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The Hauser Report: A Sad Night for Fans of Chris Arreola

Thomas Hauser

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The August 3 fight at Barclays Center between Chris Arreola and Adam Kownacki highlighted what’s enthralling about boxing and also a sad side of the sport.

When Arreola turned pro in 2003, he seemed destined for success. He was a heavyweight with a good amateur pedigree, power, solid ring skills, and a crowd-pleasing, hit-me-and-I’ll-hit-you-back style. He was media-friendly and likable with refreshing candor and a good sense of humor. His Mexican-American heritage was a plus. And he was guided by Al Haymon at a time when HBO Championship Boxing and Boxing After Dark were all but programmed by Haymon, with Arreola, Victor Ortiz, Andre Berto, and Robert Guerrero being anointed “stars of the future.”

There were times when Arreola trained less diligently than he should have. A fighter doesn’t get more out of boxing than he puts into it, and Chris was rarely in top shape. Indeed, Henry Ramirez (who trained Arreola for most of his ring career) acknowledged, “Sometimes I don’t think he gives us the best chance to win. Sometimes he comes in a little too far out of shape.” But that was part of the package.

“Who gives a f*** if I’m fat?” Arreola asked rhetorically. “There’s plenty of guys who look like Tarzan and fight like Jane.”

Other “Arreolaisms” included:

*          “Boxing is two guys in the ring who hardly know each other, beating the crap out of each other. The crowd oohs and aahs, and I want to get my oohs and aahs in. Then it’s over and you shake hands and hug each other. Go figure.”

*          “My defense has to get better. I’m ugly and I don’t want to get any more uglier.”

*          “I’m not big-headed. I’m one of the guys, a regular Joe Schmo. But it makes me angry when people think I’m dumb, when they talk down to me, when they think I’m a meathead because I’m a fighter.”

Ten years ago, Arreola’s record stood at 27-0 with only one opponent going the distance against him. Then, on September 26, 2009, he challenged Vitali Klitschko for the WBC heavyweight crown. Chris fought with honor but was outclassed from the opening bell. The outcome of the fight was never in doubt. Klitschko out-landed him 301 to 86 and turned him into a human bobblehead doll. Ramirez called a halt to the beating after ten one-sided rounds.

Arreola has been on a long downhill slide since then. Seven months after losing to Klitschko, he was outpointed by Tomasz Adamek. “He beat my ass,” Chris said in a post-fight interview. “I look like f****** Shrek right now.”

After being complimented on his “toughness” after losing a twelve-round decision to Bermane Stiverne in 2013, Arreola responded, “It doesn’t matter how tough you are. I lost the fight.”

Subsequent title opportunities against Stiverne (2014) and Deontay Wilder (2016) ended in knockout defeats.

Asked prior to fighting Wilder if he thought that, given his recent ring performances, he deserved another title opportunity, Arreola replied, “Let’s be honest, man. Do I deserve it? Come on. No. But when a title shot comes knocking, you don’t turn it down.”

The gaping hole in Arreola’s ring resume is that he has never beat a world-class opponent. His biggest win was a first-round stoppage of former Michigan State linebacker Seth Mitchell (who was 26-1-1 at the time). “He better bring his helmet if he expects to beat me,” Chris said before that fight. He also stopped a faded 39-year-old Jameel McCline short of the distance.

Readying to fight Kownacki, Arreola was 38 years old with a 38-5 (33 KOs, 3 KOs by) ring record that arguably wasn’t as good as it looked.

At the June 18 kick-off press conference for Kownacki-Arreola, Chris had a pensive look in his eyes. He was born with a fighter’s face that has been forged further in the fire of combat, adding scar tissue and a nose that has been ground every which way while being broken multiple times.

Once upon a time, Arreola was the A-side in main events. Not anymore. The 30-year-old Kownacki had built a 19-0 (15 KOs) record against the same class of fighter that Chris used to beat. Adam is a big strong guy who throws punches with abandon, wears opponents down, has minimal defense, and is being groomed as an opponent for Deontay Wilder.

