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The 50 Greatest Lightweights of all Time Part Two: 40-31

Matt McGrain

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Floyd Mayweather

by Matt McGrain

Rules are everything.

Whether it’s the laws of physics describing the impact of a left hook upon a granite jaw or the Sweet Science’s editor applying the rules of grammar to the work we writers “bless” him with, they describe what we see, do and feel.  The process of ordering the Fifty Greatest Lightweights of all time, too, is a process described by rules.

Often, these rules throw up numbering that is counter-intuitive.  There is a fine example in this, the second installment in this series, at numbers 38 through 35.  At 38 and 37, I name two of the greatest fighters in history, while at 36 and 35 I name two fighters who were never named true champion and who own but a modicum of the fame commanded by the two men they rank directly above.  But the rules of this process say that actual achievement within the given division is far and away the most important factor and that fame and overall greatness achieved out-with the division count for less.  This is why we run across rankings that are counter-intuitive.

36 and 35 just did more at lightweight than 37 and 38.  They defeated more ranked contenders, achieved greater longevity in the division and also happened to be among the very, very best fighters at the poundage in their own eras.

Keep that in mind as we run down the fortieth to thirty-first greatest lightweights in history.

 

#40 – Billy Petrolle (89-21-10; Newspaper Decisions 34-4-6)

Billy Petrolle did wonders at the limit of 140lbs and against small welterweights.  He took scalps like Jimmy McLarnin, Battling Battalino and Jimmy Goodrich above the limit that interests us here, spreading his excellence over three weight divisions and perhaps not getting his due upon any of these lists for that fact.

Luck, too, was against him, in his career.

1932: after more than 100 contests, Petrolle finally gets his shot at the lightweight title.  The champion is Tony Canzoneri, a hideous vapor of feints and counter-intuition.  Canzoneri’s left was never better and for many, this was the absolute peak of his incredible career.  Petrolle, maybe – maybe – could have matched or run him close at his own spectacular best but he had a disastrous battle with the poundage in the week before the fight.  His bob and weave, normally so difficult to time, repeatedly saw him bob up onto the Canzoneri left; he dropped a fifteen round decision.  He would never be champion.

This was all the more frustrating because two months before Canzoneri lifted the lightweight title, Petrolle had beaten him.  Stopped only twice at the poundage, by injury, he had courage and pressure to match that chin and he had a left-hook as fine as any in that stacked division outside of perhaps Canzoneri himself.  1-1 is nothing to sniff at, but working entirely within the weight range we are interested in, his next best scalp belongs to Jack “Kid” Berg, and again, Petrolle failed to prove his superiority going 1-1-1.  A series of defeats to the likes of Ray Miller (with whom he also went 1-1-1), Sammy Mandell, King Tut and Tommy Herman also exercises some drag, and for all that it must be allowed that a breakneck schedule like the one he fought to – Petrolle made as many as 24 matches in a year – is going to kick up some losses, Billy had a habit of losing the fight that really mattered.

This puts him below fighters who never proved themselves quite as special but who were a little luckier.

#39 – Edwin Rosario (47-6)

Edwin Rosario had the same unfortunate habit as Petrolle, namely that of losing to the best fighters he fought.  This is a typical habit and one held to by surprisingly great fighters, but in Rosario’s case it is hard to argue that Jose Luis Ramirez, Hector Camacho and Julio Cesar Chavez are the most gifted fighters “Chapo” tangled with.  But for all that Chavez dominated him, these three didn’t have it all their own way and against Ramirez, at least, he also posted a win.  That win, for me, was slightly fortuitous and I think Ramirez can count himself a little unlucky.  Rosario dialed in his right hand in the opening six, which he dominated, but Ramirez’s wonderful shepherding footwork and body attack took its toll late and Rosario found himself unable to control the action, his seemingly perennially injured right no longer a factor.  Regardless the judges gave Rosario the fight.

If he was fortunate (and that’s just one man’s opinion) he didn’t hide behind his fortune; in defense of the vacant strap he won against Ramirez he met ranked men, blasting out Roberto Elizondo in a single round in 1984, that right the most important punch once more, and taking a decision from Howard Davis Jr.  Decking Davis with a left hand in the last round is what made the difference in another desperately close fight, underlining the Puerto Rican’s two-handedness, but Ramirez then exacted a terrible revenge, stopping him in four.

After another hurtful (but close) loss to Hector Camacho, Rosario came again, stopping the superb Livingstone Bramble in just two rounds before Julio Cesar Chavez arrived on the scene.

After that terrible encounter, Rosario would never defeat another ranked fighter.

This leaves him with a ledger of 4-3 against Ring ranked lightweights.  Numerically, it’s not a great mark to leave upon the sport, but Rosario ran into some tough hombres.

#38 – Floyd Mayweather Jr. (49-0)

Floyd Mayweather staged a brief, jabbing drive-by of the lightweight division in 2002 to 2003, a visitation defined by his two-fight rivalry with Jose Luis Castillo (more of whom later).The first fight is the most controversial in the Mayweather canon.  Starting aggressively, Mayweather stabbed with the jab, bagged the first four rounds on my card and seemed in total control.  Then, one of two things happened.  Either Floyd exacerbated a shoulder-injury sustained in training or the clash of styles favored Castillo enough that Mayweather found himself under unprecedented pressure.  Certainly, Castillo made him work, getting closer and closer, buying inches with every half-step and forcing Floyd to flee before him.  This was Mayweather at the end of his first career (Pretty Boy) and beginning of his second (Money) without yet having the studied economy that would sustain him in his quest to dominate bigger men.

Castillo was able to build a head of steam, rattling after him with handfuls of bruising body-punches.  My card says Castillo won, barely, and for those who were dismayed by the rise and rise of the man called “Money”, this fight would remain the crown-jewel of their criticism and certainly it is the closest this Rolls Royce came to engine trouble.  For me, the result was not so controversial.  I thought many of the rounds were close, arguable, and although I do not care for the official scorecards, I think a narrow Mayweather win would have been reasonable.

