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WOODS: Santa Cruz-Mares Was NOT A Classic In My Eyes

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Expectations can be a heckuva thing. How many times have you heard about a blockbuster flick, read up on it, seen tons of Tweets on it, heard friends and neighbors making plans to watch it.

You make your plans, brain buzzing, waiting to be blown away…and end the night thinking, Ho hum.

That wasn’t all that.

You grumble some and vow to be more efficient in fending off the noise, in making up your own mind for yourself, in not falling for the hype.

The expectations bug bit all associated with #MayPac, and you see the winner of the bout to this day defending his part in the event.

You the press bear blame, he tells people, because we built up Pacman. And I do not, actually, summarily dismiss his line of thinking, although that is a markedly simplistic and muchly erroneous take, being that he built up Pacman as a capable foe, at times, while at other times promising he’d be easy work…and the armies of people tasked with convincing you to fly to Vegas and buy a ticket, or pony up the money to buy it on PPV, told you this one was one for the ages, a sure classic…

But I digress; all in all, the expectations set for that bout insured, virtually, that they would not be met. And they most certainly were not, we all agree.

Expectations for the Saturday Leo Santa Cruz vs. Abner Mares bout weren’t in that same ballpark, they were minor league compared to that. But you did have some folks asking if the winner, or maybe both of em, would be anointed as a Mexican marvel…you had folks plumbing the depths of the brains of historians to get some apt comparisons…

The Battle of the Z Boys, Carlos Zarate and Alfonso Zamora, was brought up. I held my tongue when I read that, not wanting to be a nattering nabob of negativity, and had to refresh my memory. Zarate was a legit bomber, was 38-0 with 37 KOs entering, while Zamora was 29-0 with, yikes, 29 KOs. Man, it ain’t a given to knock down an assemblage of cabbies and burger flippers and junkies paid to find a soft spot to lay down…and that wasn’t the case with Zamora.

Don’t know about you, but I didn’t and don’t consider Santa Cruz or Mares any sort of bomber. Their KO ratios (Mares’ is 47%, Leo’s is 53%) told you that, and thus, I think that lessened my expectations entering. To be honest, this fight to me felt like a big deal on the West Coast, not as much on the East Coast.

So, anyway, LSC and Mares fought. Maybe a year or even two later than they should have, some pondered in the leadup, being that LSC’s rep really started boiling in the fall of 2012 or so. Mares at that time was hot stuff, too, but then felt the need to jump up in weight…so he had to wait for LSC to come join him at 126…and for some managerial and promotional stuff to get right, before they could tangle. LSC jumped ship, from the Cameron Dunkin/Top Rank plank, to uber advisor Al Haymon…and then Mares made the leap, after Golden Boy imploded, with Oscar brandishing a cutlass and requesting Richard Schaefer walk the plank for perceived disloyalty. Last summer, Mares joined the Haymon family. And the time became right, after Mares got stopped out against Jhonny Gonzalez in 2013…and then needed a few more bouts to collect his confidence. LSC was also in a pattern of activity which left heads scratching, and sent his profile into a depth, as a Twitter laughing-stock, with the Mockingbird Gang dismissing his foes as a jokers and journeymen. Anyway, all that stuff melted away–as it should, I think–as they finally got on that parallel track and then re-positioned themselves for a faceoff.

So yeah, they faced off…and threw a ton of punches. And it was a solid fight.

But…were my eyes lying to me? I didn’t recall watching, and having an “Oh s–t!” reaction, during a crazy exchange, or otherworldly round…

And then I noted some of the after the fact analysis. Fight of the Year candidate…comparisons to Vazquez-Marquez and…wait, what??…Barrera vs. Morales 1!?

Srsly?

I had to think, maybe my mood wasn’t right…but I saw a high volume fight, that had no real massive ebbs and flows and dips and bursts which make for a FOY candidate.

Yeah, there were some clean, hard shots landed. But no knockdowns…no one had to clamber back from the edge…no one had to collect their senses, gather their marbles in order to stop from drowning. Nah, this wasn’t the Z Boys sniping…neither LSC nor Mares is anything resembling a one-punch power hitter, and besides, LSC especially was boxing smart and winning rounds, and I didn’t see him all that much gunning for a stoppage. Yeah, you didn’t see any sort of Duran-type fury in there. And gosh, was Mares missing a lot. Not to be the heavy critiquer, but when I’m seeing and hearing people gush over a decent bout, I have to take that second look and analysis. And I’m not alone, here. I saw some other dissenters out there.