Arreola was seated on the B-side of the dais. His name was listed after Kownacki’s on all promotional material. On fight night, he would be in the red (designated loser) corner. If the powers that be at Premier Boxing Champions thought he had a realistic chance of beating Adam, they wouldn’t have made the fight.

“How did Arreola feel about being the B-side of the promotion?”

“I’m okay with it,” Chris said. “It’s part of the game. Once I was a young lion and now I’m the old veteran. Boxing humbles you. But I’m not a stepping stone for anyone.”

How did he feel about Andy Ruiz upsetting Anthony Joshua to become boxing’s first Mexican-American heavyweight champion?

“I’m happy for Andy. The difference between Andy and me is, he made the best of his opportunities and I didn’t. Good for him. The first time we sparred together, Andy was seventeen years old. Back then, he wanted to be like me. Now I want to be like him.”

Kownacki’s fortunes have also changed but he’s going in a different direction. In 2015, Adam had made his Barclays Center debut in a swing bout on the undercard of Amir Khan versus Chris Algieri. Now he anticipated beating Arreola which, in his words, “would make me a top ten heavyweight on everyone’s list.”

“On paper, it’s the perfect fight,” Adam added. “Now it’s in my hands to do what I gotta do, which is get a knockout and put on a great performance.”

There were more sound bites from Arreola as the build-up to the fight progressed:

*          (when asked to define himself): “I’m brash but respectful of other people. I’m a kind-hearted, old-school in a lot of ways. I’m at peace with myself. I’m me.”

*          (about being a role model): “People ask me, ‘What do you say to kids?’ And I tell them, ‘I don’t say shit to kids. I talk to their parents and tell them to be there for their children.”

*          (about his family): “My wife and I have two children, a 17-year-old daughter and four-year-old son. That’s thirteen years apart. But same father, same mother. Make sure you write that.”

*          (about fighting Kownacki): “It’s not personal. I like Adam and I think he likes me. But I’m going to try to punch him in the face and knock him out, and that’s what he’s going to try to do to me.”

“How big a puncher is Adam?” Chris was asked.

“I’ll find out on Saturday night,” Arreola answered. “He’s fought some good fighters, but I’ve fought better.”

But the better fighters that Arreola had fought beat him.

The most pressing question in advance of the fight was, “How much did Chris have left?”

At a certain age, a fighter knows what to do in the ring better than he did before but he can’t do it anymore. And at 38, a fighter doesn’t take punches as well as he did when he was young. Arreola used to hate the rigors of training but liked sparring. Now he acknowledged, “I don’t mind training but I hate sparring. My body isn’t the same anymore. When I get hit now, it hurts more and the pain lasts longer.”

Arreola’s weight – an issue in the past – was down. He would enter the ring at 244 pounds, a better number than Kownacki’s career high 266. But was Chris in fighting shape? And with what he had left, would it matter?

Kownacki was a heavy betting favorite and noted that Arreola was “a little bit past his prime.”

“This is my last chance,” Chris responded. “If I lose this fight, I’ll retire, plain and simple. Not because of the media or anything like that. This is my last chance because I say so. If I lose, there’s no reason for me to be in the sport of boxing. I’m in boxing to be a champion. If I lose, it brings me all the way back to the bottom, and I don’t want to keep crawling back up and crawling back up again. I’m too old to be doing that. So it’s a make or break kind of fight. If I lose, I go home, no matter if it’s a great fight or it could have gone either way. Plain and simple; I lose it, I go home, I stay home. One and done, no more.”

Old athletes are surpassed by young ones in every sport. But it’s more painful to watch when the sport is boxing and the older competitor is getting beaten up.

There was a time when Arreola fought mostly in Southern California before crowds that were solidly behind him. Now he was in Brooklyn in a promotion aimed at Polish-American fans. Kownacki, who had fought at Barclays Center on eight previous occasions, was the house fighter. The announced crowd of 8,790 booed when Chris entered the ring and cheered wildly for Adam.