Having taken the decision against the world’s best lightweight in controversial circumstances, Mayweather dealt the closest thing he would ever have to a nemesis back in with an immediate rematch.  Here began the Mayweather “procession,” his relentless spearing of a bigger man who came to apply pressure, a style not beloved by the fans but one that made him the richest boxer in history.  In truth, there were breathtaking moments.  In the eleventh, with the fight still in the balance, Mayweather turned in a wonderful variety of punches, leading with rights, countering with uppercuts, snapping off the left hook that had been the bane of Castillo throughout.  When Castillo dropped his head to bull, Mayweather would throw that left, countering not just Castillo’s movements but his very essence.  This fight is closer than is generally accepted in my opinion, but there was only one winner.

Depending upon your own personal view of the term lineage, one or the other of these fights made Mayweather the first lineal champion since Pernell Whitaker, and sealed his legacy at the weight.  One of the true jab clinics against Victoriano Sosa and an astonishing show against puncher Phillip Ndou built upon the right hand were the defenses he staged of the lineal title and sneaks him into the top forty.

So lightweight delivers head-to-head monsters in just the second sitting.

#37 – Julio Cesar Chavez (107-6-2)

Here is another one.

Just as Mosley’s lightweight career mirrors Crawford’s, so the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez’s mirrors that of fellow great Mayweather.  While Mayweather jabbed and slipped his way to pre-eminence in his stay at the poundage, Chavez marauded his way to the top.  Although Mayweather spent more time in the ring with ranked men, Chavez destroyed his with such imperiousness and those men were of such quality that he stands a barrier to a higher ranking for Mayweather.

Enjoying the occasional sojourn from 130lbs to 135lbs as he cut his teeth at the lighter poundage, Chavez arrived in earnest in the division in 1987 at the expense of the superb Edwin Rosario.

Rosario was a wonderful lightweight and a wonderful puncher; Chavez brushed him aside like he was nothing.  It was an astonishing performance, one of the best that can be seen on film at any weight and perhaps the single best performance by any lightweight ranked outside the top ten.  Chavez wove punches through the eye of the proverbial needle that night and from the very first round.  Rasario is disciplined, neat in defense, but Chavez, using the bare minimum in terms of room, happily found him with combinations as complex as a double-uppercut, liver-shot  with withering regularity.  Much of the success Rosario had on offense was left-handed – Chavez swallowed the puncher’s blows without a blink, kept him smothered, did the superior work.  On the rare occasions he allowed Rosario to charge, he out-flanked him with head-movement and surging counter-attacks.  He didn’t lose a round.

While Mayweather beat a wonderful drum with his jab, Chavez gave a clinic in combination punching and all that stopped him was the inevitable crumble of his world-class opponent.  After ten rounds of hard work taking fire from a world class puncher, Chavez literally runs out of his corner for the eleventh.  You could almost see Rosario deflate.  He lasted another two minutes, full of guts.

Another first rate lightweight, Jose Luis Ramirez was in desperate need of guts when he met Chavez a year later.  Here, Chavez boxed quite differently, the drip-torture feed of his numbing right hand and his terrifying economy in wasting so few punches proving far too much for the veteran when a clash of heads and resulting cut to Ramirez called for the judges scorecards after ten.

Chavez was on rare form at 135lbs and perhaps could have ruled until Whitaker.  A shallow resume and a paucity of quality title-defenses keep him from the royal climates above, but he was a devastating lightweight.

#36 – Lockport Jimmy Duffy (36-8-4; Newspaper Decisions 60-12-26)

Lockport Jimmy Duffy turned professional in 1908, so while his record indicates he fell four wins short of the magical 100 mark, in reality he probably managed it; even among the elite for the era, fights tended to go unrecorded.

What we know about Duffy, though, makes him more than qualified for this list.

He never fought for the world title, but he bested champions, most prominent among them the great Freddie Welsh.  Duffy was never the pre-eminent lightweight during his career, but he got the best of a series with a man who was, beating Welsh twice to one loss, even dropping him for a short count in their second encounter in 1914.  He also took a decision from Johnny Dundee, the great featherweight and a contender for the #50 slot on this lightweight list.

Joe Shugrue was a superb boxer whose career was cut short by eye trouble and one who, despite inconsistency, was able to beat almost anyone on his day, including one Benny Leonard – Duffy took a ten round decision from him during World War One.  Leach Cross defeated Battling Nelson in November of 1912, but two months either side of this excellent result he dropped a DQ loss and a newspaper decision to Duffy.  Jack Britton, one of the greatest welterweights of all time, had the clear beating of Duffy at 147lbs, but during his lightweight apprenticeship, Duffy twice got the better of him.

Duffy was a giant, for his era, standing more than 5’10” with a reach pushing 72”, making him both taller and rangier than the most recent lineal champion, Terence Crawford.  He used his gifts, pumping out a left jab, keeping opponents at range while piling up points on the cards.

It made him one of the crack lightweights of a golden era, and a name sadly lost, for the most part, to boxing in 2016.  This is unjust.

#35 – Sid Terris (93-13-4; Newspaper Decisions 6-0-1)

Sid Terris was a contemporary of the great Benny Leonard and according to some, at least, bore comparison for all that he was clearly the inferior model.  “Terris was fondled like a second Benny Leonard in New York,” wrote Sam Levy in late 1926.  “Sidney could move with the speed of the old champion and he was just about his equal as a boxer, but lacked his prestigious hitting power.”  He noted, however, that there was an “existing doubt in the minds of the fistic jurists regarding the courage of Terris.”

This doubt was placed in the mind of the “fistic jurists” by a 1924 loss to Eddie Wagner, a six round stoppage in which Terris was said to show yellow.  Terris avenged himself on Wagner and went on a 45-1-1 tear up through the lightweight division that saw him out-think and out-move a veritable smorgasbord of contenders.

He defeated Mickey Walker’s two-time dance partner Ace Hudkins in a “ten round thriller” that saw him handled in the fourth and seventh but come blazing back to dominate his brutish foe in the tenth for a narrow decision.  Terris was a defensive specialist who may have operated only a single level below the genius Leonard but he was, like The Ghetto Wizard (Terris carried the moniker “Ghetto Ghost”) capable of turning the tables with real violence when called upon to do so.  He was called upon to do so against Billy Petrolle, who he met in 1926.  After a fast start, Terris was savaged by a rampant Petrolle in the eighth and ninth but stood his ground to blast out the tenth and take a narrow decision once more.