Manager Vince Caruso reached out and touched base and processed what he saw, as well.

“I should make note that I am on that of a different level than the average spectator, as I was a part of two out of three Barrera/Morales bouts, and the classic Barrera/Hamed clash, standing by my brother, Marco Barrera. So, please forgive me if my pulse remains dormant while I discuss the Santa Cruz/Mares tilt,” he said. “First off, Leo Santa Cruz did not in any way, shape or form, put himself into a discussion with Morales, Barrera, Marquez or Vazquez. Leo did however manage to gain respect for himself as a fighter and shake off the “mariquita” tag he was deemed by a majority of not only in boxing circles, but south of the border as well,” Caruso told me.

“The problem here stems from this, when Gonzalez faced Carbajal, Morales with Barrera, and Marquez with Vazquez, just to name a few, all of the participants had been in, and defeated, several former or then current world champions. Their resumes were built with calculation, not padded for cosmetic need. This was solely due to the excellent matchmaking machines of gentleman such as Bruce Trampler and Antonio Curtis. The fighters rose in the ranks with stiffer competition and received heavier purses as the fights became more intriguing. To me, this is where the PBC vehicle has failed,” he continued, adding some context to his contention. “The resumes of Mares and Santa Cruz combined looks more along the lines of the absentee list of Montebello High School than that of a professional fighter’s ledger. However, that is still not the nucleus of the problem we are looking at today. It lies with the eye of the beholder. The fan. Or, in this case, the misguided fan. The Sunday boxing fan, the Johnny-come-lately if you will. An incredible system of a marginal product, marketed in a very sizable capacity, guided by at-best marginal boxing savvy people, covered by unaccredited media outlets, presented to the “5-year fan.” The finished product? Comments filling up social media timelines reflecting sentiments of the Santa Cruz/Mares tilt as “an instant classic” or “as good (or better than) Barrera/Morales.” As in shock that I was, I mustered the energy to arise from the floor in disbelief. I thought it was a bad LSD flashback to 1990, when we were all fooled by Milli Vanilli,” the unfiltered Caruso stated.

“A classic?!?! Better than Morales/Barrera!?! Were this comments from pro-marijuana states like Colorado or Washington? No. It was from the true cancer of this great sport….unaccredited media outlets. Yes, those dreaded little $10 a month godaddy.com website trolls who wake up every morning and prove that idiots still do breed in abundance.

“Look. Santa Cruz vs Mares, at best, was compatible to a late 90’s Boxing After Dark type of scrap. To be honest, I did give the fight a grade of B, however, at times it looked like the quality of Art Dore’s old “Toughman” boxing series, where Average Joes would slug it out, throwing 100 punches and landing at most 10. Lots of sloppy action. That is what Santa Cruz/Mares was. Two fighters who had feeble resumes and had little, if no, war experience between them.”

Caruso wrapped it up: “So let us show support for PBC’s product, which I believe is improving with every card, without selling out any credibility here. Santa Cruz/Mares was a very good fight. Had they been tested a little more before they hit that stage last Saturday, I do believe we would have seen a barn burner. That burden falls on matchmaking. My suggestion? Bring in fresh blood for a fresh product. But whatever the future fights that may come, might I suggest relaying on credible sources to form and construct an opinion that will be respected, not ridiculed. That is of course if you do love the sport as I do.”

I think he touches on a bunch of points here which we could riff on for awhile. For instance, so much of perception of events now is formed on social media, and instant analysis informs perception mightily. Often our guts speak insta-truth, and sometimes we get swayed by a mob mentality.

Another thing: this boxing age has fans and media picking sides to an amazing extent. You have your PBC guys, your Top Rank guys, your HBO guys, etc. And people are often not invested in the product as a whole, but in one segment of the product. So you often see “Al guys” on social media being very gentle in their grading…and then they use a harsher set of eyes when critiquing an Arum show. And the opposite occurs as well. I think we all need to, as Caruso says, be very careful when accepting POVs, and we must consider what if any filters people are looking through.

