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Jermain Taylor’s “Comeback”

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There was a time when Jermain Taylor was one of my favorite fighters, in and out of the ring. In his glory years, he fought Bernard Hopkins twice and beat him both times. The fights were close. The decisions could have gone either way; particularly in their first outing. But no one would dispute the notion that Taylor tested Hopkins in ways that no one other than Roy Jones had before.

Then things turned sour for Taylor. Listening to the wrong people, he dumped trainer Pat Burns (who’d taken him from his first pro fight to the undisputed middleweight championship of the world). In 2007, after three lethargic title defenses, Jermain was knocked out by Kelly Pavlik. That ushered in a two-year period in which his ring ledger showed four losses in five fights, including three brutal knockout defeats and a brain bleed that Taylor suffered at the hands of Arthur Abraham in the opening round of Showtime’s 168-pound tournament.

Taylor withdrew from the “Super Six” tournament after his loss to Abraham and spent the next two years away from the ring. During that time, his weight rose to over 200 pounds. There were issues with drinking and women and run-ins with the law that seemed to result from stupidity rather than malicious intent. Pat Burns (who never lost his fondness for Jermain) put the matter in perspective, saying, “He’s furious at the people who he now knows exploited him. And it spills over into how he feels about the rest of the world.”

In December 2011, Taylor returned to the ring. He needed that structure in his life and he needed the money. Burns agreed to train him. Over the next two years, Jermain won four fights against club-fight-level opposition, raising his record to 32 wins, 4 losses, and 1 draw.

Then, on May 31, 2014, Sam Soliman of Australia won the IBF 160-pound belt by decisioning a shopworn Felix Sturm. That set the wheels of cynicism into high gear. Taylor’s manager (the ubiquitous Al Haymon) arranged for third parties to pay an outsized purse to Soliman to defend his belt against Taylor. It was an investment, part of an effort by Haymon to wrest control another 160-pound weight class bauble.

Soliman was the ideal beltholder for a diminished Taylor to challenge. The Aussie is one month shy of his forty-first birthday and had lost eleven times. He’s also a light puncher with only 18 knockouts to his credit in 56 fights.

Soliman-Taylor was slated for October 8 at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. Media reaction to the proposed fight was largely negative.

First, there was a school of thought that Taylor didn’t deserve a title shot. He hadn’t fought at 160 pounds since 2007 and hadn’t beaten a world-class middleweight (as opposed to a blown-up super-welterweight) since 2005.

Second, although Jermain passed a battery of tests at the Mayo Clinic and Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, his prior brain bleed was cause for concern. Team Taylor said that Jermain was at no greater risk for injury than any other fighter. A number of doctors, including Margaret Goodman (former chief ringside physician for the Nevada State Athletic Commission and a foremost advocate for fighter safety) disagreed.

And there was another particularly troubling issue.

On August 26, Taylor was arrested at his home in Maumelle (a suburb of Little Rock) and charged with two felonies — first-degree domestic battery and aggravated assault – after shooting his cousin in the leg.

Lieutenant Carl Minden of the Pulaski County sheriff’s office issued a statement to the media recounting the incident as follows: “Mr. Taylor’s cousin and another individual came to his residence, and there was some sort of altercation. At some point, Mr. Taylor retrieved a handgun and fired several rounds. His cousin was struck multiple times. The cousin is alive and in serious condition at an area hospital.”

Minden further stated that, when the police arrived at Taylor’s home, Jermain was “very cooperative with our investigators. He was very calm, and there were absolutely no difficulties.”

Piecing together information from multiple sources, it appears as though Taylor and his cousin had been at odds, a situation that was exacerbated when the cousin borrowed Jermain’s truck and damaged it in a traffic accident. On the night of the shooting, the cousin appeared uninvited at Taylor’s home with a second man (who a source says had recently been released from jail). Jermain ordered them off his property. They wouldn’t leave, so Erica Taylor (Jermain’s wife) called the police. Meanwhile, Jermain took a gun and fired some warning shots in the air, at which point the cousin said that Jermain didn’t have the guts to shoot him. Taylor, who may well have felt physically threatened by then, shot his cousin three times in the leg.