These occasionally thrilling battles boosted his popularity and quieted accusations that he was “just a dancer,” a fighter who liked to peck out decisions but was afraid to hit the trenches.  He hit the trenches in 1927 against feared puncher Billy Wallace.  Smashed to the canvas in the first, Terris fought back in a manner Leonard himself would have been proud of, and although ringsiders seem split as to who deserved the decision, it was Terris who got the nod.  Stanislaus Loayza, Jack Bernstein, Basil Galiano, Rocky Kansas, Jimmy Goodrich and Johnny Dundee all got the Terris treatment at one time or another and although many of them, like he, are not household names, they were all ranked men.

Nor is the list exhaustive.  Terris wasn’t a great lightweight and he never held the title, but he lists among the division’s most storied contenders.

#34 – Wesley Ramey (141-28-12; Newspaper Decisions 11-0-2)

Wesley Ramey turned professional as a lightweight in the 1920s and he retired as a lightweight in the 1940s.  Most of the fighters on this list, even legendary lightweights such as Joe Gans and Roberto Duran, did not sacrifice their entire careers to 135lbs.  What this means is that nearly every one of the 150 wins Ramey posted in his career were at the expense of a fellow lightweight and makes his resume at the poundage an exceptional one.

Of course it also means that most of the losses were suffered at 135lbs too, but this needs to be quantified.  He posted six of those losses in the final two years of his lightweight odyssey and several more during his ill-fated tour of Australia which included a loss at welterweight to legendary Ozzy Jack Carroll.  Between his schedule and longevity, losses were inevitable.

Ramey’s greatest night, however, came against legendary lightweight Tony Canzoneri.  Canzoneri, then the reigning lightweight champion of the world, was only a few months removed from his shattering performance against Billy Petrolle, a peak night for one of the great fighters; Ramey thrashed him in a non-title fight, winning all but two of the rounds on the Associated Press scorecard.  Canzoneri promised Ramey a title shot but had already signed to meet one Barney Ross.  Ross took Canzoneri and Ramey was frozen out.  On such moments, history turns.

That didn’t prevent Ramey defeating a long list of ranked contenders across the near twenty years for which he terrorized the division.  In the modern era he would have worn a strap, at the least.

#33 – Young Griffo (68-11-38; Newspaper Decisions 50-1-30)

A fighter like Young Griffo really tests a project such as this one.

Joe Gans named him the best defensive boxer he ever met; given the level of competition Gans was faced with in the course of his career this makes him as good as almost anyone to come out of boxing’s first fifty years.  But as Gans himself also observed, Griffo didn’t take his profession any more seriously than he took his training and seemed more enamored by hellraising than fighting, coming to the ring against even the greatest of his peers underprepared

Furthermore there is anecdotal evidence that Griffo’s main priority was to avoid defeat, not to achieve victory.  The rules of the day, which called for dominance in order that judges (or newspapers) might name a victor meant that there was a vast grey area in which a fighter could achieve a draw.  This made avoiding defeat a cinch for a fighter of Griffo’s great talent.

And so he scored many – nearly seventy of them, in fact, according to his most complete record.  That is absurd and makes judging him absurdly difficult.  Apart from Gans, with whom he boxed two draws, he fought stalemates with Frank Erne, Kid Lavigne and George Dixon, each of them among the very best fighters of their era.

But Griffo posted no wins in this type of company and many of those contests were farcical.  Chaotic draws with the likes of Lavigne are impressive but do they really forge a great legacy?  And what of persistent rumors that these results were agreed upon beforehand or that Griffo elicited his opponent’s co-operation during the contest?  The Australian will be back to torture me at featherweight, but as for lightweight, I can force him no higher.  It’s frustrating, because if he had applied himself in the same way that Wesley Ramey did, a spot in the top ten would have been his likely reward.  Even Gans and the other monstrous lightweights of his era may not have been able to stop his rise to the title – as it is we will never know, and Young Griffo fails to penetrate the top thirty.

#32 – Hector Camacho (79-6-3)

Despite boxing his way through the whole of the 1990s, Camacho never made the lightweight limit after 1986 and spent the early years of his career flitting between 130 and 135lbs.  No career lightweight then but the judderingly quick southpaw did inflict serious suffering upon the division in the early and mid-1980s.  Included in the suffering were two that readers of Part One and Two will be familiar with — Jose Luis Ramirez and Edwin Rosario.

Against Ramirez, Camacho’s dominance was a wonder.  He turned in a perfect performance, a true showcase for his wonderful speed; Camacho, arguably, is the fastest lightweight to appear on film and Ramirez is the fight where he really demonstrated that speed.  In the third, he dropped an axe-fall left hand on Ramirez to see him to the deck and only Ramirez’s equally wonderful toughness keeps him from the “ten” in this fight.

Rosario gave him more problems.  Quicker pressure, and that dangerous right-hand left Camacho wide open for lefts in the fifth and the eleventh and saw him on rubbery legs on two occasions.  Still, a wonderful engine kept Camacho a step ahead for seven of the twelve rounds and bought him a desperate split decision.  Lucky to avoid a point deduction for persistent fouling and arguably on the receiving end of a 10-8 round in the fifth, a draw would have been a reasonable result but given the referee’s position on the fouls, I think a Camacho win is the right result.

A true test of character for Camacho, there are those that believe that this fight turned him from an aggressive speedster into a stick-and-move merchant.  There is probably some truth to this; certainly for his next and last lightweight contest, against Cornelius Boza-Edwards, Camacho boxed carefully in taking a much more comfortable decision.

Then he bid the lightweight division, and any chance of making the top thirty on this list, adieu.

 #31 – Beau Jack (91-24-5)

Beau Jack only made the lightweight limit once after 1944 in his doomed tilt at the great Ike Williams, who then held the undisputed title.  Jack was a wonderful fighter, but one who stepped up in pursuit of cash and glory, leaving the poundage which best suited him behind.

