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Likely No Landslides in IBHOF Class of 2019, But Honorees Happy to Make the Cut

Bernard Fernandez

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Halls of Fame ostensibly exist to honor exceptionally high achievers, but some would say their secondary purpose is to at least occasionally generate debate. And the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., is no different.

Given the IBHOF’s requirement that three new inductees be enshrined every year, there is no guarantee that there are three annual slam-dunks in the most prestigious Modern category for fighters. Sometimes the field of candidates in a given year appears to offer no sure things. When someone who has been on the ballot for several years finally makes the cut, and even if a certain candidate’s election – the voting pool consists of full members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an international panel of boxing historians — comes in his first year of eligibility (fighters must not have fought for five years to be considered for induction), there is apt to be some grumbling from naysayers who say a hall of fame should be the exclusive preserve of the indisputably great, not merely the very good. Among the Hall of Famers whose election met with some resistance are Ingemar Johansson, Arturo Gatti and Ray Mancini.

But as is the case with politics and, really, boxing matches that go to the scorecards as well, it really doesn’t matter if a winner is swept into office by landslide or the thinnest of margins. The difference with halls of fame is that once you’re in, you’re in forever; you can’t ever be voted out of office. How close, or not, the latest tabulations were in a crowded field of 32 Modern candidates was not revealed as the IBHOF, as is its policy, does not announce vote totals.

So all hail to the Class of 2019, the headliners, announced on Dec. 5, being Donald Curry, Julian Jackson and James “Buddy” McGirt. All of the former world champions had been bypassed in previous elections, snubs that didn’t seem to matter to any of them once they received word of their call to the hall from the IBHOF’s executive director, Ed Brophy. Sometimes all good things really do come to those who wait.

In addition to the Big Three, other members of the nine-member induction class include Old-Timer Tony DeMarco, Non-Participants Don Elbaum, Lee Samuels and Guy Jutras, and Observers Teddy Atlas and the late Mario Rivera Martino.

The 57-year-old Curry (34-6, 25 KOs), a native of Fort Worth, Texas, known as “The Lone Star Cobra,” arguably is the most talented of the Modern inductees. At his peak, he was a classic boxer-puncher who did not so much defeat his opponents as to overwhelm them with a compendium of ring skills that seemingly preordained him for all-time great status. The puzzle pieces fit perfectly for Curry on Dec. 6, 1985, in a welterweight unification showdown with Milton McCrory at the Las Vegas Hilton. Before Curry, who went in as the WBA and IBF champion, snatched McCrory’s WBC title in two one-sided rounds, HBO analyst Larry Merchant foresaw the outcome. “McCrory is regarded as a good fighter,” Merchant opined. “Curry is regarded as possibly a great fighter.”

Curry was then 24, and there were those who were ready to proclaim him as the finest pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. He was 26-0-1 with 21 KOs at the time, and while he did not know it then, his prime would soon be shortened by the kind of arrogance that comes when a fighter – really, any inordinately gifted athlete – begins to believe in the myth of his own invincibility and thus takes shortcuts. The first crack in that glittering veneer appeared on Sept. 27, 1986, when the heavily favored Curry did not come out for the seventh round for his title defense against England’s Lloyd Honeyghan.

“All I know is that he was named Honey something,” Curry – who was so dismissive of the challenger that he had to lose 11 pounds in three days just to make weight — told me for a TSS story that appeared in February of this year. “I didn’t really know who he was. I wasn’t mentally prepared that night. If I had been, beating that Honey guy would have been no problem.”

Although Curry regrouped enough to take the WBC super welterweight belt from Italy’s Gianfranco Rosi, he relinquished that title on an even bigger upset than had come against Honeyghan when he traveled to France and dropped a listless unanimous decision to Rene Jacquot.

But memories of the Curry that once had been compared to the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Aaron Pryor apparently were enough to convince enough IBHOF voters to finally reward him for his abbreviated prime, which was clearly Hall of Fame-worthy if lacking the sort of longevity that would have made him a no-brainer.