One day after his arrest, Taylor was released on $25,000 bail. The court allowed him to leave Arkansas to train in Florida and fight Soliman in Mississippi.

Under the law, there’s a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. That said; if Taylor had been playing in the National Football League, it’s unlikely that he would have suited up on October 8. Further by way of analogy, Michael Phelps was arrested in Maryland on September 30 on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. One week later, USA Swimming suspended him from competition for six months.

When fight night arrived, Taylor vs. Soliman was a sloppy ugly mess. Jermain fought tentatively and looked older than his 36 years. His timing was off and his punches had no pop. He looked like damaged goods. Fortunately for him, Soliman was damaged goods. The Aussie had hurt his right knee in training and acknowledged after the bout that he’d almost pulled out of the fight. He should have. It would have spared fight fans twelve horrible rounds of boxing.

People who were channel surfing and tuned in to Taylor-Soliman without the audio could have been forgiven for thinking that they were watching two club fighters in a walkout bout. Virtually no clean punches were landed, nor was there much effective aggression or ring generalship. As the rounds dragged on, Soliman’s damaged knee became more and more of an impediment. He kept falling down, occasionally helped on his journey to the canvas by a jab or glancing blow from Taylor. Neither the referee, the ring doctor, or Soliman’s corner had enough sense to stop the nonsense. And Jermain was unable to end it.

Taylor won a unanimous decision. Neither fighter would last three rounds against Gennady Golovkin. Of course, neither Soliman nor the current version of Jermain Taylor would have lasted three rounds against Taylor in his prime.

That brings to mind the thoughts of Pat English, who, at the start of Taylor’s comeback, declared, “As one of the attorneys who litigated the Stephan Johnson wrongful death case, this is extremely troubling to me. These people are taking a boxer with all the classic symptoms of being ‘shot’ and who has had a brain bleed and allowing him to come back. This is a disaster waiting to happen. Stephan Johnson died after being allowed to fight after suffering what the scans showed to be a likely brain bleed. Do we want to repeat that? There are times when one simply should not be silent.”

One might add that medical tests aren’t the only indicator of when a fighter should retire. Just because a boxer passes a “head test” doesn’t mean that he should be in the ring. Muhammad Ali received a clean bill of health from the Mayo Clinic before he fought Larry Holmes. There comes a time when the dangers inherent in boxing outweigh the benefits to be gained from fighting.

Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam is currently the mandatory challenger for Taylor’s IBF belt. But this is boxing. “Mandatory” challengers can be put on hold. And Al Haymon can be expected to maximize his investment.

The most cynical ploy, and possibly the most profitable, might be to match Taylor against Floyd Mayweather. Remember; the sanctioning bodies have already massaged their rules to allow Mayweather to hold 147 and 154-pound titles at the same time. One can surmise that Floyd would love to claim he has duplicated Henry Armstrong’s feat of simultaneously wearing three crowns. Of course, when Armstrong did it, there were only eight world champions.

Meanwhile, Jermain Taylor will soldier on.

“It wasn’t pretty,” Pat Burns said ten hours after Taylor-Soliman. “But Jermain won. He’s the guy getting on the plane and going home with the belt.”

And as for Jermain’s personal future?

“I think he’ll be okay,” Burns answered after a moment’s reflection. “I hope he’ll be okay. But it’s hard to tell.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His next book (The Final Recollections of Charles Dickens) will be published later this month by Counterpoint.

WATCH RELATED VIDEOS ON BOXINGCHANNEL.TV

Thomas Hauser is the author of 52 books. In 2005, he was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America, which bestowed the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism upon him. He was the first Internet writer ever to receive that award. In 2019, Hauser was chosen for boxing's highest honor: induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Lennox Lewis has observed, “A hundred years from now, if people want to learn about boxing in this era, they’ll read Thomas Hauser.”