Another thing…is it possible peoples’ expectations have been lowered, because we are in the post-concussion-comprehension era, and fewer boxers now employ a fan friendly, take two to give one style? Has the influence of Floyd Mayweathers’ masterful brand of defense first pugilism changed how many folks watch and analyze a fight. Some food for thought, I hope..

All in all, bottom line, Santa Cruz-Mares was a solid fight. But nah, not a classic or near classic. Good fight, for sure. But let us not employ the word “classic” without maybe first re-acquainting ourselves with Barrera-Morales I, or Corrales-Castillo I, or fights of that ilk. Those warriors deserve that respect.

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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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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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A Kaleidoscope of Boxers Guaranteed to Provide Action: Past and Present

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Marvelous Marvin

To set the tone for this article, one needs only to watch the way in which Thomas Hearns came out in the first round against Marvelous Marvin Hagler. He was ready to rock and roll as was his fearsome looking opponent. The ensuing unmitigated savagery was the quintessential illustration of full-tilt boogie.

For most boxing fans, the anticipation of an all-out action bout gets the chills running down spines faster than anything else. But not all, as some prefer a tactical or clinical fight that someone like Mikey Garcia can orchestrate and others –but not many—enjoy a defensive gem via a Willie Pep, Nicolino Locche, or Pernell Whitaker. A few love a genuine blood fest that a Gabe Rosado-type can provide, and who doesn’t like seeing something special as in Sugar Ray Leonard, Kostya Tszyu, Terence Crawford or Vasiliy Lomachenko?

Chill-or-be-chilled types like Bob Satterfield and Tommy Morrison were super exciting. In this connection—a certain cadre of warriors, past and present, would come out charging and stalking as soon as the bell rang. Many demonstrated a marked disdain for defense and used a non-stop, no let-up pressure that discouraged their opponents, especially in the late rounds. The anticipation from the crowd was palpable because it sensed some form of destruction was on its way. The cheering would start during the instructions and sometimes did not let up until the concussive end.

This cadre included Rocky Marciano, Tony Ayala, Vicious Victor Galindez, Jeff Fenech, Roberto Duran, and Julio Cesar Chavez (who sapped the spirit of his opponents by ripping away at their mid-section). Also, Carl “The Cat”  Thompson , chill-or-be-chilled Ricardo “Pajarito” Moreno (60-12-1 with 59 KOs),  Ron Lyle, the ultra-violent Edwin Valero, the appropriately nicknamed JulianMr KO” Letterlough, James “The Outlaw” Hughes and his mindboggling ability to snatch victory from certain defeat, Thai stalking monster Khaosai Galaxy (47-1),  the first version of George Foreman (pictured with the aforementioned Lyle), Ji-Hoon “Volcano” Kim, Ruslan  Provodnikov, Orlando “Siri” Salido, Marcos Maidana, Lenny Z, Alfredo “Perro” Angulo, Mike Alvarado, Brandon Rios, and Mickey Roman (the later four are still fighting but past their primes).

Others who presently incite the anticipation of something special include (but are not limited to) Naoya “Monster” Inoue (16-0), Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr (24-0), Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (46-4-1), Alex Saucedo (27-0), and, of course, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (38-1-1) who now has become slightly more tactical like his nemesis, Canelo Alvarez (50-1-1).

These stand out as representative.

Past

A prime Mike Tyson—and the emphasis is on prime– was the epitome of a boxer who guaranteed action. One simply would not leave his or her seat when “Iron Mike” was doing his highlight reel thing, and his blowout of Michael Spinks punctuated his standing at the top of all-action type fighters, even if the action was usually non-mutual.

Joe Frazier came out smokin’ and would not let up until either he or his opponent were done. For the most part, decisions were not in Joe’s DNA and his left hook was as malicious as a hook can be. With Joe, you just sat back and enjoyed the action. Frazier, wrote boxing historian Tracy Callis,  “was a strong, ‘swarmer’ style boxer who applied great pressure on his opponent and dealt out tremendous punishment with a relentless attack of lefts and rights; His left hook was especially stiff and quick when delivered during his bob-and-weave perpetual attack; he fought three minutes per round and never seemed to tire.”