“All right! Now we’re talking!” an ecstatic Curry said upon getting the call he had begun to think he might never receive from Brophy. “What an honor. This is the greatest day of my life. I’m overwhelmed to get the call from the Hall of Fame. It’s a dream come true.”

Jackson (55-6, 49 KOs) was known as “The Hawk,” and the former junior middleweight and middleweight champion from the U.S. Virgin Islands, now 58, was certainly a bird of prey inside the ropes. He was a consummate knockout artist, capable of getting his man out of there with a single shot. In 2003 The Ring magazine had him at No. 25 on its list of the “100 Greatest Punchers of All time,” but that formidable power came with a caveat. He was nearly as susceptible of being the starchee as the starcher, as evidenced by the fact that all six of his losses also came inside the distance.

“He’s got to be one of the top 10 punchers ever, at least in his weight class,” said former IBF super welterweight champ Buster Drayton, who didn’t make it out of the second round against Jackson in their July 30, 1988, title bout in Atlantic City, adding that Jackson’s fragile chin was no secret to those bold enough to stand in there and trade haymakers with him. “I knew (he could be knocked out). He knew it, too.”

“I tell you, I’m speechless,” Jackson said upon being informed of that he would enshrined by the IBHOF. “This is a tremendous honor. Thank God for His grace and mercy. Wow! It’s amazing! I really don’t have words for this, but eventually they will come.”

McGirt (73-6-1, 48), from Brentwood, N.Y., is the youngster of the group at 54, a former junior welterweight and welterweight titlist who fashioned a long and distinguished career despite being hampered by chronic shoulder injuries. After stepping away from the ring as an active fighter in 1997, he fashioned an exemplary second career as a trainer, and was the winner of the 2002 Eddie Futch Trainer of the Year Award from the Boxing Writers Association of America, primarily for his work in transforming Arturo Gatti from a one-dimensional brawler into a somewhat more well-rounded version of his former self. He also worked the corner for, among others, Vernon Forrest, Antonio Tarver and Laila Ali, and has recently taken on the assignment of preparing two-time former light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev for his rematch against Eleider Alvarez.

“To be honest, I can’t even talk right now,” McGirt said when informed of his selection by the IBHOF electorate. “This shows you’re appreciated by the boxing world and that all the hard work and dedication pay off.”

DeMarco (58-12-1, 33 KOs) is 86 and the former welterweight champ, a Boston resident, can be excused for believing that call from the hall would never come. Maybe that’s because DeMarco, for all his successes, is best known for his two classic but losing wars with Carmen Basilio, the second of which, a 12th-round knockout in 1955, was named Fight of the Year by The Ring.

With no mortal locks slated to make first appearances on the IBHOF ballot for the Class of 2020, several holdovers whose credentials for ring immortality, or what passes for it, were vying for the three available slots that were just filled by Curry, Jackson and McGirt. Presumably at or near that magic threshold are Michael Moorer, Nigel Benn, Ivan Calderon, Vinny Pazienza, Ricky Hatton, Meldrick Taylor, Fernando Vargas, Darius Michalczewski, Sven Ottke and the late Genaro Hernandez, among others. Taylor, another special fighter who did not enjoy the benefit of longevity, might be move up in the pecking order in light of the consideration given to Curry for being truly exceptional for even a relatively short period.

But whoever does not get the nod in 2020 will face even stiffer competition in succeeding years, with gimmes like Bernard Hopkins (2021), Wladimir Klitschko, Shane Mosley, James Toney, Miguel Cotto and Juan Manuel Marquez (2022) and Roy Jones Jr., Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Andre Ward (2023) all edging closer to their first appearances on the ballot.

While the Moderns always command the most attention during the four-day induction festivities, other honorees will be celebrated for their long and meritorious service to the sport. It immensely pleases me to be a friend of three of them.