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 274: Yeritsyan vs Randall at Chumash Casino, Japan and More

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Violence of an organized nature begins in the rustic and peaceful surroundings of Santa Inez, California as welterweights Gor Yeritsyan and Quinton Randall headline a 360 Boxing Promotions card at Chumash Casino on Friday.

Hours later, three world championship fights erupt in Japan. And hours after that, super middleweights tangle in Florida.

All will be streamed.

Undefeated Yeritsyan (17-0, 14 KOs) meets Randall (13-1-1, 3 KOs) for the WBC Continental Americas title on Friday, Feb. 23, at Chumash Casino. UFC Fight Pass will stream the 360 Boxing Promotions card.

Others on the card include undefeated super lightweight Cain Sandoval (11-0, 11 KOs) meeting Javier Molina (22-5, 9 KOs) in a battle set for 10 rounds. It’s a stronger test for Sandoval who has blasted out every opponent. Molina is one of the fighting twin brothers who both were Olympians.

Javier was an Olympian in 2008 for the USA and Oscar Molina an Olympian for Mexico in 2012.

“I’ve been hearing about Cain for a while, but I know my skills and experience will give me the victory,” said Molina who fights out of Los Angeles.

Sandoval, 21, last November won by knockout in Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“Javier is a very good veteran who has had many more fights than me, but he’s never felt my power before,” said Sandoval who fights out of Sacramento.

Chumash Casino is located near one of the old California missions and built by the Spaniards in 1804. You can see open land for miles with the next nearest town of Solvang a short driving distance away.

Over the decades I’ve seen some memorable fights including Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley’s wild victory over Manuel Garnica in 2007 and Seniesa “Super Bad’ Estrada’s pro debut win in 2011 against Maria Ruiz.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Tokyo Hosts Three World Title Fights

It’s a triple-header in Tokyo for real fight lovers.

Early Saturday morning at 1 a.m. (Pacific Time) three world title matches headed by WBC bantamweight titlist Alexandro Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs) of Mexico defending against Japan’s Junto Nakatani (26-0, 19 KOs) take place.

Santiago defeated legendary champion Nonito Donaire last July in Las Vegas in an upset. He also fought to a draw against Filipino slugger Jerwin Ancajas who is also on this card.

Nakatani is a big hitter and two-division world champion. He is very familiar with Mexican fighters and often trains in Southern California. I saw him in Maywood, California a year ago. He’s quite a fighter.

In the other co-main event WBA bantamweight titlist Takuma Inoue (18-1, 4 KOs) defends against former super flyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas (34-3-2, 23 KOs) of the Philippines. Its speed against power.

A third co-main features WBO super flyweight titlist Kosei Tanaka (19-1, 11 KOs) defending against Mexico’s Christian Bacasegua (22-4-2, 9 KOs).

ESPN+ will stream the card live on Saturday.

Matchroom in Orlando

It’s a showcase for contenders.

Brooklyn native Edgar Berlanga (21-0, 16 KOs) “the Chosen One” meets United Kingdom’s Padraig “the Hammer” McCrory (18-0, 9 KOs) in the super middleweight main event on Saturday, Feb. 24. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card from Orlando, Florida.

Berlanga, of Puerto Rican descent, burst on the pro boxing scene by knocking out 16 consecutive foes. But ever since 2021 he has been unable to win by knockout. Five consecutive opponents went the distance.

Can Berlanga still punch?

Facing the Boricua slugger will be McCrory a 35-year-old from Northern Ireland who remains undefeated. To put it into perspective, the United Kingdom is filled with very good super middleweights and none have beaten McCrory so far.

Also on the card is Cuban Olympic gold medalist Andy Cruz (2-0) defending a regional lightweight title against Mexican southpaw Brayan Zamarripa (14-2, 9 KOs). Cruz has blistering speed and an aggressive style as a pro.

Other interesting fights feature bantamweight prospects Antonio Vargas (17-1) and Jonathan Rodriguez (17-1-1). Both can punch but each lost via knockout. Whose chin will prove sturdier in this clash?