It was an exciting fight with little subtlety about it. One of boxing’s cardinal rules is, “Never give an opponent a free shot.” That said; both men fought like they didn’t understand that holding up their hands, slipping punches, and otherwise defending themselves is an integral part of the sweet science. They punched and mauled for twelve rounds in a non-stop slugfest that resembled two mastodons locked in battle for supremacy of the herd.

In the early rounds, it appeared as though Kownacki might walk through Arreola. He was a bit quicker, had a bit more on his punches, and seemed better able to absorb punishment. Then, in the middle rounds, Adam slowed a bit and one had to consider the fact that Chris had gone twelve rounds on four occasions and ten rounds thrice while Kownacki had gone ten rounds once. In other words, Arreola had been down this road before and might be better able to navigate the terrain as it got increasingly more rugged.

Then, in round nine, Arreola tired noticeably. From that point on, it seemed as though he was fighting from memory. But he never stopped trying to win. On the few occasions when Kownacki tried to slow the pace, Chris forced the action. One can question Arreola’s ring skills. One can question his judgment. His courage and heart aren’t in doubt.

The judges were on the mark with scorecards that favored Kownacki by a 118-110, 117-111, 117-111 margin. His limitations as a boxer showed in the fight and he lacks the one-punch knockout power that might compensate for them at the elite level. But Kownacki-Arreola was a barn-burner. According to CompuBox, Adam landed 369 of 1,047 punches while Chris connected on 298 of 1,125. That set CompuBox records for total punches landed and thrown in a heavyweight fight.

“Adam is relentless,” Arreola said in a post-fight interview. “He just keeps coming. I know I got him with some good punches and he got me with some good ones. I was more than ready to go all twelve, but Adam came in and won the fight.”

Then Chris went to the hospital to check on the status of his left hand and possibly more. Just before entering the ambulance, he acknowledged, “I’m a little dejected. I lost. This ain’t the way I wanted to go out, but I gave my all. Much respect to Adam. We were in a proverbial phone booth beating the shit out of each other, and it was fun. It was fun for me and it was fun for him and I hope the fans enjoyed the fight.”

Photo credit” Nabeel Ahmad / Premier Boxing Champions

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing – will be published later this summer by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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Recalling Three Big Fights in Miami, the Site of Super Bowl LIV

Arne K. Lang

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The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs collide on Feb. 2 in Miami in Super Bowl LIV (54) in what will assuredly be the biggest betting event to ever play out on American soil. It’s the 10th Super Bowl for the South Florida metropolis which ties it with New Orleans as the most frequent destination for football’s premier attraction.

With its heavily Latin population, Miami would seem to be natural for big fights. However, this hasn’t been the case. Several great champions fought here, including Roberto Duran who twice defended his world lightweight title in these parts, but these weren’t big fights. In the case of Duran, his opponents were lightly regarded and the Panamanian legend was still three years away from his first encounter with Sugar Ray Leonard, a match that increased his name recognition a hundred-fold.

There were, however, three fights in Miami that summoned the interest of virtually all of America’s A-list sportswriters. Here they are in reverse chronological order.

Aaron Pryor vs. Alexis Arguello (Nov. 12, 1982)

Alexis Arguello (72-5) was bidding to become boxing’s first four-division champion. In his way stood WBA junior welterweight title-holder Aaron Pryor (31-0, 29 KOs), a man now widely regarded as the best 140-pound boxer of all time.

Arguello, a Miami resident, having been exiled from his Nicaraguan homeland by the Sandanista rebel occupation, was a textbook boxer who defeated his opponents with surgical efficiency. Pryor was a typhoon. He mowed down his opponents with relentless pressure. It was a great style match-up and it didn’t disappoint. Contested before nearly 30,000 at Miami’s iconic Orange Bowl, Pryor vs. Arguello was a fight for the ages.

