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Stan Hoffman and Mitchell Rose: Anecdotes from the Pen of a Veteran Boxing Writer 

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Anecdotes.

Everybody who has spent any appreciable amount of time in and around boxing has ’em, personal memories of notable and not-so-notable figures in the sport that are interesting, but not generally included in the obit/tributes of and to those individuals in the immediate aftermath of their taking the eternal 10-count that awaits us all.

Not so very long ago, I regretfully declined an offer by TSS editor Arne K. Lang to do such a story on Pennsylvania promoter Mike Acri, with whom I had some dealings, because I have authored so many farewell pieces for this site and had, quite frankly, tired of writing about death. But life inevitably goes on and then ends for everyone, and as we are now in the second year of the global pandemic that seemingly has accelerated the exit process, I have been asked again by Arne to provide a couple of personal anecdotes about manager Stan Hoffman, who was 89 when he passed away on Feb. 8, and former heavyweight Mitchell “The Cigarette Man” Rose, just 51 when he breathed his last on Feb. 12.

Hoffman, a native of Brooklyn – the New York borough that has birthed so many fight fixtures, and even more anecdotes – spent nearly 50 years as a manager and adviser, during which time he worked with 38 future, then-current or past world champions, James Toney, Iran Barkley, Hasim Rahman, Michael Bentt and Hasim Rahman among the most notable.

But the Stan story that has always stuck with me involves one of his fighters, former WBO middleweight champion Doug DeWitt, who was to defend that title against Canadian knockout artist Matthew Hilton on Jan. 15, 1990, the primary lead-in to a card topped by the ballyhooed “Geezers at Caesars” heavyweight matchup of George Foreman and Gerry Cooney in Atlantic City’s Convention Center (now Boardwalk Hall).

On Jan. 11, I was in town to do an advance on DeWitt-Hilton and was in the gym after DeWitt, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, who had relocated to Yonkers, N.Y., finished his workout. “The Cobra’s” most obvious physical characteristic was a nose so flattened into his face that I observed it was “crumpled in, like an aluminum can that someone had stepped on.”

Um, what about that misshapen proboscis?

“So many people say, `Oh, Doug, you used to be so good-looking,’” said DeWitt, then 27, who had traded punches with nearly every tough guy in the 160-pound weight class in a blue-collar career that had risen to a new level when he won the vacant WBO title on a 12-round split decision over Robbie Sims, Marvin Hagler’s half-brother, on April 18, 1989, also in Atlantic City. “That kind of talk (snide remarks about his nose) bothers me sometimes. I mean, I’m human. I care about how I look. Not that I’m ugly now, but my nose definitely hinders my appearance.

“Coming out of high school my nose was straight. I was handsome. I walk around with this nose now, and it bothers me. The day I retire, I’m getting it fixed.”

While DeWitt didn’t much care for the condition of his nose then, given his intention to have it eventually restored, at least one fighter considered it a badge of distinction and courage.

“You know, it’s funny,” Hoffman told me. “This junior welterweight, Ricky Meyers, and I were at one of Dougie’s workouts this week and (Meyers) said, `Stan, I’m a fighter and I really want to look and feel like a fighter. Do you think someone could remove the cartilage from my nose so I can look just like Doug?’

“I guess that just goes to show you that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”

DeWitt, in his one and only successful title defense, was ahead on all three official scorecards when he registered what many believed to be at least a minor upset as Hilton, both his eyes nearly swollen shut, did not come out for the 12th round. The Cobra was dethroned in his next outing, on an eighth-round stoppage by England’s Nigel Benn, on April 29, 1990. He would fight three more times, going 1-1-1, his final bout a sixth-round stoppage loss to, ironically, James Toney, my other most memorable anecdotal link to Hoffman, on Dec. 5, 1992.