Fights to Watch (all times Pacific Time)

Fri. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Gor Yeritsyan (17-0) vs Quinton Randall (13-1-1)

Sat. ESPN+ 1 a.m. Alexandro Santiago (28-3-5) vs Junto Nakatani (26-0).

Sat. DAZN 4 p.m. Edgar Berlanga (21-0) vs Padraig McCrory (18-0).

Photo: Tom Loeffler is flanked by Javier Molina and Cain Sandoval. Photo credit: Lina Baker

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Fighters from Tijuana are on a Roll; Can Alexandro Santiago Keep Up the Momentum?

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Fighters from Tijuana are on a Roll; Can Alexandro Santiago Keep Up the Momentum?

Last Thursday, a Golden Boy Promotions card in California produced an early entrant for Upset of the Year. In the main event, unsung Jesus “Ricky” Perez out-pointed former U.S. Olympian and former two-division title-holder Joseph “Jojo” Diaz.

Perez hails from Tijuana. Heading in, he had lost five of his last nine and had never won a match slated for more than eight rounds. He started fast and held on to win a split nod (ancient ringside judge Lou Moret awarded Perez nine of the 10 rounds).

The fast-growing, hardscrabble city of Tijuana, which sits at the northwest tip of the Baja peninsula, has produced a steady stream of good boxers over the years (Erik Morales, a Hall of Famer, and Antonio Margarito, a two-time world welterweight champion, come quickly to mind), but is currently enjoying arguably the best run in the city’s boxing history. And the distaff side is sharing in the prosperity. Flyweight Kenia Enriquez (28-1, 11 KOs) and her younger sister Tania Rodriguez (21-1, 10 KOs), a light flyweight, are knocking on the door of world title fights (Kenia holds an interim belt).

Last December, when pundits at the leading U.S. boxing websites brainstormed to come up with the 2023 Fight of the Year, two bouts stood out above all others: the Feb. 18 match between super bantamweights Luis Nery and Azat Hovhannisyan and the June 10 super middleweight contest between Jaime Munguia and Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

The Nery-Hovhannisyan match was a riveting, see-saw rumble that ended with Nery winning by TKO in the 11th round. Munguia scored a knockdown in the 12th to overcome Derevyanchenko, eking out a razor-thin but unanimous decision. Both victors have since added another “W” to their respective ledgers. Nery (35-1, 27 KOs) KOed Filipino veteran Froilan Saludar. Munguia (43-0, 34 KOs) dominated and stopped England’s John Ryder.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Luis Nery and Jaime Munguia were both born and raised in Tijuana. And we will be hearing a lot more about them. Although unofficial, Nery has an agreement in place to fight superstar Naoya Inoue in Tokyo in May and, according to various reports, Munguia is now the frontrunner to be Canelo Alvarez’s next opponent.

The month after Munguia-Derevyanchenko, Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (pictured) scored his signature win and won the vacant WBC world bantamweight title with an upset of the great Filipino fighter Nonito Donaire. Santiago won a clear-cut decision on the card topped by the mega-fight between Terence Crawford and Errol Spence.

Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs) has a formidable challenge for his first title defense which comes on Saturday in Tokyo. In the opposite corner will be undefeated Junto Nakatani (26-0, 19 KOs) who is moving up in weight after winning world titles at 112 and 115. Nakatani can really crack as he showed with his brutal, one-punch knockout of Andrew Moloney.

There are two other title fights on the card which will air in the U.S. on ESPN+. Needless to say, one will have to get out of bed early to catch all the action. The first bell is slated for 4 am ET, 1 pm PT.

Santiago will be a heavy underdog against his Japanese opponent who will have a 5-inch height advantage. However, if recent history is any guide, one should not be too quick to dismiss his chances.

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Who Murdered Peter Bufala? A ‘Whodunit’ with a Boxing Backdrop

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On Friday, Oct. 8, 1976, Peter Bufala returned home from work just as a new day was dawning. The Las Vegas baccarat dealer pulled his Cadillac into his circular driveway, exited his car, walked toward his front door, and was felled by two bullets from a 9 mm handgun, one entering his chest and the other his brain. A neighbor fetching his morning newspaper found him lying in a pool of blood on his front lawn. He was dead when the police arrived. He was 33 years old and left behind a wife and two young daughters.