Atlas, 62, will be inducted in the Observer category, a nod toward his long tenure as an analyst for ESPN and for NBC, for whom he worked four Olympiads . But Atlas, whose distinctive Staten Island inflections are as familiar to viewers as the late Howard Cosell’s nasal pomposity, always thought he would be recognized for his work as a trainer, which he considers his first calling. He added another world champion to the list of upper-tier fighters he has worked with when, on Dec. 1 in Quebec City, he was the chief second for Ukraine’s Oleksandr Gvozdyk, who dethroned WBC titlist Adonis Stevenson on an 11th-round knockout.

“I thought I’d go in as a trainer, to be honest,” Atlas said. “But that wasn’t my decision. I’m grateful and appreciative to be considered either way by the Hall of Fame. It’s definitely a privilege.”

As a trainer, Atlas has always been a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy and he has walked away from more than a few successful fighters who did not hew to his dictums. One was Michael Moorer, whom an exasperated Atlas did not feel was giving his all in what proved to be his majority-decision victory over WBA/IBF heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield on April 22, 1994, in Las Vegas. After the eighth round, Atlas told Moorer, “If you don’t want to do what it takes to become champion, let me go out there. We could trade places.” I made him answer me. I said, `Do you want to do that?’ And he said, `No, I don’t.’

“The thing that bothered me is that there were times when it seemed like he was letting Evander back into the fight. That’s why I stayed on him and I didn’t want him to be satisfied that he was doing well.” A reinvigorated Moorer won the 12th round to become the first southpaw to win a heavyweight title; had he lost that round he would have also lost a split decision.

Of Gvozdyk, with whom he was working for the first time, Atlas said, “It feels good to have another world champion. You feel like you’re still able to accomplish your goals and to help somebody get to the next level. I feel like I lived up to his trust and took care of my responsibility.”

Elbaum, whose age is a carefully guarded secret, is affectionately known as “The Bum” to those who know and like him. He jokes that he was the matchmaker for Cain vs. Abel, which might be a slight exaggeration. He also notes that he is the person who introduced another Don, last name King, to the fight game, something for which he is uncertain whether he should take credit or blame.

But Elbaum, who has worked the sport’s trenches in nearly every capacity, including as a fill-in fighter a couple of times in his younger days, takes only credit for being involved in a fight card he promoted that took place on Oct. 1, 1965, in Johnstown, Pa., and featured aging all-time greats Sugar Ray Robinson and Willie Pep in separate bouts.

“Ray Robinson was my idol,” Elbaum said. “He was the greatest fighter that ever lived, in my opinion. And he fought his last three fights for me, which is something no one can ever take away from me. I was operating out of Pittsburgh when Ray called me to come to New York. He asked me, `Don, who can you get me who you think I can beat to get another crack at a world title?’ I immediately said, `Joey Archer.’ He asked me if I could make that fight. I said, `Absolutely.’

I made the fight for Pittsburgh. I told him I really wanted to build it up by first putting him in Johnstown, two months before the fight in Pittsburgh and then in Steubenville, Ohio, one month before. I was promoting the Johnstown fight as the biggest event in that town since the flood, and I was getting great press. About 10 days before the fight I got a call from Willie Pep. Willie said, `Don, I need a fight. I need money desperately.’ I said, `Willie, why?’ And – this is one of the great lines of all time – Willie said, `Don I got five ex-wives.’

“So now I got Ray Robinson (then 45) and Willie Pep (42), two of the greatest fighters ever, on the same card. That always stuck with me.”

Alas, the grand scheme hatched by Elbaum came a cropper when Robinson lost a 10-round unanimous decision to Archer on Nov. 10, 1965, and immediately retired.

Samuels, 71, came to boxing first as a sports writer, covering a couple of Muhammad Ali fights for the now-defunct Philadelphia Bulletin, which shut down in 1983. It was a relatively easy transition into the next phase of his journey, as a publicist for Bob Arum’s Top Rank, a three-decade association that is ongoing. Samuels is known for his unflappability and inexhaustible patience under pressurized conditions that would drive many sane individuals bonkers. He insists that he has never met anyone in the sport he hasn’t liked, which for most people would be a stretch but fits the personable nature of someone widely considered to be the nicest person not only in boxing, but maybe anywhere.