“There was power, finesse, poise, courage and a tremendous ebb and flow,” said Associated Press writer Ed Schuyler who dubbed it Manila in Miniature. In the ninth, 11th, and particularly the 13th rounds, Arguello hit Pryor with straight right hands that would have felled an ordinary fighter, but Pryor had an iron chin.

In the 14th, Pryor buckled Arguello’s knees with a straight right hand and then unloaded a furious combination as Arguello fell back against the ropes. He was out on feet when referee Stanley Cristodoulou intervened and he would lay prone on the canvas for several minutes before he could be removed to his dressing room.

Sonny Liston vs. Muhammad Ali (Feb. 25, 1964)

If you happen to find a poster for this fight with the name Muhammad Ali on it, don’t buy it. It’s bogus. Liston met up with Muhammad Ali in their second fight. In their first encounter, Liston opposed Cassius Clay.

Clay’s Louisville sponsors, after a brief flirtation with Archie Moore, settled on Angelo Dundee as his trainer. Angelo operated out of his brother Chris Dundee’s gym located at the corner of 5th Street and Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. The fighter who took the name Muhammad Ali trained here and kept a home in Miami for most of his first six years as a pro.

Clay/Ali was 22 years old and had only 19 fights under his belt when he was thrust against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Liston was riding a 28-fight winning streak after back-to-back first-round blowouts of Floyd Patterson.

In a UPI survey, 43 of 46 boxing writers picked Liston. “Clay has no more chance of stopping Liston than the old red barn had of impeding a tornado,” wrote Nat Fleischer, the publisher of The Ring magazine.

This would be the first of many famous fights for Muhammad Ali who emerged victorious when Liston quit after the sixth frame citing an injured shoulder. What is not widely known, however, is that the fight, which was shown on closed-circuit in the U.S. and Canada, was a bust at the gate. The 16,448-seat Convention Center was only half full.

The expectation that Liston would take the lippy kid out in a hurry depressed sales, as did sky-high ticket prices ($250 tops when $100 was the norm). And there may have been more subtle factors. “This may not be the best place for a fight between two Negroes,” wrote Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times, cognizant that people of color were not welcome as guests at the ritzy beachfront hotels along Collins Avenue.

Jack Sharkey vs. W. L. (Young) Stribling (Feb. 27, 1929)

A big fight, as I define it, doesn’t have to be a blockbuster. An important fight that produces an upset automatically becomes a bigger fight in hindsight. The Sharkey-Stribling fight of 1929 didn’t draw an immense crowd by Jack Dempsey standards, but the turnout, reportedly 35,000, far exceeded expectations and the fight – which preceded Miami’s first Orange Bowl football game by six years — really established Miami as a potentially good place for a big sporting event.

Promoted by the Madison Square Garden Corporation, the bout was originally headed to a dog racing track but it quickly became obvious that a larger venue was needed. A stadium was erected on a Miami Beach polo field, taking the name Flamingo Park (not to be confused with the thoroughbred track of the same name).

Slated for 10 rounds, the bout was conceived as one of two “eliminators” to find a successor to Gene Tunney who had retired. What gave the fight it’s primary allure, however, was the North-South angle. Sharkey, born Joseph Zukauskas, hailed from Boston. Stribling, born into a family that traveled the fair circuit with a variety act, was from Macon, Georgia.

The fight, which aired on the NBC radio network, was a dud, a drab affair won by Sharkey who had the best of it in virtually every round. Both went on to fight Max Schmeling for the world heavyweight title. Stribling, dubbed the “King of the Canebrakes” by Damon Runyon, lost by TKO in fight that was stopped late in the 15th round. Sharkey took the title from Schmeling on a split decision after losing their first meeting on a foul.

Young Stribling died in a motorcycle crash at age 28, by which time he had engaged in 251 documented bouts, the great majority of which were set-ups. Jack Sharkey lived to be 91.