A 12-year resident of the fast-growing southern Nevada gambling mecca, Bufala grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, a blue collar suburb of Philadelphia. He had come here to rekindle his boxing career.

A Middle Atlantic amateur featherweight champion, he had begun his pro career on a high note, winning a 4-round decision over a fellow novice on a show at New York’s St. Nicholas Arena that included Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who would go on to fight for the world middleweight title but would be best remembered for the many years he spent behind prison walls for his alleged involvement in a triple homicide.

Following his New York engagement, Bufala fought in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia. As a pro, he never fought in his home state and there was a reason for it. In 1961, while undergoing a routine medical examination at an amateur show, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. The Pennsylvania Boxing Commission rescinded his license. He subsequently underwent a series of tests at Temple University Medical Hospital and was given a clean bill of health, but the Pennsylvania authorities were unyielding and, bit by bit, in a day when news traveled slowly, other jurisdictions fell into line.

Nevada was the Wild West. The regulators there had looser standards and Bufala resumed his career on Sept. 2, 1964 at the Castaways, out-pointing his opponent in a 5-round match to improve his ledger to 7-3. The publicity man misspelled his name, adding an extra “f”, and he would remain Pete Buffala whenever his name appeared in the sports section of the local papers.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, approximately 165,000 people resided in all of sprawling Clark County, home to Las Vegas. The thought that Vegas would someday host a Formula 1 Grand Prix or a Super Bowl, two of the grandest sports spectacles in the world, was preposterous. The only local sport that ever made the national news wire was boxing.

The fulcrum was Bill Miller, a hot-headed boxing junkie from Elmira, New York, who owned a saloon on the Las Vegas Strip that he out-fitted with a boxing gym in the basement. Miller’s “Strip Fight of the Week,” which bounced from one little casino to another during a run that lasted well over a decade, bucked the national trend. Small fight clubs, with very few exceptions, had fallen by the wayside, a development triggered by the mass production of televisions.

Miller was hardly immune to all the little hassles that plague a grass-roots boxing promoter. Matches were constantly falling out. But he had several things working in his favor. As opportunities dried up elsewhere, journeymen boxers were drawn here by the promise of steady work. And although Miller couldn’t afford to pay enough to make boxing a full-time profession, good-paying jobs were plentiful in the construction and hospitality industries.

To be certain, there were also push factors. Chester, Pennsylvania, a shipbuilding hub during World War II, had fallen on hard times, plagued by unemployment and racial strife. Lowell, Massachusetts, a city known for its vibrant amateur boxing culture, was likewise hurting with row after row of textile factories sitting vacant. Lowell produced Eddie Andrews, a hard-hitting middleweight who would be the first fighter to make promoter Miller any significant money without having to take him on the road to a larger precinct or overseas.

Andrews supplemented his ring earnings dealing blackjack at Caesars Palace. For a time, Ralph Dupas was a co-worker. A former world title-holder at 154 pounds, Dupas settled in Las Vegas in the mid-1960s as his career was winding down and remained here until his encroaching dementia passed the tipping point and family members brought him home to his native New Orleans to live out his final days.

Returning to Peter Bufala, he worked his way up the ladder on Miller’s promotions, eventually topping the marquee for a fight with Johnny Brooks. They fought at the Hacienda, a grind joint at the south end of the Strip (where Mandalay Bay now sits) on April 13, 1965. Brooks was nothing special, but he was better than his 17-6-3 record. He would go on to last the distance in 10-round fights with future Hall of Famers Emile Griffith and Carlos Monzon.

Bufala was bloodied in the third round and knocked down in the fourth, but mounted a furious rally and at the end of the 10 rounds the judges could not pick a winner and the match went into the books as a draw. Working on the “5-point-must” system, the scores were 46-44 Bufala, 46-45 Brooks, and 46-46. (Trivia time: The 46-46 tally was turned in by ringside judge Harry Reid who would go on to become the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate. Nowadays, visitors flying in to Las Vegas arrive at Harry Reid International Airport.)