“It’s great to be reunited with Irving Rudd,” Samuels said of his becoming a Hall of Famer alongside his legendary mentor at Top Rank, who was 82 when he passed away on June 2, 2000. And it was Rudd, Samuels said, who taught him the value of getting writers what they need, which is a little one-on-one face time with fighters whenever possible instead of group scrums where  harried reporters shout questions in the hope of getting a usable quote or two.

“When you work for a newspaper, you have to get a story that day,” Samuels said. “I remember getting off a plane (when he was at The Bulletin) and telling Irving, “I have to speak to Ali. I’m on deadline.’ He said, `He wants to speak to you, too. He knows you’re here. Oh, and Angelo (Dundee) is with him.’”

Jutras is a Canadian judge and referee who has been involved in boxing for 30 years, and the late Rivera Martino, a Puerto Rican journalist who covered boxing for a number of publications, including The Ring, for nearly 60 years, beginning in the 1940s.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Tyson and Jones Box to an Unofficial Draw in a Predictable Stinker

Arne K. Lang

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The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, an American institution, went belly-up in 2017, but a different kind of circus played to an empty house at the Staples Center in Los Angeles tonight. The main attraction wasn’t Jumbo the elephant but Iron Mike Tyson in his first ring appearance in 15 years. In the opposite corner was Roy Jones Jr, who at age 51 was the younger man by three years.

Tyson vs. Jones was the main piece of a 4-hour boxing and music festival live-streamed in the U.S. on the TysononTriller.com app at a list price of $49.95. This was the first live event on “Triller” which allows people to create their own music videos and was designed as a rival to China-owned TikTok, one of the biggest recent success stories in the internet world.

The California State Athletic Commission, which sanctioned the match, insisted that Tyson vs. Jones would be an exhibition. They would fight 8 two-minute rounds with 12-ounce gloves and if there were a knockdown, the referee would not give a count and the bout would or would not continue at his discretion. The rounds would not be scored and no winner would be named.

Of course, the promoter chafed at these restraints and did his best to create the impression that this was a legitimate prizefight. Retired boxers Vinny Pazienza, Chad Dawson, and Christy Martin were lassoed to serve as judges, scoring the fight from a remote location, and the WBC commissioned an honorary belt to present to the winner.

The advance hype was enormous. A clickbait-obsessed media lapped it up including photoshop-enhanced images of Mike Tyson’s physique.

In the second round, Tyson landed a double left hook and that was the only indelible moment in the match. By the third round, both looked and sounded tired and by the sixth round Jones was thoroughly gassed out and took to clinching to make it to the final bell.

For the record, the scores were 79-73 for Tyson (Martin), 80-76 for Jones (Pazienza), and 76-76 (Dawson). On the internet, the clear consensus was that Tyson had the best of it.

Mike Tyson, 50-6, 2 NC (44 KOs) last fought in June of 2005 when he was stopped by third-rater Kevin McBride. Roy Jones (66-9, 47 KOs) was active as recently as 2018 and won his last four, but against hand-picked opponents including a boxer making his pro debut. His last fight of significance came in 2011 when he was brutally KOed by Dennis Lebedev in Moscow.

Jones, who weighed 210 ½ tonight, weighed 157 when he made his pro debut in 1989. In his prime, he was pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world, but that was back in the previous century.

Both fighters were reportedly guaranteed $1 million with Tyson’s take potentially reaching $10 million if certain financial targets were met.

Other Bouts

YouTube sensation Jake Paul, who we reluctantly concede has more than a modicum of talent in the fisticuffing department, knocked out Nate Robinson in the second round and it was a clean knockout with Robinson knocked out cold. The 36-year-old Robinson, the former NBA point guard who was a three-time slam dunk champion during his 11-year NBA career, is a well-rounded athlete, good enough to start as a cornerback in football during his freshman year at the University of Washington, but his athleticism didn’t translate to the squared circle as he looked like a common bar brawler.

