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Articles of 2009

For Hopkins, Adamek Fight, Trinidad Rematch, Or More Piano Recitals Maybe

Bernard Fernandez

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There is a scene in the Adam Sandler comedy,  You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, in which Sandler, as a legendary Israeli counterterrorism specialist, surreptitiously goes to New York to become a hairdresser. He visits a countryman working in an electronics store that has a large sign advising passers-by that the place is going out of business. Except that it isn’t; the sign is merely a come-on to attract shoppers foolishly hoping to find a bargain.

In a way, Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins is like that electronics store that never actually closes its doors, or maybe Cher, who stages “farewell tours” that seemingly go on forever. Is he serious when he announces another retirement from boxing, or at least hints at it? Or is it a calculated move designed to keep fight fans on a yo-yo, forever guessing as to whether his most recent step toward the exit is genuine or just another feint to keep everyone off-balance?

It has been eight months since Hopkins tuned up the previously undefeated Kelly Pavlik in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall, the latest in a string of near-perfect opportunities for the ageless wonder to bow out gracefully and on top. But, like Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali, other lovers of the limelight who believed themselves to be somehow immune to the natural laws of diminishing returns, Hopkins, now 44, continues to be torn between milking the last drop from his still-formidable reserve of boxing talent and moving on to the next phase of his remarkable life.

Even Hopkins, a limited partner in onetime victim Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions empire, doesn’t seem to be quite sure which path he will take when he arrives at that inevitable final crossroads. Try to squeeze in one more fight for legacy and profit? Or begin to enjoy life as a full-time husband and father?

In a rambling, stream-of-consciousness discourse – with Hopkins, getting his point across with a sentence or two never suffices when he can fill four legal-pad pages with quotes before stopping to take a breath – his ambivalence about his future was as evident as it was following his impressive victories over Antonio Tarver and Winky Wright.

If Hopkins’ unanimous-decision thrashing of the 17-years-younger Pavlik is indeed his valedictory, can he be satisfied with that?

“I’m at peace,” said Hopkins, for the moment the homebody weary of heading off to another training camp and another self-enforced separation from wife Jeanette and daughter Latrece. “People who see me now say I don’t have the look on my face that I’m itching to come back. I’m facing reality. My last fight was one of my greatest performances ever. You couldn’t ask for a better way to go out.

“Really, I am fine. I’m good. I’ve been at four piano recitals for Latrece (who will be 10 on June 28). I got another one coming up. We were up at Hersheypark (an amusement park) last week. You know how long it’s been since I was at Hersheypark? I tell you what, I’m finding out that having fun is a lot of fun.”

But raging inside the tranquil Hopkins is that other B-Hop, the one who forever seeks out bigger, more daunting challenges, as a Hersheypark patron might head for the tallest roller-coaster, the one with the most hairpin turns. And that Hopkins is as evident at times as is the domestic version, the one who is almost giddy in speaking of the $6,000, after-hours birthday party he has arranged for Latrece and about 20 of her classmates at the American Girl doll store in midtown Manhattan.

“I need chaos,” that more combative and defiant Hopkins said, suddenly emerging from the darker side of his nature. “I need an Adamek. I need a guy who’s going to come in the ring at 200 pounds and I’m at a lean, mean 186. That’s a threat to me. I need that at this stage.”

A few weeks ago, Hopkins directed Golden Boy’s CEO, Richard Schaefer, to offer IBF cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek $500,000 for a bout in which Hopkins would go for a title in a third weight class, to go along with those he captured as a middleweight icon and as a light-heavyweight. Main Events president Kathy Duva rejected that figure out of hand in the belief that Hopkins and Schaefer were low-balling her guy.

But so eager is Hopkins to test himself in a higher weight class, against an emerging star who is widely considered to be the best of the 200-pounders, that he recently told Schaefer to up the ante to Adamek to $1.2 million, a tasty carrot on the end of the stick for a fighter who has yet to earn a seven-figure purse.

