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Former HBO Sports Exec Kery Davis Thriving at Howard University

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Kery Davis

It was, in the words of the immortal baseball philosopher Yogi Berra, like déjà vu all over again for Kery Davis, the former senior vice president of HBO Sports. There the former Dartmouth College point guard was, back in Las Vegas where he had been a key figure in so many memorable boxing matches, enjoying what some would consider the intercollegiate equivalent of Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson, except that this new sense of exultation was not happening at ringside in an opulent casino-hotel on the neon-lit Strip. It was taking place in the press box at Sam Boyd Stadium, where Davis was watching the Howard University Bison shock the Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels, 43-40, in the most astounding upset in college football history, at least in terms of a point spread. The oddsmakers with the Vegas sports books had pegged the Bison as 45-point, no-chance underdogs, making the final result not so much Douglas over Tyson as, say, Don Knotts over Tyson.

Except that this miracle might not have as miraculous as it must have appeared at first glance. When Davis officially took over as athletic director at Howard on Sept. 9, 2015, the nation’s most academically prestigious but sports-deficient historically black college had a football program that wasn’t merely temporarily down. It was down and indisputably out, if not the most inept team in what is now known as the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division 1-AA), then certainly in the conversation. The first game Davis attended in his new role, three days after his hiring became official, was Howard’s 76-0 loss at Boston College. In its opening game a week earlier, sans Davis, the Bison had taken a 49-0 whipping at Appalachian State.

“We are a long way from being competitive with a team like Boston College,” a stunned Davis said then about what had to feel like a cold slap of reality. “We play in a conference (the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) where we think we can be competitive even this year. Our goal is to one day compete with the BCs and Notre Dames, but that’s a very difficult thing to achieve in one or two years on the football field. You can do it a lot quicker in some other sports.”

Davis’ tepid enthusiasm for the remainder of that 2015 season proved to be unjustified. The Bison finished 1-10, and they followed that with a 2-9 campaign in 2016, their 12th non-winning season in 15 years. That prompted Davis to dismiss fifth-year head coach Gary “Flea” Harrell, a former star Howard wide receiver who had played a key role with the school’s undefeated 1993 MEAC championship team. Davis set about identifying someone who could lead Howard, which had won mythical black national championships in 1997 and 1998, back to prominence and he determined that that person was Mike London, then the associate head coach at the University of Maryland. London had enjoyed success at both Richmond University, which he had guided to a FCS national championship in 2008, and at the University of Virginia, where he was named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coach of the Year in 2011. London has proven to be somewhat of a Magic Mike, at least if last weekend’s historic upset is any indication.

“Our win over UNLV was exhilarating and it was a huge shot of adrenalin for our program, but I had already seen the culture change,” Davis said. “We had done a number of things we needed to do in order to compete. It’s a process. Win or lose that game, I knew we were no longer the Howard that lost 76-0 to Boston College.

“Might we still have a couple of Saturdays like that? Yeah, we might. We only have 57 (football) scholarships as opposed to 85 for the UNLVs of this world. The numbers sometimes catch up to you. But in terms of our preparedness, we are now able to bring some resources to bear that will allow us a chance to compete at that level.”

Howard’s stunner over UNLV is important for reasons that transcend football. One of the most significant victories since the sport was first played at the Washington, D.C., school in 1893 came the day before Davis’ 58th birthday, and he shared the win in the company of his wife, Samantha, son Jourdan and daughter Lindsay. That this cornucopia of happy circumstances happened in Las Vegas, a city Davis had often visited and enjoyed during his 17 years at HBO, which began with his stint as director of programming and business affairs in 1997 and continued after he was promoted to senior vice president in 2000, was a homecoming of sorts, literally as well as figuratively as Jourdan is now the manager of a Vegas nightclub.

“My oldest daughter, Lindsay, is an actress who lives in L.A.,” Davis noted. “Samantha and the two kids we have together all were in Vegas and they went to the game. The plan was for me, my wife and the kids to all go out to dinner after the game. We won, and it was terrific. We reflected on how many times we had come to Vegas for big fights and how this felt as rewarding, if not more so, than any event I ever attended in Vegas.”