Above the lightweight limit he scored great victories over the likes of Bob Montgomery, Bummy Davis, Sammy Angott, Lew Jenkins, Fritzie Zivic, and, most impressively, Henry Armstrong.  These are the results that made Beau Jack great but readers of these series’ will understand that he receives no credit for these victories here but rather is credited at welterweight and, of course, in a pound for pound sense.

His glittering ambition – which made him one of the most bankable stars of the era – limited his standing at lightweight to that which he achieved before 1944.  These are considerable, but not of the ilk that explains his high placement on Boxing Scene’s excellent top twenty-five.  Let’s take a look.

Jack’s finest win was over Bob Montgomery at the lightweight limit late in 1943 winning as many as ten and as few as seven on the scorecards of judges and ringsiders, but in all events winning more than his heavily favored opponent.  Montgomery was favored because he had defeated Jack for Jack’s lightweight strap six months before.  A brutal body attack registered early and by the end Jack was hanging on in desperation; in the rematch, he smothered the new belt-holder’s attack by keeping close and working hard.  The two fought on two more occasions, but Montgomery took the lightweight rubber to prove himself the better fighter at the 135lb limit.

Looking back over his earlier days in the division, Jack did good, but not great work.  His knockout victory over Tippy Larkin was impressive, and executed in just three rounds for the vacant NYSAC belt.  His best performance may have come during his run to that belt, a seven round hammering of number one contender Allie Stolz, who was heavily favored to beat him.  The United Press described his style as “hell-for-leather primitive pummelling” but the more scientifically gifted Stolz, who was riding a hot streak, hardly won a round.  A “menacing bundle of wiry muscle,” Jack applied fierce pressure upon the favorite, who melted before him.  I suspect Jack was never better at the weight, but if he was, it was probably against Juan Zurita, the NBA strapholder who forced Jack to the ring at 136lbs in order that his title would remain at his waist regardless.  Jack was made to miss often by Zurita but kept the pressure on to hammer out a ten round decision from the inside.

Jack beat both beltholders during his lightweight prime and was unquestionably the best lightweight in the world for a spell after his defeat of Montgomery and before Montgomery’s revenge; but he was never the lineal champion and, as described, the overwhelming number of his best wins came at 138lbs or above.

 

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The Top Ten Flyweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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As we near the end of a lengthy series, a reminder of our criteria.

These are decadal lists, placing under the microscope the fights and fighters that occurred between January first, 2010 and December the thirty-first 2019; no fights outside these dates are considered.

Fights that occurred outside the weight class to hand, in this case flyweight, are only of passing interest – we appraise here the men who fought at 112lbs only. In doing so I utilise a number of different tools, from the video upload sites delightfully stuffed with boxing of all shapes and sizes, to the DVDs I continue to buy with inexplicable regularity to the detailed rankings helping to decipher who was who the day two contenders met.

Those rankings are from Ring Magazine from 2010 through 2012 before the founding of the TBRB allows independent rankings to be utilised for the remainder of the decade.

Finally, achievement, the who and the how, are given much heavier weight than more speculative concerns like perceived skillset and projected head-to-head predictions.

With the boring stuff out of the way, allow me to introduce you to the top ten flyweights of the decade past.

10 – Sonny Boy Jaro

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 17-7-5 Ranked For: 10% of the decade

The Tale of Sonny Boy Jaro is one of the great and under-told stories of the decade.  A journeyman, he also had an iron will that saw him bounce his equally iron-hewn physique from 108lbs up to 118lbs and back, fighting a busy schedule in his native Philippines and beyond. Problematically, he would also lose whenever he stepped up to elite level.

Until he ran into the great Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. That Jaro was able to beat him is astonishing.  Then ranked the world’s number eight fighter pound-for-pound, Wonjongkam was probably approaching a place where he might have been ready to be taken, but he just didn’t lose to the likes of Jaro, a type he ran into often. Jaro though, had learned his trade. He hurt the champion with the very first punch he threw and dropped him with the fourth or fifth, then he stayed right on him throwing consistent, hard punches, staying rough and aggressive. In the sixth, Wonjongkam was suddenly and finally worn, down twice, the second time dangerously under a vicious assault; the fight was waved off.

Jaro, alas, did not shake off his tendency to lose the big ones and dropped the title in his first defence. This makes Jaro’s hold on the number ten spot a little tenuous, but the fact is that nobody in contention held anything like as superb a win over so accomplished a fighter. From Daigo Higa to Artem Dalakian to Hernan Marquez, nobody did enough to supplant him.

09 – Amnat Ruenroeng

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 20-3 Ranked For: 22% of the decade

First, let’s get Amnat Ruenroeng’s 2015 defeat of John Riel Casimero out of the way. You can read about this insane parody of a prize-fight, for which Ruenroeng receives no credit, here. As I wrote at the time, “referee Larry Doggett…was very clearly guilty of, at the least, ineptitude. Like much in life that is truly ludicrous, it was funny and tragic in equal measures.”

His best win neutralised by his indiscipline, Ruenroeng’s victories of note become a little thin on the ground, but as we have seen, there is no depth of competition for these lowest slots. 2014 was his key year and in May Kazuto Ioka, one of the better 108lb boxers in the world, stepped up. It was bizarre to see the smaller man bringing the pressure while Ruenroeng maneuvered, seemingly spooked by Ioka’s beltline work and prodding straight; he found the gaps though, especially for an impressive uppercut which allowed him to hang on to Ioka’s coattails and a late rally saw him hold on to his strap in a widely judged split decision where each and every card somehow seemed reasonable.

This confusion, this chaos, is Ruenroeng’s hallmark, and whether he was throwing knees and elbows or waiting and deploying his jab, he had an air of intimidation matched by his ability to get under his opponent’s skin. Against McWilliams Arroyo he was dropped in the sixth by a winging left hook, cast adrift on the cards left and in need of five of the remaining six rounds. He got them. He got them by swapping out his cautious countering for sudden, rampant aggression and discombobulating holding and wrestling, culminating in his throwing Arroyo to the canvas in the tenth. Arroyo, furious and thrown from his rhythm, won only the last of the second six.

Ruenroeng earned supplemental wins over Rocky Fuentes and Shiming Zou and was a bubbling, vicious handful for absolutely every flyweight he ever met.

