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A Philosophy Professor and a Boxing Coach, Gordon Marino Wears Dissimilar Hats

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A Philosophy Professor and a Boxing Coach, Gordon Marino Wears Dissimilar Hats

Academia and scholarship are prim and proper and generally take place in ivy-covered brick buildings.

The art and science of boxing are rough and rugged and usually situated in dank and musty gyms.

On the surface, at least, they couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.

Gordon Marino, a longtime philosophy professor and current Professor Emeritus and Director of the Hong Soren Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, has a different twist on the matter and actually sees an intersection between the two. In addition to teaching philosophy, Marino trains amateur boxers.

“Many would say they are antithetical. Even me sometimes. My wife [Susan] is a neuroscientist and was on the Cleveland Clinics Fighters’ Brain Health study,” said Marino, a leading scholar on Kierkegaard, the Danish existentialist philosopher, who lived from 1813 to 1855. “I know what kind of damage those hurricane blows can deliver and I get sick when I see a boxer taking a beating in a contest that should be stopped. Yes, I am ambivalent about building minds up and then putting them in danger.”

The sweet science and philosophy do seem to make for strange bedfellows.

“Philosophy is about acquiring wisdom and developing the virtues,” Marino said. “Again, with proper instruction, boxing can be fertile ground for those two endeavors.”

Marino, an amateur boxer who came close to turning professional, played wide receiver at Bowling Green State University in Ohio before transferring to Columbia. He went on to earn graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago. In addition to St. Olaf, he has taught at Yale, where he was an assistant football coach, at Harvard, at the University of Florida, and at Virginia Military Institute where he was the head boxing coach.

Marino explained being a college professor is in some ways like stepping into the ring.

“This might strike some readers as puzzling, but I should also mention that philosophy is a rather violent game. Scholars work for months or years to construct a theory and then others strive to find something wrong with the theory and take it down with an intellectual uppercut,” he said. “I can tell you from experience, being on the end of one of these uppercuts can make you feel pretty stupid and for my part I would much prefer a punch in the nose to one that knocks out my intellectual confidence.”

Having gone through the rigors and challenges of being a professor has also enabled Marino, who has written about boxing for a number of periodicals including The Wall Street Journal, to fully appreciate what boxers endure.

“I would like to think being a teacher has helped me be a better boxing coach. It has made me more adept at offering clear explanations and helped me to understand that students of both philosophy and the sweet science want to learn something new all the time,” he noted. “On the other side of the coin, my experience as a trainer has improved my work in the classroom. It has strengthened my ability to take better reads on my students and to know when and how to push them.”

Marino said growing up in a volatile household in New Jersey, he was looking for an escape hatch.

“I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s in what would then have been considered a fairly violent environment,” he acknowledged. “I was smacked around at home on a daily basis, so in addition to the desire to learn how to defend myself, I suppose I wanted to kick some butt.”

“I was originally drawn to the violence and opportunity to express my anger,” he said of boxing’s appeal. “Let’s face it, everyone wants to be a tough guy and to receive their red badge of courage for overcoming five alarm fears.”

“In my late sixties and having calmed down a mite, I am more fascinated today by the courage, technique, resilience and resolve of fighters,” he said. “I also feel that in order to be a good, caring human being, we need to be able to deal with internal obstacles such as anxiety and anger.”

Marino continued: “There are very few places today where we can do some sparring with those challenging moods and emotions. With the right supervision, boxing provides a workshop for dealing with these feelings. For instance, following in the teaching of (the late trainer) Cus D’Amato, one of the lessons I pass onto my sub-novice competitive boxers is not to panic about feeling panicked. And that in order to be successful in the gloved game you are going to need to use, but control your aggression.”

Lessons are learned every single day and Marino used the manly sport to his advantage.

“I am better at taking life’s punches for having been in boxing,” he said. “And if you will excuse my moralizing, it seems to me that if you can’t take a punch, you won’t be able to do the right thing in life.”

Marino used an example from today’s headlines. “Consider the people and the cops who passively watched George Floyd have the life choked out of him. For the cops other than (Derek) Chauvin, intervening might have meant losing their job, i.e., taking a punch,” he said.

Marino wasn’t done. “Know thyself is one of the first philosophical commandments and if you have some muscle for self-reflection, you can certainly learn a lot about yourself in the ring,” he added. “Of course, the bruising game has also stamped in the importance of preparation and cultivated a little more control over my emotions than I would have had if I had spent my time on the links.”