But wait, things would get even better as the evening wore on.

“As fate would have it, after dinner we went to the nightclub that my son manages and who do we see? Floyd Mayweather!” Davis continued. “We spent the rest of the night with Floyd at his table. One of the things he said to me was, `You were the first person at HBO who really believed in me and thought I could do the things that were necessary to become a pay-per-view star.’ I told him, `I did think you could become a pay-per-view star, but I never thought you’d make $300 million fighting a guy (Conor McGregor) who was 0-0.’

“I know Floyd likes to gamble so I said, `Can you imagine how you would have cleaned up had you placed a big bet on Howard?’ We had a good laugh over that.”

Davis’ path to Howard came through boxing, but it was a circuitous route that, upon review, is nearly as surprising as the Bison’s conquest of UNLV. Life deals the hand you play, and it was mostly happenstance that brought Davis, then a first-year law student, to the fight game in which he eventually became a major player.

“I was a boxing fan, the way most average boxing fans are,” Davis explained. “I wasn’t what you’d call a boxing geek. I couldn’t name the top 15 guys in the featherweight division off the top of my head or anything like that.

“But, you know, things happen. My first job in law school was working for a firm that represented Madison Square Garden, which was then suing Bob Arum and Don King for antitrust violations, among other things. As an assignment, they gave me a stack of three or four recent years of The Ring magazines. I was instructed – and remember, I was a first-year law student without a lot of legal skills then – to go through each issue thoroughly to identify every champion and significant fighter and align them with their promotional companies. So, for a while, I was a boxing geek. That was a pretty unique experience.”

Whether that first intense immersion into boxing proved useful when Davis, by then a practicing attorney, was interviewed at HBO by the man he eventually would succeed, Lou DiBella, is a matter of conjecture. What Davis is fairly certain of is that his time spent as a point guard for Dartmouth, where his role was to serve as a facilitator for his Big Green teammates on the basketball court, was a selling point.

“I talked a lot about the attributes of being a point guard, both when I was at HBO and here at Howard, too,” he said. “I can remember a couple of times saying to Ross (Greenburg, then president of HBO Sports) and Mark (Taffet, another former HBO Sports executive), `Hey, I was a point guard. I have no problem putting my ego to the side and doing what’s best for the team.’ I tried to bring the same attitude to Howard.”

Although it was Davis who first approached London about taking a pay cut to assume the reins of the Howard football program, Davis gives much of the credit for the hire to Howard president Wayne A. Frederick, of whom he says, “Sometimes my job is just to get him the ball. He’s young, dynamic, extremely intelligent and intuitive. Getting Mike London was a big coup on our part. Was it me who reached out to him at the beginning? Yes. But at the end of the day I had a president who I knew, if I could get both of them in the same room, we had a chance to close the deal.”

“Closing the deal” was a lot easier in the halcyon days at HBO when money was seldom an issue, unlike the tight budget Davis has to work with at Howard, where he has to find creative ways to make every sports-related dollar count. In that horrid 2015 football season that served as Davis’ introduction to his new and challenging role as a college athletic director, the Bison played just three home games in William H. Greene Stadium and averaged a paltry 3,465 spectators, and just 1,056 lonely souls for their sole victory, over Savannah State.

“When I first started (as senior vice president) at HBO after Lou left, the boxing budget was pretty substantial – certainly greater than any of the other premium networks,” Davis said. “Sometimes we solved problems simply by throwing money at them. If a guy came in and complained enough, be it Bob Arum or Don King or the Duvas, fine, go away, here’s an extra quarter-million dollars. But during my last few years there, the budgets were a lot different. We had to be much more cost-effective, if you will. The days at throwing more dollars at a problem to make it go away had ceased. We had to be more frugal.

“You have to know what your priorities are. At some point it became more important to do one or two big events and try to save money on other fights. It’s like that here at Howard; we have to make choices as to where to invest the limited resources that we have. The very first game I attended as AD was that 76-0 loss to Boston College. I sat there thinking, `OK, maybe this is a bigger uphill climb than I thought.’”