Carlos “Escopeta” (Shotgun) Monzon (87-3-9) was a powerful and rangy Argentinean killing machine, built like an iron rod. Some said he pushed his punches. Well if he did, he pushed 87 opponents to defeat. He also became only the second man to stop former three-time world champion Emile Griffith, turning the trick in the 14th round. Blessed with great and deceptive stamina and a solid chin, he seemingly was an irresistible force. He was unbeaten over the last 81 bouts of his career, a span of 13 years, and defended his title 14 times. “One would need to write a book in order to do justice to comparing a fighter of Carlos Monzon’s calibre to his fellow all-time greats,” wrote Mike Casey.

Arturo Gatti and Irish Micky Ward were the quintessential action fighters. One is gone amidst controversy, and hopefully the other will not pay a price for his many ring wars. With these two, just count up the Fights-of-the-Year and the rest is history. Suffice it to say that Gatti and Ward will be forever linked in boxing lore.

Until his fateful fight with Nigel Benn (another all-action fighter), Gerald McClellan was absolutely, positively, a stalking monster with dynamite in his gloves. It was ferocity and fury at its highest level and it was something to behold. Sadly, his fight with Benn left him permanently disabled; his story remains a dark stain on boxing. As Ian McNeilly notes, “one man’s finest hour was the end of another man’s life as he knew it.”

Michael “The Great” Katsidis’s all-action style made thrilling fights a lock. The Kat” was willing to take three to deliver one. It was blood and guts to the last drop. Whether he too exacted a heavy price for this style remains to be seen.

Lucia Rijker, AKA “The Dutch Destroyer,” lived up to her moniker and destroyed everyone in her path. Again, it wasn’t “if,” it was “when.”

Christy Martin (49-7-3) put female boxing on the map in the ‘90s and she did it by going undefeated in 36 straight encounters, running roughshod over her opponents as evidenced by her 25 wins by stoppage during this run. She also managed to steal the show from a Mike Tyson main event in 1996 during her memorable and bloody battle with Deirdre Gogarty.

Present

Deontay Wilder, aka “The Bronze Bomber,” has a record of 40-0.  With 39 wins coming by KO—many in spectacular fashion, The “Bomber” brings with him that same sense of anticipation that Tyson did. It’s not if; it’s when and “when” can occur at any time. But unlike Tyson, there is a vulnerability that Luis Ortiz exposed that makes the excitement index go even higher.

Dillian Whyte (24-1) has seldom been in a dull affair. His vulnerability combined with his mode of attack ensures thrilling action and the possibility of a stoppage at any time. Unlike Dereck “Del-Boy” Chisora, Whyte is consistently aggressive and dangerous.

Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2) has slowed down considerably but his recent stoppage win over Lucas Matthysse offers hope that he can still conjure up his exciting whirlwind style of fast in-an-out movements that allowed him to win multiple titles over several future Hall of Fame opponents between 2005 and 2011. A rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr., if rumors are true, would allow Pac Man an opportunity to accomplish a number of extraordinary things including avenging a prior defeat and ruining Mayweather’s undefeated record. Time will tell.

Though he appears to have shot his wad, a prime Antonio Margarito was the classic stalk, stun, and kill fighter. Heck, he belonged on the Discovery Channel. His two blowouts of Kermit Cintron showed the “Tijuana Tornado” at his most brutal. His come-from-behind demolition of Miguel Cotto stands out for its drama and bloodletting—and subsequent speculative controversy.

David Lemieux (39-4) always brings the heat. His fights seldom end as scheduled. With KO power in both hands and a propensity to rehydrate by 20 pounds, he is the essence of danger and attendant excitement. “With the sheer power he carries, Lemieux will always have a shot at beating any middleweight, and he is almost always involved in good action fights,” says James Slater.

Amanda Serrano (35-1-1) is the only women’s boxer to win world titles in six divisions. The “Real Deal” is unique in that she has a high KO percentage (74 percent) which is rare for female boxers. Amanda is 120 seconds of guaranteed action for each round.

                                                         **********

While Iron Mike Tyson is THE MAN, Matthew Saad Muhammad also warrants special billing as he embodied what this article is all about. Steve Farhood summed up the essence of Saad Muhammad with an observation that would be appropriate for his tombstone: “Eddie Gregory (Mustafa Muhammad) has a better jab, Marvin Johnson wields more power, James Scott does more sit ups. But, Muhammad’s heart is the size of a turnbuckle, and it anchors his title reign.”

Who did I leave out? Whose name or names would you add to this list?

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