One thing that Marino admires about pugilists is they go about their business essentially solo. Boxers walk figuratively naked into the ring.

“It is a truism to say that in boxing you are out there all alone. Boxers certainly reveal something about their will,” he explained. “When the leather starts flying you will be forced to ask yourself in public, just how far you are or aren’t willing to go to win.”

“For example, it could be that in learning to box and perhaps in sparring, you recognize you are too afraid to stay in the pocket. However, having grasped that, you push yourself and develop the courage to get inside and let your hands go.”

The second step is to remain in control of yourself despite what’s happening that may scare you.

In addition to cultivating control over emotions, said Marino, “(sports like boxing) nurture affiliations – strong and intimate bonds between people.”

On the other hand, there are negatives. “Just the same, make no mistake about it, sports can also poison character, especially when your guides to boxing or whatever are blind or indifferent to the issue of character,” Marino said.

It’s been said a wise man knows his limits and seeks out others as a way to enrich oneself. For Marino, that man was legendary trainer Angelo Dundee.

“About 15 years ago, I was assigned to write an online story on Ang for Men’s Health. I went to Florida to meet with him at the South Florida Boxing Gym, where he was still training fighters. He must have been in his late seventies, but he was a ball of positive energy.”

Marino could sense the experience was going to elicit a wealth of information from a man who trained 16 world champions.

“Like Muhammad Ali, Ang had a heavyweight love for people, as well as a sparkling sense of humor. Maya Angelou once remarked, ‘that you might not remember what a person says, but you’ll surely remember how they made you feel.’ Ang made so many of us, his friends, feel special. I loved the man,” he said.

It’s something that Dundee said that still resonates with Marino. “Of course, as a coach, I pumped him for his knowledge of strategy and technique,” he recalled. “Now and again, he would give me a piece of advice to which I would have to protest. ‘Ang, I can’t use that with amateurs.’ A [Sigmund] Freud of sorts, he taught me that when you have a boxer who won’t listen, as Ali often wouldn’t, praise him for doing what you want him to do, even though he or she might not be doing it.”

Having covered boxing for 15 years for The Wall Street Journal, Marino said the stint helped him immensely as a coach.

“Every time I met an elite fighter, I would ask him or her to teach me one of their signature moves,” he said. “Sometimes they were a little guarded about this – for example, Oscar De La Hoya just told me – ‘exhale on your big punches.’ But most of them came right back with something I could bring home.”

Manny Pacquiao was extremely helpful. “Tell them to always throw six punch combos on the bag or shadow boxing, because they will turn into two punches in the ring,” explained the eight-division world champion.

Roy Jones Jr. was equally insightful, according to Marino, who asked Roy about throwing a right hand.

“Lean right, lean left, lean back right, but this time as you are leaning right, throw your right,” he said.

The late Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward rendered this advice to Marino: “Don’t put too much weight on the front foot and when you throw your hook, turn your arm into a steel bar,” he said.

Mike Tyson, the youngest-ever heavyweight champion, gave Marino this tidbit: “Dip down a few times and jab to the solar plexus. The counter is, of course, a right hand,” he said. “Now, dip, load up your legs, feint the jab and fire your right. If you are lucky, the other guy will be coming in with his right and blam, good night.”

Sugar Ray Leonard forked over this gem just before Leonard’s wife kicked Marino out of the house: “When you are fighting a southpaw, feint the left hook and fire a wide right to the head,” he said.

Pacquiao, a left-hander, should have remembered this lesson before he faced Juan Manuel Marquez on December 8, 2012, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, when he was knocked out by a thunderous overhand right in the sixth round, Marino suggested.

For Gordon Marino, the path to knowledge and wisdom can be found almost anywhere, whether they’re in books, lecture halls or the squared circle.

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Regis Prograis KOs Jose Zepeda at Dignity Sports Health Park

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Not all big bangers are the same.

Regis Prograis slugged it out with fellow knockout artist Jose “Chon” Zepeda and after 11 rounds of tactical battle ended the WBC super lightweight battle with a flourishing knockout on Saturday.

Prograis (28-1, 24 KOs) becomes the first two-time super lightweight champion from New Orleans after his win over Zepeda (36-3, 27 KOs) at SoCal’s Dignity Health Sports Park. It had been more than three years since he last held a world title.