To this day, I still haven’t found out if Doug DeWitt followed up on his vow to himself to get his nose fixed, as was the case with Leon Spinks, the former heavyweight champion who was 67 when he died on Feb. 5. The older of boxing’s two champion Spinks brothers (the other being Michael) was best known for his title-annexing upset of Muhammad Ali and, just a bit less so, for his gap-toothed smile. “Neon Leon,” tired of all the jokes made about the yawning, empty space in his top row of teeth, did later undergo dental surgery that provided him with a full set of chompers.

Toney had had some ups and downs, in and out of the ring, when, sometime in the early 1990s, I went to Las Vegas to cover a fight involving, I think, Mike Tyson, although I can’t recall the specific bout. In any case, a select few writers, including me, were invited to a private workout by Toney, who was not on the card we had come to see, but during which “Lights Out” would presumably demonstrate how he was new and improved.

The gym was insufferably hot, so high was the heat turned up, but the volume of the gangsta rap to which Toney went through his drills was even higher, jet-aircraft-taking-off, eardrum-bursting high. The one thing I do remember is that the lyrics were frequently punctuated with screamed variations of the f-word, so much so that the constant barrage seemed excessive even to this Marine Corps veteran. I thought it interesting that James’ mother, who owned and operated a bakery in Ann Arbor, Mich., sat off to the side during her son’s training session, reading a book or something, seemingly oblivious to the profane clatter.

When the workout was over, Stan invited the writers to meet with Toney in the relative privacy of a side office – other fighters were continuing to train in the gym, to music, still very loud, of their preference. Some questions were asked by us and answered by Toney, who at one point made a reference to an “effing” something or other. He actually said “effing,” not the actual word.

When I inquired about that, Stan interjected, “James is trying to clean up his vocabulary,” to which I said, “Yeah, but what about the tape that was playing during his workout with his mom sitting there?”

Now, about Mitchell Rose, another Brooklyn native whose youthful success as a New York Golden Gloves boxer didn’t translate to his pro career, which was hindered by a disinclination to train with any appreciable degree of dedication or enthusiasm. Rose (pictured on the left) retired with a 2-11-1 record with two knockout wins and five losses inside the distance.

mitchell

Seldom, however, has any fighter with such a nondescript record milked more notoriety out of a single victory. Largely because he had demonstrated little or none of his Golden Gloves promise, Rose was penciled in to provide the low-risk opposition to Top Rank’s novelty act heavyweight Eric “Butterbean” Esch, the erstwhile “King of the Four-Rounders,” on Dec. 15, 1995, for a show headlined by WBO lightweight champ Oscar De La Hoya’s second-round stoppage of Jesse James Leija at Madison Square Garden. Butterbean came in at 15-0 with 10 KOs, Rose at 1-7-1 with one KO and four defeats in abbreviated fashion.

But in a low-rent version of how Buster Douglas ascended to a career peak by knocking out Mike Tyson, in no small part because he had dedicated that fight to the memory of his recently deceased mother, Lula Mae, Rose – with an uncommonly long five weeks (for him) to train – showed a flash or two of his old GG form in stopping Butterbean 48 seconds into the second round, which was definitely not the result Top Rank founder Bob Arum wanted. The fight almost certainly was legit, but no pairing needs to be fixed for an outcome to be semi-preordained. Major favorites matched soft can and do lose occasionally.

Interestingly, I saw a very forlorn Butterbean at Pennsylvania Station the next day as I prepared to take a train back to Philadelphia and The Bean to wherever it was that he was headed. Maybe because he had become so accustomed to winning easily and quickly, he felt he had let a lot of people down, even if he had entered the ring the night before, he said, a bit under the weather.

Butterbean, however, would rebound nicely and went on to continue his unlikely advance to stardom of sorts as a bald and blubbery blaster. In his only non-four-rounder, he lost on points to former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, a matchup that legitimized his credentials as much or more than all the whackings of the steady stream of palookas he had become accustomed to. For historical perspective, it hardly seemed to matter that the “Easton Assassin” was 52 years old and, at 254 pounds, had love handles nearly as ample as Butterbean’s lapping over his waistband.