The current edition of the Bison features a “name” player  upon which further momentum can be gained, freshman quarterback Caylin Newton, younger brother of Carolina Panthers quarterback and 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. Newton accounted for 330 yards and three touchdowns to spark the stunner over UNLV. His presence on campus reminds Davis of the time when he regularly was involved in the staging of matches involving such superstars as Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., Lennox Lewis and Bernard Hopkins, as well as two of the last high-visibility fighters he signed to multifight deals with HBO, Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

“When Pacquiao and Mayweather took place (on May 2, 2015) I had already left HBO,” Davis said. “Floyd’s people invited me to the fight, which I thought was very nice. I went, and I did have a nostalgic feeling for two guys who I basically had been with for the majority of their careers.”

As a still-avid fight fan, Davis said he is very interested in the Sept. 16 megafight between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez, although his attention will be somewhat divided. Howard is playing a road game at Richmond that afternoon, another contest in which the Bison figure to be significant underdogs.

“I had a part in signing Canelo and GGG to their deals with HBO,” Davis recalled. “GGG was probably the last multifight agreement that I did for HBO. I have been there with both guys, although I don’t have the same long relationship with them that I had with Manny and Floyd. But it’s a fight I’ll appreciate as a fan. It’s a great one for boxing, in what has been a pretty good year for the sport.”

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Artem Dalakian, Sunny Edwards, and the Most Storied Title in Boxing

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When the mighty Roman Gonzalez departed the 112lb division in 2016 he vacated the title and broke the longest remaining lineage in the sport. In a moment of quiet heartbreak for the boxing aficionado, the final direct link with boxing’s glorious past was cut forever.

That lineage had begun back in 1975 with perhaps the greatest flyweight champion, Miguel Canto.  Canto cleaned house that year, shading the wonderful Betulio Gonzalez and the evergreen Shoji Oguma, part of a calendar year that saw him go 6-0 and establish his absolute pre-eminence in the deepest of flyweight divisions. In 1979, old in the face, Canto was out-worked and even in some ramshackle way out-jabbed by a swarming, aggressive Korean named Chan Hee Park. Park was a good fighter, Shoji Oguma lay in wait to send him tumbling with counter-rights, taking his turn in an impressive second tour. In 1981, the new generation asserted itself in the form of Antonio Avelar.  Avelar seemed, briefly, to be the real deal but he was unseated by a murderous punching Colombian, Prudencio Cardona, who inflicted upon Avelar the most violent knockout in flyweight history.

This heralded the advent of a series of caretaker champions, good fighters, all, but no great ones as the early eighties evaporated while the hot-potato flyweight championship passed from Fredy Castillo to Eleoncio Mercedes to Charlie Magri and others, none of them holding it for more than a matter of months. When the mighty Sot Chitalada wrestled it from the last caretaker champion in 1984, Canto finally had a descendent who could be named a peer. In two spells, Chitalada held the title into the 1990s whereupon it was ripped from him by the Thai Maungchai Kittikasem who then dropped it to an early emergent of the Soviet and former Soviet schools in Yuri Arbachakov.  Arbachakov was the first flyweight whose legacy was to suffer at the hands of the ABC title-belt madness, his record-breaking spell as champion marred by matches with WBC-nominated journeymen. Despite his lengthy title reign, Yuri managed to fight men who were held to belong in the top ten just twice as champion.

Less than a year after the lineal title and Arbakachov were parted, it would be wrapped around the waist of a youngster named Manny Pacquiao, who had crushed Chatchai Sasakul in eight who had in turn outpointed Arbachakov. From the madness of the alphabet soup to the emergence of one of the greatest fighters of our time, the story of the flyweight lineal championship is the story of modern boxing untrampled by titular uncertainty. The history of the championship, of the divisional king, can be traced back to a time when Muhammad Ali ruled the world and so a fistic tendril connects Ali, a hero to his people, to Pacquiao, a hero to his. Pacquiao nearly ruined it all though.  Manny missed weight for his 1999 match with Boonsai Sangsurat and had he won that fight, the title would have been vacated as he departed the weight forever, but fortunately, a weight-drained mess, he was crushed in three rounds.