“This was the hardest fight of my career,” said Prograis after the strategic clash between the super lightweight division’s biggest punchers.

The heavily favored Prograis and Zepeda were cautious under the cold outdoor weather arena. Many a previous world title match ended quickly under similar circumstances and both were wary.

Zepeda was slightly busier and able to connect early with his deceptively fast left cross. Though the first two rounds were not very action-packed, it seemed Zepeda landed more effective blows.

Then Prograis went to work.

“At first, I wanted to come out and box him. Maybe in the third round I caught my rhythm,” said Prograis. “Then he caught on to that.”

Behind his awkward head movements and more agile movements Prograis used jabs and counters to force Zepeda into a more defensive stance. Though neither fighter dominated a round it was the New Orleans native who dictated the pace and action.

Round after round was going into the books favoring Prograis, not until the eighth round did Zepeda make a move into a more aggressive mode and finally out-punched Prograis. But the former world champion adapted again.

Prograis and Zepeda slugged it out in the ninth round. Zepeda connected with a left uppercut but Prograis withstood the blow and continued moving forward. Once again Prograis out-punched Zepeda in a very close round.

Both seemed ready to make the 10th round their own and Zepeda connected with a left cross that landed flush. Prograis barely was moved and then increased his output and the two super lightweights exchanged furiously with the New Orleans fighter seeming to out-punch Zepeda again. It was a telling round.

Prograis had withstood Zepeda’s biggest blows and was ready to unload some of his firepower. He had dominated most of the fight behind his jab and quick combinations. Now he was ready for the big shells.

Both super lightweights opened up in the 11th round with each connecting early. Suddenly an overhand left by Prograis sent Zepeda reeling backward and he did not let up. A furious 13-punch barrage was unloaded and down went Zepeda. Referee Ray Corona did not bother to count and ended the fight at 59 seconds of the 11th round.

“In the 11th round I felt like taking him to deep waters and drown him,” said Prograis.

Once again Prograis holds a super lightweight world title.

“I heard the small talk. I heard the rumors. I want to congratulate Zepeda, that guy was tough, tough, tough. He gave me my hardest fight,” said an ecstatic Prograis. “Listen, I got 29 fights, this was probably my hardest fight.”

Yokasta Valle beats Evelin Bermudez

Seeking big challenges Yokasta Valle (27-2, 9 KOs) rallied after a slow start and out-boxed Argentina’s Evelin Bermudez (17-1-1, 6 KOs) to win the WBO and IBF light flyweight world titles by majority decision after 10 rounds.

After absorbing big right hands from Bermudez during the first two rounds, Valle solved the problem and out-hustled the taller world champion behind quick combinations and making the champion shift her feet. It was a simple but effective plan and led to Valle storming down the stretch with more effective punching.

Bermudez had steamrolled most of her opponents behind a relentless attack that focused mainly on her big right cross. But against Valle that punch was mostly eliminated after the third round.

Valle slipped under Bermudez’s attacks and countered with her combination punching. Occasionally the Costa Rican fighter connected with a big shot that caught the eye of the judges.

After 10 rounds, one judge scored it 95-95, while two others saw Valle the winner by majority decision 99-91, 97-93.

Valle, an IBF and WBO minimumweight world titlist, moved up a division to win her second weight division world title.

Conwell Wins

In a savage battle Ohio’s Charles Conwell (18-0, 13 KOs) bludgeoned his way to victory over Juan Carlos Abreu (25-7-1, 23 KOs) by unanimous decision after 10 rounds in a super welterweight contest. It was a skillful display of 1950s-style fighting that saw Conwell showcase his strength and canny punch selection in out-fighting veteran slugger Abreu.

Heavyweights

Former Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist Bakhodir Jalolov (12-0, 12 KOs) knocked out Curtis Harper (14-9) in the fourth round with a barrage if blows. Twice he knocked down Harper who had been deducted a point for an intentional head butt.

Vargas Brothers

Both sons of boxing great Fernando Vargas emerged victorious in their bouts. Fernando Vargas Jr. (7-0, 7 KOs) knocked out Alejandro Martinez (3-3-1) in the second round of their super welterweight bout. Amado Vargas (5-0, 2 KOs) won by decision after four rounds versus Osmar Hernandez (1-2) in a featherweight match.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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John Ryder and Fabio Wardley Triumph on Dueling Shows in London

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John Ryder and Fabio Wardley Triumph on Dueling Shows in London

If one were driving from Greenwich township in London to that city’s Wembley sector, or vice versa, one would travel about 18 miles. No doubt many hardcore British fight fans would have gladly made the trip if the starting times of today’s shows had been sufficiently staggered so that one could attend both events. But no, rival promoters Eddie Hearn (Matchroom) and Frank Warren (Queensberry) elected to go head-to-head.