08 – John Riel Casimero

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 15-4 Ranked For: 19% of the decade

After being mugged by Amnat Ruenroeng in Bangkok, Filipino John Riel Casimero was made to wait an entire year for a rematch, to be fought on neutral territory in China. Preparation was disastrous for Ruenroeng who managed to weigh in over the super-flyweight limit on his first attempt, finally making the 112lb limit four hours later at the hotel in front of few witnesses. Whatever occurred, Ruenroeng looked sharp in bagging the first but his dark arts were firmly under the control of referee Tony Weeks, although he did manage to cast Casimero to the canvas in both the third and the fourth.

But later in the fourth, Casimero did the casting, dumping Ruenroeng into prayer position with a lighting left hook as the two twisted inside. Ruenroeng made it up but in what must rate as the most satisfying moment of his career, Casimero achieved his revenge, untidily but definitively by knockout in the fourth.

This was a good summary of Casimero in those flyweight days. He was brave and direct but sometimes disorganised; fun but a little frothy although he had more than enough though to see off future beltholder Charlie Edwards, among others. Casimero couldn’t hold the poundage long enough to make a serious dent but he is happily locked above his nemesis Amnat Ruenroeng, a real case of the good guy finishing first.

07 – Pongsaklek Wonjongkam

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 17-2-1 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (also known as Phongskorn Wonjongkam or Pongsaklek Sitkanongsak) is the greatest flyweight on this list – but as far as the decade goes, we capture only the last meaningful wins of a once pre-eminent fighter’s career, followed by his shocking loss to Sonny Boy Jaro. Behind that loss, Wonjongkam achieved no other wins of interest and in fact managed to throw in another shocking loss.

In 2010 though, Wonjongkam was holding onto the very last of it and in the ring with the division’s number one contender no less, Koki Kameda. In an impressive veteran’s performance, Wonjongkam won clear, despite the inexplicable drawn card found by judge Predrag Aleksic. He can be seen punishing Kameda for even minor transgressions in positioning, finding him with punches if Kameda moved across him rather than taking a half step back and going across him, forcing Kameda to circle more widely, taking more steps than he would have wished, forgoing the range and movement he appeared to have trained for. Perhaps not unrelated was Pongsaklek’s strong finish. Despite being the more shopworn of the two, he dominated the late action.

A year later, Wonjongkam met the final ranked contender he would defeat in his storied career in the form of Edgar Sosa, a near peer, a man born just two years after him who nevertheless had fought just over half the contests. It showed. Once more Wonjongkam finished the fight the stronger of the two in winning a wide decision victory fighting at a fast pace but he earned that right by out-hitting his fresher opponent throughout the entire contest, by wasting little, by knowing where his opponent was at almost all times. These behaviours are learned rather than taught and it was wonderful to watch a master of them ply his trade.

Not so much that Wonjongkam could be installed at number six though; he does post losses to Jaro, perhaps the least likely true champion since James Douglas, and then Rey Megrino, a professional loser of the type Wonjongkam had been beating up for walking-around-money for years. Still, his sun setting on the era was one of the events of the flyweight decade.

06 – Kosei Tanaka

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 15-0 Ranked For: 11% of the decade

Kosei Tanaka stepped up to 112lbs early in 2018, quickly tested the water versus the overmatched Ronnie Baldonado, then steamed headlong into Sho Kimura and the fight of the flyweight decade.

Writing about Tanaka back in 2015 with his record at just 4-0, I named him the world’s brightest prospect but pointed out that his mobile but aggressive style was a demanding one. “Does he have the engine for it?” was my question. “If he does, will he hold his power late enough for it to matter?”

Tanaka answered the first of these questions gloriously and forever against Kimura. Kimura, at that time the world’s number two contender, is a granite-jawed pressure fighter with the type of insistent pressure that only elite power can dissuade. Tanaka whaled on him early, a glorious left hook to the body his main power shot, but straight punches and dashing hooks were sprinkled liberally throughout. Tanaka has delightful footwork but rather than moving (some short late spells aside) he used it to form a tight, constricting circle while throwing serious punches with a fluidity which would have pleased Roman Gonzalez. Kimura, ceding rounds early, nevertheless threw return punches relentlessly, himself a technician of no small note.

Re-watching them for this article (and for any other reason I can think of) I had the sense that each man’s punch resistance relative to the other’s power meant they could barely hold one another’s punches comfortably enough to retain form and no more; slightly more power on either side would have upset the rhythm of this glorious fight. As it was, each hurt the other but once, Tanaka bending Kimura’s knee briefly in the second, himself stalling under the fuselage that was the height of Kimura in the twelfth and final round.

A lifelong atheist, I occasionally pray for a rematch.

Also, in my 2015 appraisal of Tanaka I claimed that his power would remain a limiting factor – that “I don’t think he will ever be the kind of fighter to be rescued by his power.” One of the great glories of following Tanaka’s career has been watching him emerge as a puncher, not a darkening one, but something more than just stinging, too. He proved this most of all in August of 2019 against number ten contender Jonathan Gonzalez. Gonzalez is far from impossible to stop, the trick has been pulled twice before but it was Tanaka’s relentlessness that impressed me as much as anything else. He determined to apply pressure to a moving opponent and at some point around the sixth his technically sound punches morphed into technically competent meathooks. Gonzalez went from moving to outright fleeing to being lashed to the canvas by a body-attack that is painful to watch.

One suspects the next flyweight decade will belong to Tanaka.

05 – Akira Yaegashi

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 16-5 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Akira Yaegashi wasn’t really a flyweight but a Japanese superfight with Toshiyuki Igarashi was impossible to turn down; Yeagashi won and found himself on an exciting, enriching and impressive flyweight adventure as well as the legitimate flyweight champion of the world. It made his legacy.

Igarashi just didn’t have the power to keep Yaegashi under control, nor the silk to throw fluidly enough on the move to consistently outscore him, so the fight devolved into a brutal and aggressive shoot-out, a fight that Igarashi could not possibly hope to win. Yaegashi was the champion of the world. He beat up a wilted Oscar Blanquet in his first defence and then matched the number three contender, Edgar Sosa, a tough fighter in the best form of his life.