Former two-division belt-holder Badou Jack (22-3-4), who said he appeared on the card as a favor to his friend Mike Tyson, was a clear-cut winner over hard-trying but out-classed Blake McKernan in an 8-round cruiserweight match.

At age 37, Jack’s career is winding down. He tipped the scales at 188 ¾, 14 pounds more than in his previous engagement vs. Jean Pascal. McKernan, a natural cruiserweight from Sacramento, was undefeated coming in (13-0), but was over his in over his head against Jack, a former Olympian and veteran of seven world title fights.

In a good action fight, Worcester, Massachusetts lightweight Jamaine Ortiz, a carpenter by trade, improved to 14-0 (8) with a seventh-round stoppage of Sulaiman Segawa (13-3-1), a Maryland-based Ugandan.

In the first bout on the program, Fort Worth featherweight Edward Vazquez improved to 9-0 (1) with an 8-round split decision over Jamaine Ortiz stablemate Irvin Gonzalez (14-3).

Heavyweight Juiseppe “Joe” Cusumano improved to 19-3 (17) with a sixth-round stoppage of late sub Gregory Corbin (15-4). It was the fourth straight loss for the 40-year-old Corbin who came in at a beefy 291 ¾ pounds.

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Fast Results from London: Joe Joyce Stops Daniel Dubois in the 10th

Arne K. Lang

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The historic Church House which sits in the shadow of Westminster Abbey was the site of tonight’s clash in London between unbeaten heavyweights Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce. The bout lacked the gloss of a world title fight, but didn’t need it. The oft-postponed match, originally slated for the 02 Arena in London on April 11 with promoter Frank Warren anticipating a sellout, was fairly hyped as the most anticipated fight since Fury-Wilder II which was the last big fight before the coronavirus clampdown.

Dubois, 15-0 with 14 KOs heading in, was a consensus 7/2 favorite in man-to-man betting, He was younger, faster and punched harder, but ultimately it would be his “O” that had to go. Joe Joyce, an inch taller at six-foot-six and 15 pounds heavier at 259, emerged victorious with a 10th-round stoppage in what was a good back-and-forth fight with a divided opinion as to who had the edge through the completed rounds.

Joyce really didn’t do much but throw a jab, but he landed that jab consistently and it was a hard, thudding jab that caused Dubois’s left eye to start swelling during the mid-rounds of the fight. The damaged eye eventually shut and when Joyce reached it with another hard jab in the 10th, Dubois surrendered by taking a knee. The presumption was that he had suffered a broken orbital bone.

The 35-year-old Joyce, nicknamed Juggernaut, is of Scotch-Irish and Nigerian descent. He lost by split decision to Tony Yoka in the semifinals of the 2016 Olympics and had to settle for a silver medal. Prior to turning pro, he was 12-1 in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing with his lone defeat coming at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk. With today’s career-defining win, he upped his pro ledger to 12-0 (11).

Other Bouts

Top-rated WBC super lightweight contender Jack Catterall (26-0) won a predictably one-sided 10-round triumph over 33-year-old Tunisian Abderrazak Houya (14-3). Catterall scored two knockdowns en route to winning by a 99-90 score. This was a stay-busy fight for the Lancashire man who was the mandatory challenger for title-holder Jose Carlos Ramirez and accepted step-aside money with the promise that he would meet the winner of the unification fight between Ramirez and Josh Taylor which is expected to come off in February.

The lead-in fight was a 10-round contest in the super welterweight division between 21-year-old Hamzah Sheeraz and 33-year-old Guido Nicolas Pitto. The fight was monotonous until Sheeraz (12-0, 8 KOs) kicked it into a higher career in the final stanza and brought about the stoppage. Pitto, from Spain by way of Argentina, declined to 26-8-2. The official time was 1:11 of round 10.