Had Bufala won the bout, his next fight would have been a 12-rounder against Reno’s Dave Patterson, the Nevada Lightweight Champion. But when he returned to the ring the following month, it was in a 6-rounder against an unsung fighter from Los Angeles named Davey White and, in a shocker, White blasted him out in the second round.

Bufala announced his retirement after this fight. It warranted scarcely a mention in the Las Vegas papers, but the folks back in Chester hadn’t forgotten him. “Pete Bufala Quits Boxing for Health,” read the bold headline on the sports page of the June 9, 1965 issue of the Delaware County Daily Times. The accompanying story said that Buffala, “Chester’s most promising professional fighter,” had emerged from his most recent bout with a blot clot in his neck and was troubled by chronic back problems. (Buffala would have one more fight before quitting the sport for good. He won his final fight, a 6-rounder, bringing his final record, per boxrec, to 16-5-2.)

Bufala never returned to Chester. He married a local girl and, in short order, was a father of three, two girls and a boy who tragically died at 16 months when he crawled into a plastic laundry bag and suffocated as his mother was distracted writing checks.

In December of 1973, the MGM Grand opened on the southeast corner of the busiest intersection on the Las Vegas Strip. This was the city’s original MGM Grand that would take the name Bally’s and was recently re-branded the Horseshoe. With 2,100 rooms, a 1,200-seat showroom and a jai alai fronton, the MGM Grand made its competitors look puny by comparison. Peter Bufala was there on opening night, dealing baccarat.

In terms of the money put at risk, baccarat is the crème-de-crème of card games. It attracts the whales, the high-rollers that leave the biggest tips. On a good night at a high-end establishment like the MGM Grand, it wasn’t uncommon for a dealer to rake in $500 in gratuities. Bufala worked the graveyard shift (likely 9 pm to 5 am; it varied by hotel), the most coveted shift for a dealer in a day when visitors to Las Vegas were more nocturnal than they are today.

One didn’t get to be a baccarat dealer in a ritzy joint by working his way up from the bottom. One had to know the right people. In the vernacular, one got juiced into the job. And the juicer might expect a kick-back.

One of the most influential people in Las Vegas was an outsider who tried to keep a low profile, Gaspare “Jasper” Speciale. A transplanted New York bookmaker, Speciale co-owned and managed the Tower of Pizza restaurant which sat a stone’s throw from the MGM Grand on the opposite side of the street. Speciale opened doors for dozens of people seeking employment in the hospitality industry. If one was new in town and needed work in a hurry, Jasper was the man to see.

Until the arrival in Las Vegas of the notorious Tony Spilotro, Speciale was the city’s premier private money lender. He would eventually serve four years in a federal prison for loan-sharking.

Whenever there was a murder in Las Vegas that had the earmarks of a mob hit, speculation always centered on Gaspare Speciale. It mattered not that he was active in his church and donated lavishly to local charities. Moreover, he had a warm spot in his heart for prizefighters. In the spacious backyard of his home, chockablock with mementos of his boyhood in New York City, there was a replica of Stillman’s Gym complete with a punching bag and rubbing tables.

Another theory, although one that acquired less currency, pointed the finger at Bufala’s father-in-law who was the beneficiary of Peter’s life insurance policy. The two were partners in a small sporting goods store where it was rumored that one could purchase an unregistered firearm.

On the day that Peter Bufala was assassinated, the story about it in the Las Vegas Sun, an afternoon paper, said that the former boxer had no bad habits – he didn’t drink, smoke, gamble or chase women — and that he was well-liked by everyone that knew him. But, said a police detective, “Someone wanted him dead and eventually we’re going to find out who that someone is and why.”

Forty-seven years after the fact, the who and the why remain as baffling as ever. If Peter Bufala were alive today, he would be 80 years old. This is a mystery that will likely never be solved.

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