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam then, when he lifted the title in 2001, became the latest great to trace his lineage back to Canto. Wonjongkam’s reign was as modern as can be imagined, dictated thoroughly by ABCs, fought almost exclusively in his backyard, and despite amassing an astonishing twenty title defences in two spells as king, his win resume underwhelms. A list of the worst ever lineal title challengers would draw heavily from Wonjongkam’s opposition.

Wonjongkam made way for Sonny Boy Jaro of The Philippines who made way for Toshiyuki Igarashi and Akira Yaegashi, both of Japan, underlining what has always been the most international of championships. And finally, at the end of the longest road in modern boxing, the title was lain at the feet of a great fighter from Nicaragua, the wonderful Roman Gonzalez.

Roman Gonzalez was my favourite fighters for years, I watched his boxing obsessively. More than a decade ago, I wrote an article predicting his eventual enshrinement as a pound-for-pound number one and his likely vanquishment by a southpaw, even going so far as to predict this would occur up at 115lbs, all of which came true. But it cut me when he stepped aside in 2016, the lineage that had begun with Canto destroyed, a lineage that had run through four different abdications and coronations at 160lbs, that ran all the way back to the last golden age of the flyweight division.

From the ashes, finally, a phoenix menaces. Far from stipulated, certainly not sure, but stirring. On Saturday night, Ukrainian Artem Dalakian (pictured) came to London to meet David Jimenez on the undercard of the Artur Beterbiev-Anthony Yarde fight. Dalakian-Jimenez is one of those rare and wonderful fights British and American fans are sometimes treated to, elite combat athletes who struggle to secure rewarding purses fighting low on a card which a just sport might see them headline. Jimenez, the challenger for Dalakian’s strap, refutes befuddlement with aggression, boxable but brutal, left floundering early in the biggest fight of his career against Ricardo Sandoval only to button up and fire forwards, hard-scrabbling enough rounds to conquer his more cultured foe. This would be his approach, too, against Dalakian. Dalakian is a fighter of no small culture whose activity suffered during those COVID months but with a legacy that stretches back to the last generation of top flyweights and a victory over Brian Viloria. Having boxed just twenty rounds in three years he was now bringing an unfortunate mix of rust and, at thirty-five years old, age.

Nevertheless, for me he dominated Jimenez. The younger man was reasonably quick-handed and tried to remain ambitious in his rushes, but Dalakian was never less than the cleaner puncher and rested on a steeper bank of experience that saw him nullify his more aggressive foe inside while consistently out-scoring him outside. It was a thoroughly impressive performance that confirmed Dalakian’s remaining superiority over most of the rest of the division. Jimenez, in just his thirteenth fight, had established himself firmly in the divisional top five and likely has a future at 112lbs if he wants it. This was a crossroads fight only in the sense that it tested the last generation with the new, and the new was found wanting.

This victory, a unanimous decision over twelve, was a significant one for Dalakian, however. For me, it establishes him as the number one flyweight in the world but at worst he is the number two. The man with whom he shares the top table is one Sunny Edwards, a London boy and very much the division’s coming man. Edwards has boxed nearly as many contests in the upper echelons of the division as Dalakian, and Dalakian’s victory over Viloria aside, Edwards probably has the most meaningful victory of the two having defeated the ageing Moruti Mthalane in early 2021. The recency of his important victories is the source of the tension concerning the number one divisional flyweight currently.

Sunny

Sunny Edwards

The hope is the two will settle this in the ring.

While it is not unusual for a fighter to arrive from foreign shores and never be seen in a British ring again, it is more often the case that they arrive with targeted opposition when they are boxing at title level, and from Dick Tiger to Zolani Tete, Britain welcomes foreign winners with open arms. It is likely that Dalakian has been brought to Britain to tease a fight with the only man in the division that might be seen as his better and in the only fight either man could hope to box and be similarly enriched. Some promotional tensions exist, but what would be unusual money for a flyweight contest might tip the scales.

