now and then, there’s some tension. One time, I was having dinner in a restaurant. A guy came over, leaned on the table, and said, ‘Hey; you’re that guy, right?’ Then it became, ‘Say it for me! Say it for me!’ And he’s getting more and more aggravated because I’m not going start shouting ‘Let’s get ready to rumble’ in a restaurant. After a while, his girlfriend came over. She’s telling him, ‘Come on, Vinny. He’s eating dinner. Leave him alone.’ So then Vinny gets pissed off at her.”

In many respects, Buffer has lived a charmed life. But there was one period of crisis.

“In February 2008,” Michael recounts, “I took the dogs out for a walk. I got home, looked in the mirror – I can’t walk by a mirror without looking; that’s the image; right? And I noticed a tiny protrusion on the side of my neck. I went to the doctor and it was misdiagnosed as a blockage in my salivary gland. ‘Suck on some lemon sours and it should go away.’ But it didn’t go away. So I went to another doctor. He dropped a light in and said to me, ‘I want you to get an MRI today.’”

“They did the MRI,” Buffer continues. “They took a biopsy. I was in New York to emcee a press conference for the Klitschko-Ibragimov fight at Madison Square Garden when I got the call. Cancer. I emceed the press conference, worked the fight [on February 23, 2008], and went home to face the unknown. This was my life, and even if I survived the cancer, I didn’t know if I’d be able to talk again. It wasn’t just my livelihood. I didn’t know if I’d be able to talk. We’re talking about my throat. I was a smoker when I was young. I told myself, ‘Well, if this is it, I’m going to do one of those anti-smoking commercials before I go. It’s not the way I want people to remember me, but maybe it will save some lives.’”

On March 15, 2008, Buffer worked the second fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Then he went under the knife.

“I got the right doctor. There was one surgery. They opened me up and took out three small tumors – squamos cells – that were attached to my tonsils along with some lymph nodes and part of my tonsils.”

One month later, Michael was in the ring for Joe Calzaghe vs. Bernard Hopkins. In 2013, he passed the five-year mark, which means that, from now on, he’ll undergo a PET-scan once a year instead of once every six months.

“I don’t know how long I’ll keep announcing,” Buffer says. “I definitely don’t want to stay too long at the dance. A while back, I thought that sixty-five would be it. But I’ll be sixty-nine in November. Things are still going well and I still enjoy it.”

On the afternoon on October 12th, Buffer was at The Wynn Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas readying for Bradley vs. Marquez. Earlier in the day, he’d gotten bout sheets for the evening’s pay-per-view fights from the HBO production team. After reviewing the sheets, he went online to Boxrec.com to supplement the information. Next, he wrote the data necessary to introduce to each fight in red and blue ink on 4-by-6-inch cards.

Then he dressed.

Buffer owns eight tuxedos. Once, he had twenty. The tuxedos share closet space in his home with two dozen suits, a half-dozen sport jackets, and fifty dress shirts.

He doesn’t own many shoes.

“I have a wide foot, so it’s hard to find a good fit.”

And he loves watches. Buffer’s collection of fifteen high-end timepieces includes Rolex, Cartier, and the like. But he’s also fond of a one-of-a-kind tourbillon watch that Azad custom-made for him.

In his hotel room at The Wynn, Buffer re-ironed his shirt.

“I’m fussy about my shirts. I usually wash and iron them myself. If I do send them to the cleaner, I touch them up when they come back. Sometimes, when I buy a new shirt, the collar button doesn’t line up perfectly. I’ll take it off and sew it back on myself so it fits just right.”

Then there’s the matter of Buffer’s ties.

“People who are righthanded tie their knot so that the bottom of the knot goes to the right,” he explains. “If you’re lefthanded, it’s the reverse. But a lefthanded knot has a better fit because it’s snug against the top button so you get a cleaner look. I’m righthanded, but I reverse my hands and tie my knot lefthanded. It takes forever, but it looks better when I’m done.”

Michael smiles.

“I know. I sound like Tony Randall playing Felix Unger in The Odd Couple.”

Buffer also cuts his own hair with a three-way mirror once every three weeks and trims his sideburns weekly.

“I grew a moustache when I was twenty-three years old and in the Army,” he admits. “But it was so sparse that I had to fill it out with an eyebrow pencil.”