Yaegashi thrashed him. This fight was a little different, the Japanese working to keep one step ahead of his opponent, but generally speaking, he was a shark in the ring, irrefutable upon smelling blood but vulnerable when he ran up against superior firepower. Such was his fate in 2014 when he ran into the irresistible Roman Gonzalez in the absolute prime of his career.

He immediately dipped back down to 108lbs, where he probably belonged, re-emerging briefly at flyweight in 2019 where he suffered another loss. More of Yaegashi, who may prove to be underrated in a pound-for-pound sense, next time, but credibly cracking the top five at 112lbs is no mean feat. It will be his highest divisional ranking.

04 – Brian Viloria

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 12-4 Ranked For: 66% of the decade

It makes me uncomfortable when a fighter’s keynote win is a fighter from the division below moving up, but I make an exception for Brian Viloria in the case of Giovani Segura, who moved up from 108lbs to take him on at 112lbs in 2011. Segura was, at that time, ranked among the top ten fighters in the world pound-for-pound having twice blasted out the great Ivan Calderon and if anyone deserves the nod four pounds north it is him. Viloria though demonstrated how much those four pounds can matter, negotiating Segura’s hard-swung punches to stop him in eight one-sided but exciting rounds.

This fight came as a part of Viloria’s golden 2011/12 run and even more exciting had been Viloria’s nine round destruction of Julio Cesar Miranda five months earlier. Viloria, a powerful puncher, dropped Miranda in seven but the number seven contender came back steaming and an electric battle for territory followed, fought at pace and for the most part on the inside, a fight which Viloria won. Miranda, unable to fight going backwards, was neatly dispatched in the ninth.

Viloria looked near invincible when he was dominating but in fact he was easier to hit than is normal for an elite flyweight. This cost him later in his career when he had slowed down a bit and in truth, despite his lingering in the rankings until 2018, his last truly meaningful win came in late 2012 over the excellent Hernan Marquez. This was a painful memory for me as Hernan was one of my favourites and Viloria soundly thrashed him around the ring, dropping him in the first and fifth before stopping him in the tenth. Viloria was a fighter of real talent on offence, but a certain vulnerability meant he was always to come up short against the division’s true elite.

03 – Moruti Mthalane

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 14-0 Ranked For: 95% of the decade

South African Moruti Mthalane cracked the Ring Magazine rankings back in 2008 behind his defeat of the formerly ranked Australian Hussein Hussein. Today, TBRB ranks him at number two and although he was removed for six months for inactivity in 2013, he has spent 95% of the decade past operating as a ranked flyweight. This is astonishing.

And yet, rather like Omar Narvaez at 115lbs, although the overall career-arc is impressive, the detail feels underwhelming. In thirteen years hunting straps Mthalane has met so few Ring/TBRB ranked contenders it can be painted a deliberate strategy. In fact, Mthalane never met a fighter ranked higher than nine, which is a travesty.

Almost despite himself though, Mthalane built a solid resume in taking on lowly or unranked fighters who would reach the top of this division or who had previously made their mark. Such victories bookend his decade.

In September 2010 Mthalane posted a knockout over the budding (but ranked) flyweight Zolani Tete. Tete was unbeaten at 13-0, but Mthalane just rounded him up with an insidious pressure that must be awful for an inexperienced fighter to face, before dispatching him in the fifth. Six months later he pulled an almost identical trick against none other than John Riel Casimero.  Nearly ten years later Mthalane stopped former champion Akira Yaegashi in nine. Three different seek-and-destroy missions played out against three different opponents with ten years separating the first and the last; it is impressive stuff.

Mthalane’s legacy problem is that in between, he did so little of note, Muhammad Waseem and Masayuki Kuroda his best performances in the interim, but his longevity and his undefeated status for the decade impresses so much he is rendered at #3. That he made a victim of Yaegashi last year gets him over that line.

02 – Juan Francsico Estrada

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 28-3 Ranked For: 31% of the decade

Juan Francisco Estrada emerged from 108lbs with the brakes off, matching the world’s number one contender Brian Viloria in June of 2013 in an immediate and violent assault on the division.

Clearly unintimidated, Estrada stepped into Viloria’s wheel-house and out-fought him there, matching his armaments, and out-hitting him. It was the seventh when the divisional number one finally broke before him and the fight was a foregone conclusion from that point. Estrada did not drop another round on my scorecard.

Variety was the key for Estrada in this fight. He eschewed the jab in favour of leading with right hands, left hooks, and especially uppercuts, sometimes stepping in with the front foot and bringing up an “L” while face to face with his prestigious foe. It was a risky strategy and Estrada suffered for it in the sixth, but as he continued to mix leads at speed regardless of cost, Viloria found himself more and more on the end of punches he was not prepared to counter. Once the pre-counter was beaten out of him he fought on without real hope.

Rocketed to the very top of the division, Estrada certainly did no hiding meeting ranked contenders Milan Melindo and Giovani Segura (by then an established flyweight) and the sliding Hernan Marquez. Of these, his performance against the unbeaten Melindo most impressed me. His left, as always, weaved magic, a combination of push jabs, uppercuts, hooks, especially to the body and of course feints; but it seemed that the right spoke more forcefully than it had until this match, too. A slingy, overhand punch was perhaps the most damaging and persistent he threw, and a menacing right uppercut, though less frequent, partnered it.

A preference for the brutal, heart-rending knockout he scored against Marquez is valid but either way, it’s a resume and execution worthy of the number one spot. Sadly, he once again has to make do with number two, which is the same position he landed at 115lbs. An old adversary edged him out.

01 – Roman Gonzalez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 25-2 Ranked For: 29% of the decade

Juan Francisco Estrada may have had the best uppercut/power-punch combination of the flyweight decade, but there were no other two-pieces, combinations or flurries of any designation where any flyweight could rival Roman Gonzalez. He is a superb puncher and perhaps the best composite puncher in the division’s entire history. His coming to flyweight was a sure reckoning.

Gonzalez had probed the division for years but arrived in earnest in 2013 against no-less a figure than Francisco Rodriguez, a component rather than a great fighter, but one who is always in great fights. Rodriguez’s Mexican approach could not stand Gonzalez though, who turned him away in seven. One year later he stood in the ring with Akira Yaegashi, the flyweight world champion.  Yaegashi had until this day demonstrated a heart of oak and elite punch-resistance but he never recovered from what Gonzalez fed him.