And if Adamek doesn’t bite, Hopkins potentially has other options. Carl Froch, the WBC super middleweight champion from England, is one. Froch knocked out Jermain Taylor, holder of two disputed points nods over Hopkins, in the 12th round of their April 25 bout to float onto B-Hop’s radar. Hopkins also expressed interest in throwing down with the survivor of a proposed light-heavyweight matchup of Chad Dawson and Glen Johnson; Johnson was 32-0 with 22 wins inside the distance when Hopkins defended his IBF middleweight championship by beating him on an 11th-round technical knockout on July 20, 1997. Roy Jones Jr. is still hanging around, although the idea of Hopkins “getting revenge” against the man who outpointed him in 1993 might not catch on with the public, given the fact that Hopkins is still at or near the top of his game while Jones appeared to be a spent cartridge in his blood-soaked, unanimous-decision loss to Joe Calzaghe on Nov. 8.

Still another possibility is Felix Trinidad, whom Hopkins stopped in 12 one-sided rounds on Sept. 29, 2001. Tito’s promoter, Don King, is talking up a Hopkins-Trinidad II fight and he’s prepared to toss some serious money around to make it happen, given Trinidad’s continuing popularity with his large and dedicated fan base.

“Richard talked to King maybe a month ago,” Hopkins said. “I haven’t heard anything since, so I consider it dead in the water until further notice.

“Tito probably needs to win a fight with me to really secure his legacy. Everywhere he goes (in Puerto Rico), you know they’re asking him about if he’s going to fight Hopkins again. It’s probably been driving him crazy for eight years.”

There even was some talk of Hopkins attempting to move all the way up to heavyweight, but that was when a belt-holder he deemed to be beatable, Russia’s Oleg Maskaev, was the WBC titlist. But Maskaev was dethroned by Samuel Peter on a sixth-round TKO on March 8, 2008, and Hopkins, who normally dares to dream big dreams, was obliged to face reality. David might have slew Goliath once, but there are scenarios in which even the most gifted little man wouldn’t want to press his luck.

“When (David) Haye fell out against (Wladimir) Klitschko, I heard people say, `Let Bernard fight Klitschko. He always said he wanted to fight for a heavyweight title,’” Hopkins said. “But Klitschko is what, 6-6½ and, like, 245 pounds? That’s crazy. That’s suicidal.”

Of the names Hopkins has bandied about, the most likely candidates for sharing a ring with him in the near future are Froch, who has publicly expressed an eagerness for such a scrap, and Trinidad, whose thirst for settling a score with the first man to defeat him apparently is unquenchable.

So who is the real Hopkins? The doting daddy, or the gnarled, old warrior forever on the prowl for another battle?

Just as Sugar Ray Leonard, whose ambivalence about retirement led him to leave from and return to the competitive arena so often that it became something of an ongoing joke, Hopkins often is at odds with himself.

Consider the scene after he gave the favored Tarver a 12-round thrashing on June 10, 2006, in Boardwalk Hall before an audience of 11,200 that included basketball legend Michael Jordan.

In a This is Your Life moment, Hopkins’ wife, three sisters and nearly every important person from his past entered the ring before the opening bell, a signal that some sort of important announcement might be forthcoming.

And when Tarver had been vanquished, Hopkins confirmed the rumor that it was indeed time to hang up the gloves and march off into a future that did not include people trying to punch him on that already-irregularly-shaped nose.

“I’m done,” Hopkins said at the postfight press conference. “There’s nothing else to do. I’ve heard some people say, `What about this? What about that?’ Let’s keep it real, y’all. I don’t need to risk anything else. What am I going to do, go to cruiser? Heavyweight? There’s nothing else to do.

“I want to be able to see my daughter. I want to be able to know who her teachers are, because I’m not home half the time. I’m in camp. So now family is more important than boxing.

“I’m humbled, but I’m proud that I got a chance to go out on top. How many fighters go out on top?”

Jeanette Hopkins said her husband’s decision to quit the ring was fine with her. In fact, it was more than fine.

“This is the perfect farewell,” she said. “Me and Latrece have been waiting a long time for this to happen. We’ve been begging him to stop. This is it. It has to be.”