“Here I am, feeling sorry for myself, when this man comes over and asks if I would say hello to his kid, who was in a wheelchair,” Butter said of the early-morning New York hours after he had tasted his first pro defeat. “I go over and meet the kid, who is really in a bad way. But he seemed so happy to see me.

“Right then, I decided I had no problems. So what if I lost a fight? My feeling was that I’d just go out and win the next one.”

As for Rose, he wrote two self-published books, one of which was titled The Man That Beat Butterbean, which played fast and loose with the truth. It might be accurate that Rose describes his takedown of Eric Esch’s alter ego as “the highlight of my life, my version of the Thrilla in Manila.” Many of his other assertions, however, would appear to be pure flights of fantasy.

Rose would later claim he had refused a $5,000 bribe to go into the tank against Butterbean, and that he was subsequently blacklisted for the audacity of winning a fight he was supposed to lose. I’m not sure either statement comes close to passing any credible sniff test. He did say his purse for the Butterbean fight was $1,500, which might be accurate, but he also said the corpulent crusher received $750,000. For an undercard four-rounder! That figure is so patently false as to be laughable.

Stan Hoffman and Mitchell Rose – Leon Spinks, too – have crossed over onto the other side of the great divide that separates heaven and earth. Maybe only absolute truth matters over there, but maybe celestial anecdotes are just as much cause for fun and lively discussion as they are here, in the land of the living.

A New Orleans native, Bernard Fernandez retired in 2012 after a 43-year career as a newspaper sports writer, the last 28 years with the Philadelphia Daily News. A former five-term president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, Fernandez won the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism in 1998 and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service in 2015. In December of 2019, Fernandez was accorded the highest honor for a boxing writer when he was named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020. Last year, Fernandez’s anthology, “Championship Rounds,” was released by RKMA Publishing.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

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There were few surprises when co-promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren and their benefactor HE Turki Alalshikh held a press conference in London this past Monday to unveil the undercard for the Beterbiev-Bivol show at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 1. Most of the match-ups had already been leaked.

For die-hard boxing fans, Beterbiev-Bivol is such an enticing fight that it really doesn’t need an attractive undercard. Two undefeated light heavyweights will meet with all four relevant belts on the line in a contest where the oddsmakers straddled the fence. It’s a genuine “pick-‘em” fight based on the only barometer that matters, the prevailing odds.

But Beterbiev-Bivol has been noosed to a splendid undercard, a striking contrast to Saturday’s Haney-Garcia $69.99 (U.S.) pay-per-view in Brooklyn, an event where the undercard, in the words of pseudonymous boxing writer Chris Williams, is an absolute dumpster fire.

The two heavyweight fights that will bleed into Beterbiev-Bivol, Hrgovic vs. Dubois and Wilder vs. Zhang, would have been stand-alone main events before the incursion of Saudi money.

Hrgovic-Dubois

Filip Hrgovic (17-0, 13 KOs) and Daniel Dubois (20-2, 19 KOs) fought on the same card in Riyadh this past December. Hrgovic, the Croatian, was fed a softie in the form of Australia’s Mark De Mori who he dismissed in the opening round. Dubois, a Londoner, rebounded from his loss to Oleksandr Usyk with a 10th-round stoppage of corpulent Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller.

There’s an outside chance that Hrgovic vs. Dubois may be sanctioned by the IBF for the world heavyweight title.

The May 18 showdown between Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury has a rematch clause. The IBF is next in line in the rotation system for a unified heavyweight champion and the organization has made it plain that the winner of Usyk-Fury must fulfill his IBF mandatory before an intervening bout.

The best guess is that the Usyk-Fury winner will relinquish the IBF belt. If so, Hrgovic and Dubois may fight for the vacant title although a more likely scenario is that the organization will keep the title vacant so that the winner can fight Anthony Joshua.

Wilder-Zhang

The match between Deontay Wilder (43-3-1, 42 KOs) and Zhilei Zhang (26-2-1, 21 KOs) is a true crossroads fight as both Wilder, 38, and Zhang, who turns 41 in May, are nearing the end of the road and the loser (unless it’s a close and entertaining fight) will be relegated to the rank of a has-been. In fact, Wilder has hinted that this may be his final rodeo.