No fighter is more comfortable at all distances than Gonzalez and he gave a masterclass in seek and destroy when Yaegashi tried to move. Yaegashi tried to check his man’s momentum with brave forays but over and again he was out-hit, out-thought. Never was the right hand better; Gonzalez threw it in all shapes and at all ranges and at many different carefully selected targets. The glove eventually became a living feint, something that made Yaegashi flinch away in uncertainty, even as Gonzalez began to wind up the left. The referee eventually intervened after the second knockdown of the fight in the ninth round, and a new champion was birthed.

Gonzalez did good business in the top five as king, without making his claim as one of the great ones.  He staged four defences, chief among them Edgar Sosa and Brian Viloria ranked four, and McWilliams Arroyo ranked seven. He brooked no resistance, rolling over Sosa in two, outfighting a brave Brian Viloria who managed to survive for nine rounds, before finally going the distance with Arroyo. This last is the most fascinating fight of these three in that Arroyo found a way to survive.  Gonzalez ceded the opening rounds, as he often did against bigger men, but, like Joe Louis, like Ray Robinson, once he had found you, he had found you for all time. Gonzalez decoding how a man below 112lbs moves is the same as his winning the fight, going on all available evidence.

Arroyo covered up, staged resistances but he was outhit for the third through to the twelfth by four and five punch combinations, narrow, webbed punches within which net Gonzalez responded to movement with the same sensitivity as a spider detecting prey. He took the closest range against Arroyo, a good fighter, and beat him up. This is Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez distilled.

It is also the last of him as a great fighter. He remains, to this day, a good one but his final fight at 112lbs was his last where he was able to work with fighters who did not hold over him a prohibitive size advantage. When he departed the division for the richer purses at 115lbs he also broke the lineage of the longest lineal title in the world, dating back to Miguel Canto and the 1970s. It was a prestigious crown to abandon.

You sense it would have come about either way though. Roman Gonzalez could be fighting at the weight still and it is unlikely they would have found a man to defeat him – whenever he departed the division he would have taken the title with him.

The uncontested number one decadal flyweight.

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light-Heavyweight

Super-Middleweight

Middleweight

Light-Middleweight

Welterweight

Light-Welterweight

Lightweight

Super-Featherweight

Featherweight

Super-Bantamweight

Bantamweight

Super-Flyweight

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In Defense of Julie Lederman

Ted Sares

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In-Defense-of-Julie-Lederman

Some years ago, Matt Podgorski (a former boxing official) came up with a formula for evaluating the performance of boxing judges worldwide by determining the percentage of instances his or her scores were consistent with the other two judges working the same fights. He called it the Pod Index. It was a rare effort to quasi-quantify the work of boxing judges. “Boxing and MMA judges are often evaluated based on whether or not they have had a controversial decision. This is a poor way to assign and regard professional judges,” said Podgorski in an interview with former RingTV editor Michael Rosenthal.

Matt’s Disclaimer: “We are not claiming that judges with low Pod Index scores are bad judges. The Pod Index is simply a measurement of round by round variation compared to other judges.”

Julie Lederman placed very high in Podgorski’s study. In fact, only one  veteran judge — Canada’s Benoit Roussel — had a better score.

For more information about the Pod Index, see http://theboxingtribune.com/2014/12/19/the-pod-index-a-step-in-the-right-direction/

Confirmation Bias

Some of this writer’s favorite judges, in addition to Lederman, are Steve Weisfeld, Glen Feldman, Dave Moretti, Glenn Trowbridge, Joe Pasquale, Max DeLuca, Hubert Earle, Benoit Roussel, Burt Clements, Rocky Young, Joel Scobie, Tom Shreck, Don Trella, William Lerch, Pinit Prayadsab, and Raúl Caiz, Jr. All of them have been maligned at one time or another.

Being a judge is a thankless endeavor and attention is mostly received when something controversial happens. Once a judgment is made about a bad job, that judgment influences future perceptions. This is known as “confirmation bias.”

Thus, Julie Lederman’s highly questionable scoring in the Loma-Lopez fight, though it didn’t change the result, will most certainly label her a bad judge, tarnishing her reputation despite all of the fine work she has done in the past. Moreover, it’s now fashionable to “pile on” and castigate her with a nasty Bob Arum leading the charge.

“…what kind of fight was she watching,…these judges are the craziest…I would advise any fighter I would have to ask the commission not to appoint her…” — Arum

This wasn’t the first time that Arum criticized Julie. Back in 2014, Tim Bradley and Diego Gabriel Chaves fought to a draw. Lederman scored the fight 116-112 in favor of Chaves. Arum had this to say: “She should never be allowed to work in Nevada again….Her scorecard for Chaves is an absolute disgrace …[She was appointed] because they let these [expletive] Showtime guys put a fight on the same night that we did it. They don’t have enough judges. They don’t have enough referees. They want to accommodate both parties. Why? Because they’ll do anything the [expletive] MGM asks them to do.”

“It’s easy to criticize boxing judges. But it’s not that easy to have a sound basis for the criticism. One needs to see the fight the judge saw to be in the position to rightly criticize. Critics should temper criticisms in light of the situations boxing judges are in when judging fights. And judges should likewise understand criticisms from the boxing public, however baseless these may seem.”  — Epifanio M. Almeda

Lederman, 52, is in her 24th year as a professional boxing judge. Her assignments have taken her to eight foreign countries and Puerto Rico. And she has been a fixture this year at the MGM Bubble, working 18 fights across seven shows without incident prior to this past Saturday night.

This, of course, does not excuse Julie’s scoring on Saturday (119-109 for Teofimo Lopez), but it needs to be kept in mind that she has been ranked high over the years and does not have in her past work a pattern of poor judging such as seemed to exist, for example, in Texas and which drew the ire of Paulie Malignaggi.

When she first hit the scene, cries of nepotism and politics accompanied her, but those complaints quickly evaporated. Whether she can bounce back from this controversy remains to be seen. This writer hopes she can.