Contrast those statements – which HBO officials apparently took to heart, insofar as they later held a lavish retirement party for Hopkins – with those made just 13 months later, after Hopkins had schooled crafty southpaw Winky Wright in a technical matchup of old masters.

“If I wanted to – and I don’t say this to be bragging or boasting – I could fight another four years,” Hopkins said. “I am cut from the cloth of Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles and Henry Armstrong.”

So Hopkins, who once promised his since-deceased mother, Shirley, that he would retire by his 40th birthday, soldiers on in a world where he has yet to reconcile his desire to go to piano recitals and amusement parks with his need to continue turning back dangerous dudes with padded gloves on their fists.

When your memories of a hardscrabble childhood include the brushing off of a roach from a piece of bread because that was the only thing he had to eat at that time, can you really blame a man still possessed of a special talent to leave before he’s good and ready?

“I think maybe it’s time for me to be retired,” Hopkins said, “but it won’t be forced on me by the industry.”

Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva

David A. Avila

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Articles of 2009

Paul Malignaggi Explains Why He Thinks Manny Has Used PEDs

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In theory and in practice I am vehemently opposed to people tossing out unfounded allegations against someone. Supply evidence, then we can talk. But saying someone is using steroids, or EPO, or HGH, based on a theory, or your gut instinct….I have to consider, what if the allegation were thrown at me, and I was 100% innocent. I'd be mightily irked. And so too would you be.

Manny Pacquaio has been hammered from all sides with folks insinuating and coming right out with the contention that they think he's been cheating, that he's been using illegal performance enhancers to give him an edge in competition. Floyd Mayweather Sr, Paulie Malignaggi, Miguel Cotto and Kermit Cintron have either accused Manny, or insinuated that he's been using PEDs. One has to wonder, where's all this smoke coming from? Is it possible that there's fire lurking? That these folks aren't just lobbing unfounded barbs at Manny, that their allegations and hints aren't just sour grapes, or posturing, or a ploy to lure Manny into a fight?

By and large, there hasn't been much in the way of coverage from the standpoint of: what if Manny is using PEDs, or was using PEDs? I think that is rightly so; I'd be more comfortable if none of us trafficked in the innuendo and speculation, and worked within the realm of evidence, and facts. But it's out there, and a topic of conversation and speculation. Perhaps it's a symptom and sign of the times we live in…

TSS reached out to Malignaggi, just off a solid win in his Dec. 12 rematch with Juan Diaz. The Brooklyn-based pugilist has never been shy about speaking his peace (I picture him exiting his mom's womb and barking at the labor and delivery crew to get the room cleaned up, stat!), and he shared with TSS what he bases his allegations, which he's careful to label opinion, upon.

First off, Malignaggi is of the belief that if the Pacquiao-Mayweather negotiations are at a fatal impasse, Yuri Foreman, and not he, will get the coveted date with Pacquiao. Malignaggi has been mentioned as stand-in for Mayweather.

He started off by insisting that ” I have nothing against Pacquiao” but then went from mellow to madman in a 30 second span.

First off, the boxer wonders why Team Pacquiao isn't going after big-time newspapers, with deep pocketed owners, for libel, for insinuating that Pacquiao is drug cheat.

“If Pacquiao's so sue happy, why not sue the New York Daily News?” he asked. “Maybe they know the steroid allegations are true.”

By and large, Malignaggi thinks it is impossible, utterly impossible, for a boxer to put on 15 or more pounds between March 15, 2008, when he fought Juan Manuel Marquez and weighed 129 pounds at the weigh in, and Nov. 14, 2009 when he fought Miguel Cotto and was 144 pounds at the weigh in, and more on fight night.

“It's not natural looking,” Malignaggi said. But, I countered, what if Manny's supremely blessed, that unlike some other fighters who go up in weight, and look a bit bloated, and lack definition, he's just a special creature?

“He's not supremely blessed,” Maliganngi said. “I know body builders. They can't put on 17 or whatever pounds of muscle in a year. It's not doable, in my opinion. These are my speculations, my opinions based on certain factual evidence. Does his weight gain look normal to you? And his head looks like it has blown up in size, too.”