And if they settle it in the ring, as the number one and number two flyweight contenders, they will start a new lineage, a new passage of the flyweight title. More than that, the fight would be a fascinating and evenly matched contest between Dalakian, a technician who will likely be forced to box with pressure as a result of his physical limitations and Edwards, a quick-footed slickster who will nevertheless have to commit to outworking maybe the only fighter in the division with superior straight punches. That is not to say that Mexican Julio Cesar Martinez will be excluded – clearly the division’s number three, he may yet have a say.

But if a new and meaningful lineage is to begin it is Dalakian and Edwards, the two best flyweights on the planet, who must seed it.

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Emanuel Navarrete Aims to Become Champion in a Third Weight Class on Friday

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Champion in both the super bantamweight and featherweight categories, the strong Mexican puncher Emanuel Navarrete will try to be champion at 130 pounds on Friday, February 3, when he faces Australian Liam Wilson at the Desert Diamond Arena in the city of Glendale, Arizona. ESPN will be broadcasting the fight.

For Navarrete (36-1, 30 KOs), who has a 31-fight winning streak since his one and only setback in July 2012, the duel with Wilson will be his debut into the super featherweight division.

Navarrete, 28 years old and born in San Juan Zitlaltepec, defeated his countryman Eduardo Báez with a sixth-round knockout last July in San Diego, California, where the winner made his third successful defense of the WBO featherweight title.

Subsequently, Navarrete decided to seek the WBO championship at 130 pounds which had been vacated after the talented American southpaw Shakur Stevenson (19-0, 9 KOs) was unable to make weight on the scale before unanimously defeating Brazilian Robson Conceicao on September 23rd in New Jersey.

The WBO accepted Navarrete’s request to fight for the vacant title and opened the doors to fellow Aztec Oscar Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs), ranked second by the WBO and third by the WBC.

But in December, Valdez’s camp announced that he was withdrawing from the fight after undergoing a medical evaluation. Australian Liam Wilson (11-1, 7 KOs), ranked third by the WBO, was designated to take Valdez’s place.

A confident Navarrete stated: “This is my opportunity to become a three-division world champion. I am going for that crown. Liam Wilson is a good fighter, but this is my moment, and everyone will see a much more complete ‘Vaquero’ Navarrete that has a lot of thirst for victory. My ideal weight is 130 pounds, and that will be demonstrated on February 3rd when I become world champion for Mexico and San Juan Zitlaltepec. Wilson will not get in the way of my dream.”

Navarrete began his string of 31 wins after losing in four rounds against his compatriot Daniel Argueta on July 26, 2012, at the José Cuervo Hall in the finals of the XVIII Gold Belt Tournament. Despite the setback, Navarrete was the one declared champion of the contest, as Argueta failed to show up for the mandatory weigh-in.

Although he is on the verge of conquering his third championship in a third weight division, Navarrete has not defined what his immediate steps will be.

“Let’s see how things evolve,” Navarrete said. “We will see how I feel (at 130 pounds), and then make the right decision. It all depends on how I perform in February and analyze the result. How my body assimilates to the new weight class and things like that.”

Likewise, Navarrete confirmed that he was having difficulty making 126 pounds and that during his career in both the super bantamweight and featherweight divisions he had tried to unify the titles with the other champions without success.

“You know that I have been seeking unification fights in other weight classes,” stated Navarrete. “That is what I want, and what I’m looking for. I hope I can unify in this weight class (130 pounds). But first I hope to win against Wilson, and then we will decide.”

When analyzing his possibilities in the super featherweight division, Navarrete said that he has a tall stature which can benefit him. In the same sense, he considered that now at 130 pounds he will not have to wear himself out to make weight so he will be strong.

Wilson, 26 years old, won the vacant WBO International belt against Argentine Adrián Rueda (37-2, 32 KOs) on June 29th of last year in Brisbane, Australia. Wilson’s lone loss came from Filipino southpaw Joe Noynai (20-3-2, 8 KOs), who knocked him down once in the 1st round, twice in the 4th round, and again in the fifth round on July 7, 2021, in Newcastle, Australia, before referee Phil Austin stopped the lopsided match.