Photo: Julie Lederman and her father are flanked by Henry Hascup, President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and Aaron Davis, former President of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board

Ted Sares can be reached on Facebook or at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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“—C’mon!” (from the pen of Springs Toledo)

Springs Toledo

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-C'mon

“—C’mon!” said Teofimo Lopez with two seconds left in the 12th round. It was a Brooklyn thing to say on a Brooklyn-type Saturday night, and Lopez timed it well. He’d just crashed two hooks at either side of Vasiliy Lomachenko’s head and ended their saga as it began—with sharp words.

“My son will destroy Lomachenko,” Lopez’s father told EsNews in August 2017. Three months later Lopez was in the gym mimicking his style. “Same side always,” he said as he tapped the bag and dipped to his right. “Nuthin’ different.” “Lomachenko is a diva,” he said last week. “I don’t like him … I’m the type of person, I say something I mean it. If you have a problem with it, come see me.” Lomachenko came to see him all right, and both brought their fathers as if the whole thing was a schoolyard scrap.

Lomachenko’s father is a silent sage. His modern training techniques are part of the “performance revolution” that has transformed every sport, including the sport that’s barely a sport, and not necessarily for the better. Papa Chenko’s futurama theories seem at once scientific and idiosyncratic. Pundits who never heard of Freddie Brown think they’re next-level stuff. There’s Lomachenko holding his breath under water to build lung strength; there he is touching that board with blinking lights to improve hand-eye coordination. When Lomachenko was 9, his father went so far as to enroll him in a Ukrainian folk dance school to expose him to hobak, hutsulka, and the kolomiyka, and you can see it in all the hopping and side-stepping he does around the ring at 32.

Papa Lopez is anything but silent, though he too is a sage—a naysaying sage with street instincts picked up during a few round trips through hell. He takes no one’s word for anything and if he takes a break from a tirade and asks a question, it has about as much tact as a shiv. When Lomachenko is holding his breath in the pool is someone else there too, denting his rib cage with hooks? Those lights blinking on the screen, do they feint? And dancing school? Dancing school? Brooklyn itself rolls its collective eyes.

Papa Lopez laughs without mirth at the consensus opinion, at the so-called experts. But he couldn’t laugh off the indisputable fact that Lomachenko has been knocking off a parade of world-class fighters. So he plopped down in front of YouTube to see for himself what was happening.

And what did he see?

He saw that the so-called Matrix style is a series of tricks; that Lomachenko is pulling fast ones on the gullible in the opposite corner and in press row. He saw opponents cooperating with him as he gauged their strengths and weaknesses in the first round or two and measured the distance between his glove and their chin. He saw them mesmerized by nothing-shots—“pitty pats,” he called them, “patty-cakes,” and wondered if it would have been easier or harder, given the language barrier, if Lomachenko just came out and asked them to throw something so he can find the best route around it to sock them in the chops.

Papa Lopez also saw that Lomachenko is preoccupied with not getting hurt; that he habitually slips, dips, and veers off to his right against the conventional stance. Teofimo, 23, saw the same thing. They both know why he prefers that direction: it’s the safest route.

His offense, which has two prongs and lots of frills, doesn’t contradict his preoccupation. Lomachenko wants to draw out his opponents to counter them. He stands a half-step off the perimeter where they can’t quite reach him and he can’t reach them. Then he baits them. If they take the bait, he hops in with a jab and then hops back out of reach. He’s making calculations, looking for patterns, and once he finds them he exploits them with minimal risk to himself because, like Floyd Mayweather, he already has a pretty good idea of what they’re going to throw. When is he most aggressive? When his opponent is least aggressive—out of position or covering up. He isn’t comfortable with uncalculated risks. Like Floyd, he wants control; and that only happens with an opponent’s cooperation.

Stanley Crouch, the late cultural critic and Brooklynite who was at least as contentious as Papa Lopez, understood the set-up. “What a boxer ideally wants to do is turn the opponent into an assistant in his own ass-whipping,” he said. “That’s really what you want the other guy to do—to assist you in whipping his ass.”

Lomachenko built a reputation on willing assistants.

And defeating him was easier than anyone anticipated. The fighter of the future bowed to all-American unruliness and old-fashioned fundamentals.

Old School’s comeback Saturday night was long, long overdue. Lopez used his strength and length to draw an invisible border with a warning that said “this far and no farther.” Then he enforced it. Instead of letting Lomachenko freely angle around him like he’s some stiff at the prom, he angled with him and threw punches. When Lomachenko slipped and sallied past his invisible border, he adjusted his distance and sent the dogs out. He stopped his momentum. He never let him take control. He never cooperated.

By the 8th round, Lomachenko realized that he had no chance to win unless he let go of his preoccupation with defense. He had to “sell out,” as Andre Ward said, by getting closer and sallying in when it wasn’t safe. Lomachenko won the 8th round—the first of only three that two judges scored his way—but it didn’t matter. His mouth had dropped open as if he was getting ready to admit futurama’s failure. “I heard him huffing and puffing and I knew I had him,” said Lopez.

The 12th round reminds us that Old School remains the gold standard in the sport that’s barely a sport. When Papa Lopez had a nervous moment in the corner and urged caution, Lopez refused. “I’m a fighter, I can’t give him that,” he said, as if to remind us that Old School is more than dust, that it’s a disposition.

Teofimo Lopez now stands in a succession of lightweight kings whose dispositions were the impetus behind achievements that make this succession very possibly the most majestic of them all: Joe Gans. Benny Leonard. Tony Canzoneri. Barney Ross. Henry Armstrong. Ike Williams. Carlos Ortiz. Roberto Duran. Julio Cesar Chavez. Pernell Whitaker.

Floyd Mayweather is in that succession too, but the business model that guided his career was rebuked Saturday night. Lopez pointed to the past, polished it up, and declared its superiority. “We’re bringing back what the Old School was. You fight the best and push on it. I’m not here to pick and choose who I want to fight because I want to defend my title and keep that 0,” he said and shook his head. “No. Nah!”

The lightweight king now beckons chief rivals Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, and Gervonta Davis to disavow the business model and take up the red flag. He looks north to Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez’s battle for the jr. welterweight crown and beckons either of them—or both.

 “—C’mon!”

 

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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