In an 8-round cruiserweight bout, Jack Massey improved to 17-1 (8) with a 79-74 referee’s decision over Mohammad Ali Farid (16-2-1). Massey was making his first start since losing a close 12-round decision to Richard Raikporhe in December of 2019 for the vacant BBBofC title. The well-traveled, one-dimensional Farid had scored 16 knockouts in his previous 18 fights while answering the bell for only 33 rounds.

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Daniel Jacobs Edges Past Gabe Rosado on a Matchroom card in Florida

David A. Avila

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Former world champion Daniel Jacobs needed the last round to win by split decision against upset-minded Gabe Rosado and keep his place in line on Friday for lucrative super middleweight matchups.

But when the ring announcer erroneously announced the winner was from Philadelphia, confusion reigned for a moment until Jacobs was correctly called the winner.

Brooklyn’s Jacobs (37-3, 30 KOs) jumped out ahead against Philly fighter Rosado (25-13-1, 14 KOs) and held on for the win in front of no fans at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. For a second, many thought Rosado had won.

Both were careful during the first three rounds measuring each other’s distance and looking for openings to counter. There were very few.

It was the kind of fight expected by those who know boxing: two veterans with immense experience against top-flight world champions. Mistakes were few.

Jacobs, a former middleweight world champion, had fought Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in close but losing efforts.

Rosado had battled Golovkin too, six years ago in a bloody affair that ended in a loss. He had also lost to other champions like Peter Quillin and Jermell Charlo. But none were able to knock him out.

Both were aware of each other’s reputation. Bitter words had been exchanged for years and now they finally got their chance to prove their mettle and they did.

Though Jacobs was recognized as a knockout puncher, Rosado’s resilience was just as well known. Both neutralized each other for most of the fight with their feints and jabs to the body. Neither was willing to leave openings for each other.

Jacobs scored big with a left uppercut at the end of the seventh round. While Rosado wowed viewers with a sizzling right cross in the 11th round.

It was 1950s style, boxing with intelligence. Each found it difficult to land combinations, let alone find openings to score knockout blows. Instead, they had to be satisfied with scoring enough to convince three judges the actual winner.

Neither was able to pull out ahead with any conviction.

After 12 rounds one judge saw Rosado the winner 115-113 while two others saw Jacobs the winner 115-113 to give him the win by split decision.

“It felt just a little weird. It felt like a sparring match,” said Jacobs about fighting without fans in the audience. “This wasn’t a valiant effort.”

Rosado was certain he was the true winner.

“I thought I won the fight. I surprised him,” said Rosado who trained with Freddie Roach for this fight. “I’m a veteran, I know how to fight.”

Indeed, he does.

Jacobs now stands poised to fight one of many super middleweight champions in need of a marquee name.

“I live to see another day,” he said honestly.

Other Bouts

Kazakhstan’s Daniyar Yeleussinov (10-0, 6 KOs) proved he was not an easy touch and knocked out former world champion Julius Indongo (23-3, 12 KOs) to march forward in the welterweight division while grabbing the vacant IBF Inter-Continental title.

In a fight featuring southpaw versus southpaw Yeleussinov caught Indongo with a roundhouse left the first time they exchanged and down went the former super lightweight world champion. Indongo beat the count and survived the round.

Indongo wasn’t as lucky in the second round as Yeleussinov again connected with a left and down went the fighter from Namibia again. He would not get up at 1:24 of round two giving the knockout win for Yeleussinov.

A battle between undefeated heavyweights saw Azerbaijan’s Mahammadrasul Majidov (3-0, 3 KOs) use roundhouse rights to stagger the heavier Sahret Delgado (8-1) to win by knockout in the third round. Majidov actually helped Delgado get to his stool after knocking him out on his feet at 47 seconds of the third round.

Emmanuel Tagoe (32-1) defeated Mason Menard (36-5) by majority decision after a 10- round lightweight fight that saw a lot of clinching and leaning.

Nikita “White Chocolate” Ababiy (10-0) out-fought Detroit’s Brandon Maddox (7-4-1) to win by unanimous decision after six rounds in a middleweight clash. Ababiy hurt Maddox with body shots but found Maddox more resilient than expected.

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