—-

The strong earnings of the Sharkey-Stribling bout inevitably drew the Madison Square Garden Corporation back to Miami for an encore. On Feb. 27, 1930, Jack Sharkey opposed England’s “Fainting” Phil Scott. Four years later, on March 1, 1834, Primo Carnera defended his world heavyweight title here against former light heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran, the Philadelphia Phantom.

Both bouts were big money losers, as were the great majority of major fights during this period. Eight months after the Sharkey-Stribling cash cow, the stock market crashed, plunging the United States into the Great Depression. Few Americans could afford to vacation in Florida, let alone travel anywhere for a big fight.

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Star Power: Ryan Garcia and Oscar De La Hoya at West L.A. Gym

David A. Avila

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Under gray skies and very cool temperatures Ryan Garcia arrived with his father and a couple of others at the Westside Boxing Gym on Monday.

Waiting anxiously were about 100 people comprised of mostly videographers and photographers who had already surrounded Oscar De La Hoya who arrived earlier.

Golden Boy greets the Flash.

Garcia (19-0, 16 KOs) has a fight coming soon against Nicaragua’s Francisco Fonseca (25-2-2, 19 KOs) on Friday Feb. 14, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The Golden Boy Promotions show will be streamed by DAZN.

“I’m ready for this fight,” Garcia said quickly.

Some say it has been a rather quick road for the fighter from Victorville known as the Flash. But if you ask Garcia, it has been too slow.

“I think he (Garcia) will be world champion this year,” said De La Hoya, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions.

Years ago, De La Hoya arrived with the same hoopla but his travel to the top seemed even faster. By his fifth pro fight he was matched with Jeff Mayweather. Yes, those Mayweathers. At the time Mayweather had fought 27 professional fights and had only two losses. De La Hoya stopped him in four.

In his eighth pro fight De La Hoya met Troy Dorsey, a tough Texan who had formerly held the IBF featherweight world title and who would later win a super featherweight world title. De La Hoya stopped him in one round.

Two years after winning the Olympic gold medal in Barcelona, the Golden Boy met WBO world titlist Jimmi Bredahl at the Olympic Auditorium and after dropping him several times finally stopped him in the 10th round. It was De La Hoya’s first world title and he was 21 years old.

Garcia is now 21 and ready to test the loaded lightweight division waters. For a while he was fighting at super featherweight, a division loaded with talent. But lightweights are the Maginot Line when it comes to boxing’s big hitters. Everybody can punch in the 135-pound limit lightweight division.

When Garcia met Romero Duno last November in Las Vegas many expected the speedy Victorville fighter to get his come-uppance. Instead the lanky slugger lit up the strong Filipino fighter and dropped him into the ether world.

It was mesmerizing stuff.

Now he’s back with a load of credibility after shutting down detractors with his devastating knockout win over Duno. It wasn’t supposed to be that easy. Just like it wasn’t supposed to be that easy when De La Hoya raced by world champions like Secretariat did in the Kentucky Derby decades ago. It’s not supposed to be that easy, but for some it truly is.

Garcia seems to be headed for a journey so remarkable that he has other world champions like WBC titlist Devin Haney eyeing him for their next challenges. It barely results in a yawn for the fighter who will be facing a very credible foe in Fonseca next month.

“I’m not even the champion and he’s calling me out,” said Garcia with a whatever kind of look.

Other fighters and promoters can see what Garcia represents and want to get a slice of it too. Its intangible yet most of the boxing world can sense something is coming and Garcia might be part of it.

That’s called star power and it’s difficult to explain. Some have it, many want it and others have no chance of ever attaining it.

Time will tell how far Garcia’s star power will venture.

One man lived that life and, in a sense, still lives that life and that is De La Hoya. Even he senses a déjà vu moment with Garcia.

“It’s why we made him one of the richest young prospects in boxing today,” De La Hoya said.