Wilson, however, got even eight months later in a rematch where he chloroformed Rueda in the second round and regained the WBO Asia-Pacific title.

For his upcoming fight, Wilson has set up a seven-week training camp in Washington DC at Headbangers Boxing Gym where Isaac Dogboe trains. Dogboe has fought Navarrete twice and can hopefully provide some valuable insight. “I’m only going off YouTube footage, so to get the advice off Isaac and his trainer over here, they’ve been in the corner against him, they’ve seen him in person, up close, so I have to take their advice onboard,” Wilson added.

Wilson is confident going into this fight, even though he has less professional experience. “He’s been in these fights so many times before. This is my first 12-rounder,” Wilson said. “In a sense, he has every reason to overlook me – I’ve only been in 10 rounders, he’s been 12 rounds multiple times, he’s a two-division world champion and for him it’s just another fight, for me it’s what I’ve dreamed of. I think I’ll be the bigger, stronger fighter. I believe I’ll be the biggest puncher he’s fought.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Álvarez in Spanish.

Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Garcia Promotions’ Event in San Bernardino was a Showcase for Saul Rodriguez

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SAN BERNARDINO-Saul “Neno” Rodriguez, out of action for nearly three years, returned to the prize ring on Saturday in San Bernardino at the Club Event Center in a Garcia Promotions event. San Bernardino is in the Inland Empire which is two counties just east of Los Angeles.

Riverside’s Rodriguez (24-1-1) weighed much more than the designated weight and his match with Mexico’s Juan Meza Angulo was demoted to an exhibition because of the weight disparity. Despite wearing head gear, the popular Riverside fighter was able to stop Angulo (6-1) in his first fight since February 28, 2020.

Though Rodriguez looked slightly over-weight as a super lightweight, it didn’t dampen his sharp punching skills. He immediately caught Meza with a well-timed overhand right. Luckily, Rodriguez didn’t put muscle on it. The fight proceeded.

Because of inactivity, Rodriguez seemed to relish getting back to work. He moved around and tried different combinations. Everything seemed to be working in his favor. But Meza countered a left by Rodriguez with a strong right. It proved the popular Riverside fighter needs work on bringing back his left quickly.

After Meza connected things got serious.

Rodriguez immediately opened the third round at a quicker tempo and seemed intent on changing from a wait-and-see attitude to one of bad intentions. Meza didn’t notice the change and looked to catch Rodriguez with a combo and instead was caught with a monster counter-right. Down went Meza with a thud. The fight was stopped.

Fans, many of them wearing Team Neno t-shirts, were deliriously happy to see Rodriguez back in action.

In the co-main event, San Bernardino’s Leo Ruiz clashed with granite-chinned Cameron Krael.

Ruiz (11-0, 7 KOs) unloaded horrific bombs on Krael (19-25-3) who calmly kept his gloves covering his head and although some managed to connect flush, nothing fazed the Las Vegas fighter.

Round after round Ruiz unloaded on Krael only to quickly realize that attempting a knockout was futile. The reputation of Krael’s chin was correct and no need to break a knuckle trying to score a knockout. Instead, Ruiz went six rounds and won every one to take a win by unanimous decision by scores of 60-54 on all three cards.

Other Bouts

Gabe Muratalla (9-0) knocked out Michael Nielsen (6-3) with a four-punch combination in the third round of a bantamweight fight. Body shots dropped Nielsen in the second round.

Ventura’s Jose Delgado (10-1-4), a southpaw, overcome a sluggish start with body shots to defeat San Bernardino’s Jesus Beltran (6-3-1) by majority decision after four rounds in a lightweight fight.

Riverside’s Victor Pelayo (2-0) defeated Milwaukee’s D’Angelo Hopgood (2-1) by decision after four rounds in a very close super bantamweight match. Both fighters showed solid fundamentals in a fight that could have easily been scored a draw. Pelayo won by decision 39-37 on all cards.

Riverside’s Jose Rodriguez (2-0) stopped Henry Mendez (0-9-2) in the fourth round of a super welterweight bout. Mendez was deducted a point in the second round for incessant holding after numerous warnings.

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