At 4:30 PM, Buffer was standing at The Wynn’s south valet station, waiting for his car and driver. Michael was close to trainer Emanuel Steward, who died of cancer in October 2012. Now, every time he works a fight, he pins a campaign-type botton with Steward’s image on it inside his tuxedo jacket over his heart. The button was in place.

The car was fifteen minutes late. A half-dozen fans stopped and asked for cell phone pictures.

Buffer’s gold-and-diamond Tiffany cufflinks and tuxedo studs glittered in the sunlight, as did his rose-gold Rolex Presidential watch with diamond dial and diamond bezel. The diamonds were small, not gaudy. His style is elegance, not bling.

At 5:10 PM, Buffer arrived at the Thomas & Mack Center and made his way to his seat in the technical zone within arm’s reach of the ring apron. The fights on the card that he was scheduled to work would begin at six o’clock.

Bill Brady (chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission) came over and asked if he could introduce Buffer to a friend that he and his wife had brought to the fight. Referees Robert Byrd (who would work the main event) and Tony Weeks approached to say hello. Four roundcard girls seated to Michael’s left smiled enticingly at him.

At six o’clock, Buffer walked up the steps in the neutral corner nearest to him and entered the ring. During the course of the evening, he would make that journey eight times (before and after each of four fights).

The first three fights ended in knockouts, which meant there was little suspense in announcing the result.

Then it was time for the main event. Marquez entered the ring to the thunderous cheers of his supporters. Bradley followed, greeted by boos.

“I get anxious like a fan gets anxious before a fight,” Buffer says. “It’s anticipation. Not nerves.”

At 8:12 PM, Buffer took the microphone.

“Ladies and gentlemen. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.”

There were the mandatory introductions of state athletic commission officials and sanctioning body personnel, the referee and judges.

“And now, the officials are ready. The fighters are ready. Ladies and gentlemen, ARE YOU READY. For the thousands in attendance and for the millions watching around the world; ladies and gentlemen, “LET'S GET R-R-R-READY TO RUMBL-L-L-L-E . . .”

The crowd roared.

Buffer introduced Marquez first, then Bradley.

The fight began. Michael watched intently throughout, commenting on the flow of the action.

“Bradley is boxing nicely . . . Now he’s is getting countered . . . Marquez is controlling the distance between them . . . Good shot by Marquez, but Bradley rolled with it . . . There’s not much body-punching by either guy . . . The swelling around Marquez’s eye is starting to cause him problems . . . Bradley is telegraphing his right hand every time he throws it.”

It was a close fight between two highly-skilled boxers. At the final bell, Buffer rose from his chair and entered the ring. Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer handed him a sheet of paper with the judges’ scores on it. Bradley had won a split decision.

Announcing a knockout is fairly straightforward. Decisions, particularly after a close fight, are another matter.

Buffer read the commission sheet carefully to himself and organized his thoughts. Whenever there’s a split decision, the first two scores that he reads are one for each fighter. Then comes the deciding tally.

“I try to read the first two scores the same,” he says. “Then, on number three, I give it a big pause. I knew there would be a bad reaction from the crowd on this one because it was a pro-Marquez crowd and the decision could have gone either way.”

“Ladies and gentlemen; we go to the scorecards. Glenn Feldman scores the contest 115 to 113. He scores it for Marquez . . . Robert Hoyle scores it 115 to 113, and he has it for Bradley.”

A pause for drama.

“Patricia Morse Jarman scores the contest 116 to 112 for the winner by split decision . . .

There was dead silence. Buffer was holding history in the palm of his hand.

“And STILL WBO welterweight champion of the wor-r-r-r-ld, from Palm Springs, California, Timothy ‘Desert Storr-r-r-r-r-r-m’ Bradle-e-e-e-e-y.”

There was a post-fight press conference. Members of the boxing community would congregate and discuss the fight into the wee small hours of the morning. But Buffer was not among them.

Minutes after the fight ended and he’d announced the winner, he slipped out of the Thomas & Mack Center and returned to The Wynn. One could imagine Buffer as James Bond, walking into the casino and sitting down at a high-stakes baccarat game, every hair still in place. Beautiful women would stare. A casino host would bring him a martini; stirred, not shaken. Across the table, perhaps, Auric Goldfinger would be cheating.

But it was not to be. Buffer went directly to his room, ate a granola bar, drank some hot tea with honey, and went to sleep.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Straight Writes and Jabs: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) has just been published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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