Expect several thousand ardent fans of Garcia to fill the seats on Valentine’s Day. How else can you explain it but, star power.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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The Much Maligned Boxing Judge

Ted Sares

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Identifying bad judges is pretty easy, but that’s not the purpose of this essay. To the contrary, the emphasis here is on fine judges and the many ways they can be unjustly labeled.

Now to name a few of today’s best boxing judges is to risk excluding others and that’s admittedly unfair but space is limited. Quickly coming to mind, however, are these judges, all currently active: Julie Lederman (pictured), Steve Weisfeld, Glen Feldman, Dave Moretti, Glenn Trowbridge, Joe Pasquale, Max DeLuca, Hubert Earle, Benoit Roussel, Burt Clements, Tom Shreck, Don Trella, Gary Ritter, Patricia Morse Jarman, Pat Russell, Pinit Prayadsab, Raúl Caiz, Jr., and, of course, the South African legend Stanley Christodoulou.

Boxing judges, unlike referees, are far easier to criticize because the average fan can score a fight using whatever criteria he or she selects and the view from a TV is pretty good. This contributes to the relatively high number of maligned boxing judges.

Being a boxing judge is a thankless endeavor where attention is received only when something controversial and/or negative occurs. And once a judgment is made about a bad job, that judgment influences future perceptions. This is known as “confirmation bias.” Thus, when a boxing commentator like the outspoken Teddy Atlas launches into a tirade over the judging in a particular fight, he may be engaging in confirmation bias—a kind of “See, I told you so.” Those who might criticize based on one poor performance may feel their suspicion of botched judging confirmed. Thus, the tagged judges’ reputation may be unfairly tarnished in the future.

Out-of-town fighters going to Texas to fight are aware of the risks based on the post-fight rants of Paulie Malignaggi, Atlas and many others. If so, the solution is to use out-of-state judges or avoid Texas altogether.

However, even if the elite judges make one “questionable” call in the eyes of fans and certain boxing commentators (or have an off day) they can be labeled as “bad” judges while simultaneously serving as a dart board for Bob Arum’s selective and quite nasty criticism.

No judge is perfect. They deal in a subjective world. Even the legendary IBHOF member Harold Lederman was harshly criticized for his scoring in the Maurice Harris vs. Larry Holmes fight in 1997. And even his daughter Julie has served as a target for some of Arum’s especially vicious criticism.

“She is the best judge in our household”—Harold Lederman

“You have people who are concentrating for three minutes, looking at nothing but the gloves, nothing but the punches. These other people are judging from TV, they’re judging from twenty rows back and they don’t see the effect of the punches all the time.”—Dave Moretti

“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 (PhilBoxing.com)

All it Takes Is One Bad Apple

In the recent Jesse Hart vs. Joe Smith Jr. fight in Atlantic City, a somewhat under-the-radar judge got it terribly wrong. Two judges had it for Smith, 98-91 and 97-92, but the judge in question shockingly had it 95-94 for Hart. He was scorned, tagged, labeled and God knows what. The criticism took on the form of a tsunami.

Bob Arum had this to say: “That judge should be banned from scoring a fight — and I promote Hart. How can you ever score that fight for Jesse Hart? It was a terrific fight, good for boxing, good action fight, and then you have a damn judge who screws it up.”

Al Bernstein added, “…He should never be allowed to judge again….”

A look at his past record as a judge since 2015 doesn’t reveal anything untoward. But he has now been tagged—perhaps justifiably so– and if he somehow gets through this and slips up again, there will be one very loud “we told you so.” It’s the nature of the beast; It is what it is.

The Pod Index

Matt Podgorski (a former boxing official) came up with a method to evaluate the performance of judges worldwide by determining the percentage of instances his or her scores are consistent with the other two judges working the same fights. He calls it the Pod Index. “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.”

Steve Farhood

farhood

2017 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Steve Farhood is a lot of things: analyst, writer, historian, commentator, and an unofficial judge for Showtime fights. If he were an official judge, his Pod Index score would undoubtedly be at or near the top. Steve seldom gets it wrong. He may be the best “judge” in boxing.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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