I offered to Malignaggi that perhaps we should be attacking the system, if we believe it to be lacking, rather than the individual.

“We can blame the system a little bit, but if you were Manny, wouldn't you want to leave no doubt? Or speculation?” said Maliganngi, who believes that by not agreeing to the terms set forth by Team Mayweather, and opposing a blood test within 30 days of the bout, Pacquaio appears guilty.

Pacquiao has agreed to take 3 blood tests: the first during the week of the kickoff news conference in early January, the second random test to be conducted no later than 30 days before the fight, and a final test after the bout. A video making the rounds from the HBO 24/7 series shows Pacquiao submitting to a blood test two or three weeks before he was due to fight Ricky Hatton, and that has cast doubt on Team Pacquiao's stance that Manny is disinclined to get a blood test too close to a bout, for fear he may be weakened. Originally, it was reported in error that that test was taken 14 days before the Hatton bout, but subsequent reports pegged the test as being taken 24 days before the scrap. Malignaggi feels Pacquiao has been caught lying, that the report from Team Pacquiao that he “has difficulty taking blood” is a cover story. “Why is he effing lying?” Malignaggi said, heatedly.

The New Yorker doesn't believe too many fighters in the lighter weight classes are using PEDs, but thinks usage isn't uncommon in the heavyweight division. “That's hard to do and make weight,” he said.

The question is asked of Malignaggi: why does the issue make him so steamed?

“I don't like cheaters,” he said. “This is not baseball. You're not just hitting home runs. You have to worry about peoples' lives. Miguel Cotto in my opinion has been beaten by two cheaters. Manny if he's cheating is taking away from guys who are doing things the right way. His team is reneging on their words.”

And what if you're wrong, Malignaggi? What if Manny is clean, and you are hurting his rep with these allegations?

“I bet everything I own that I'm not,” he said. “But we'll never find out. Hey, I would take the test in a heartbeat. I would want people to know I'm clean. He wants to leave doubts!?? His entire legacy is being questioned, he's willing to hurt his legacy and leave $40 million on the table?”

Maliganngi, after reminding TSS that he was correct in predicting he'd be gamed by judges in the first fight with Diaz, insisted that he isn't singling out Pacquiao for a personal vendetta. “”I've never had anything against him. But that's enough now. I call it like I see it.”

What about those who'd say he's just trying to anger Pacquiao, to lure him into a fight?

“No. I expected he'd take the random tests to get this fight. No way I thought he'd throw away everything. That blew me away. It was cool to have my name mentioned.”

Malignaggi thinks the boxing media has dropped the ball, and not exercised due diligence in examining the possibility that Manny has used PEDs.

“I understand most people like Manny, and not Floyd. Just cause that's the case doesn't mean Manny might not be cheating. It's nothing to do with him personally. But I call a spade a spade. Too many people avoid the possibilities because Manny's a likable person. He's got that front, his country loves him. That front works like crazy. Floyd plays the bad guy, but he's natural. Just don't downplay the fact that Manny might be cheating. You have to open your eyes and at least be willing to look at it. This is bigger than me. The fact that the fight is not being made, you have to question the integrity of Pacquiao.”

Malignaggi then offered an analogy to the Manny-refusing-to-be-subjected-to multiple-random-drug-tests prior-to-a-fight-with-Mayweather deal. “It reminds me of the drunk guy who's pulled over at 3 AM. He has a field sobriety test, the cop knows he's drunk, he looks and acts drunk. But he refuses a breathalyzer test. That don't mean the cop don't haul him to the police station.”

I reiterate…I don't think anyone should be casting aspersions based on circumstantial evidence. But with so many people ganging up on Manny, I think fight fans are owed some details on why people are accusing Pacman of using PEDs.

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Articles of 2009

Ten Boxing Wishes For 2010

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

10. Better pay per view cards

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

9. Time to make Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fight

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

8. No more ridiculous Pay Per View mismatches

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

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

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

6. More respect for the lighter weights

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

5. An American Heavyweight champion

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

4. More ShoBox

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

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

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

2. Pac Man vs. Mayweather

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

1. And finally

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

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