Both are coming off a loss to Joseph Parker.

Wilder last fought on the card that included Hrgovic and Dubois and was roundly out-pointed by a man he was expected to beat. It’s a quick turnaround for Zhang who opposed Parker on March 8 and lost a majority decision.

Other Fights

Either of two other fights may steal the show on the June 1 event.

Raymond Ford (15-0-1, 8 KOs) meets Nick Ball (19-0-1, 11 KOs) in a 12-round featherweight contest. New Jersey’s Ford will be defending the WBA world title he won with a come-from-behind, 12th-round stoppage of Otabek Kholmatov in an early contender for Fight of the Year. Liverpool’s “Wrecking” Ball, a relentless five-foot-two sparkplug, had to settle for a draw in his title fight with Rey Vargas despite winning the late rounds and scoring two knockdowns.

Hamzah Sheeraz (19-0, 15 KOs) meets fellow unbeaten Austin “Ammo” Williams (16-0, 11 KOs) in a 12-round middleweight match. East London’s Sheeraz, the son of a former professional cricket player, is unknown in the U.S. although he trained for his recent fights at the Ten Goose Boxing Gym in California. Riding a skein of 13 straight knockouts, he has a date with WBO title-holder Janibek Alimkhanuly if he can get over this hurdle.

The Forgotten Heavyweight

“Unbeaten for seven years, the man nobody wants to fight,” intoned ring announcer Michael Buffer by way of introduction. Buffer was referencing Michael Hunter who stood across the ring from his opponent Artem Suslenkov.

This scene played out this past Saturday in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. It was Hunter’s second fight in three weeks. On March 23, he scored a fifth-round stoppage of a 46-year-old meatball at a show in Zapopan, Mexico.

The second-generation “Bounty Hunter,” whose only defeat prior to last weekend came in a 12-rounder with Oleksandr Usyk, has been spinning his wheels since TKOing the otherwise undefeated Martin Bakole on the road in London in 2018. Two fights against hapless opponents on low-budget cards in Mexico and a couple of one-round bouts for the Las Vegas Hustle, an entry in the fledgling and largely invisible Professional Combat League, are the sum total of his activity, aside from sparring, in the last two-and-a-half years.

Hunter’s chances of getting another big-money fight took a tumble in Tashkent where he lost a unanimous decision in a dull affair to the unexceptional Suslenkov who was appearing in his first 10-round fight. The scores of the judges were not announced.

You won’t find this fight listed on boxrec. As Jake Donovan notes, the popular website will not recognize a fight conducted under the auspices of a rogue commission. (Another fight you won’t find on boxrec for the same reason is Nico Ali Walsh’s 6-round split decision over the 9-2-1 Frenchman, Noel Lafargue, in the African nation of Guinea on Dec. 16, 2023. You can find it on YouTube, but according to boxrec, boxing’s official record-keeper, it never happened.)

Anderson-Merhy Redux

The only thing missing from this past Saturday’s match in Corpus Christi, Texas, between Jared Anderson and Ryad Merhy was the ghost of Robert Valsberg.

Valsberg, aka Roger Vaisburg, was the French referee who disqualified Ingemar Johansson for not trying in his match with LA’s Ed Sanders in the finals of the heavyweight competition at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Valsberg tossed Johansson out of the ring after two rounds and Johansson was denied the silver medal. The Swede redeemed himself after turning pro, needless to say, when he demolished Floyd Patterson in the first of their three meetings.

Merhy was credited with throwing only 144 punches, landing 34, over the course of the 10 rounds. Those dismal figures yet struck many onlookers as too high. (This reporter has always insisted that the widely-quoted CompuBox numbers should be considered approximations.)

Whatever the true number, it was a disgraceful performance by Merhy who actually showed himself to have very fast hands on the few occasions when he did throw a punch. With apologies to Delfine Persoon, a spunky lightweight, U.S. boxing promoters should think twice before inviting another Belgian boxer to our shores.

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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