Warren’s Greenwich show at the O2 Arena, which aired in the U.S. on ESPN+, had the main event with the highest stakes and the deepest undercard. Hearn’s show at Wembley, live-streamed on DAZN, had the allurement of heavyweights.

O2 Arena

The WBO interim 168-pound title was at stake plus pole position for a Cinco de Mayo showdown with Canelo Alvarez when Zach Parker squared off with countryman John Ryder. A second-generation boxer who came in undefeated (22-0, 16 KOs), Parker entered the ring an 11/5 favorite.

This was shaping up as a good fight, arguably tilting Ryder’s way, when Parker pulled out after four rounds with a broken right hand. It was a bitter defeat for the Derbyshire man who was making his first start of 2022 after matches with defending WBO title-holder Demetrius Andrade kept falling out.

Although Canelo Alvarez has no fear of Englishmen having defeated Matthew Hatton, Amir Khan, Liam Smith, Rocky Fielding, Callum Smith, and Billy Joe Saunders in world title fights. John Ryder, a 34-year-old southpaw, nicknamed “Gorilla,” may have the tools to make things interesting. Today’s win, albeit somewhat tainted, was his fourth straight after losing a controversial decision to Callum Smith in Smith’s hometown, elevating his record to 32-5 (18).

If Canelo chooses to spurn his mandatory and go in a different direction when he next laces on the gloves, the WBO will anoint John Ryder its full super middleweight champion.

Other O2 Bouts

Highly-touted middleweight Hamzah Sheeraz scored his 11th straight knockout and improved to 17-0 (13) with a fast beatdown of overmatched River Wilson-Bent (13-2-1) who was bruised and battered when the referee interceded in the waning seconds of round two. Sheeraz has been training in the U.S. at Joe Goossen’s Ten Goose Gym in California.

Southpaw Dennis McCann, a 21-year-old Irish Traveler, continued his climb up the super bantamweight ranks with an eighth round stoppage of Scotland’s Joe Ham. McCann (14-0, 8 KOs) was pummeling Ham (17-4) against the ropes when the bout was waived off. Ham hadn’t previously been stopped.

Knockout artist Sam Noakes, a lightweight, employed a vicious body attack to score his 10th stoppage in as many opportunities, halting Calvin McCord (12-1, 2 KOs) in the fourth frame. Noakes showed no after-effects of the broken thumb that had kept him out of the ring since March.

Junior welterweight Pierce O’Leary scored two knockdowns but wasn’t able to polish off Namibian import Emanuel Mungandjela who was still standing after 10 rounds. The judges had it 99-89, 99-90, and 96-92.

It was the first scheduled 10-rounder for O’Leary (11-0, 6 KOs), a Dubliner with a strong amateur pedigree. Mungandjela (16-4-1) was making his U.K. debut.

Wembley Arena

The main event pitted Dillian Whyte against Jermaine Franklin, but most of the pre-fight talk centered around the co-feature, a 12-round contest between Fabio Wardley and Nathan Gorman for the vacant British heavyweight title.

Wardley (14-0 heading in) had stopped his last 13 opponents while answering the bell for only 31 rounds, but the jury was still out on him. He had no amateur experience and was thought to be very much a work in progress. Nathan Gorman, Tyson Fury’s cousin, had come up short in his first crossroads fight, getting stopped by former amateur rival Daniel Dubois, but was considered something more than a gatekeeper.

Wardley rose to the occasion with the biggest win of his career, stopping Gorman (19-2) in the third frame in a fan-friendly fight. Gorman clearly won the first round and busted Wardley’s nose wide open in round two, but the Ipswich man, a protégé of Dillian Whyte, cranked up the juice at the sight of his own blood and scored two knockdowns before the second round was over. Another knockdown in the third prompted Gorman’s corner to toss in the towel.

Wardley

The main event was anticlimactic.

It was thought that Dillian Whyte, who has been matched tough throughout his career, would have little trouble with Saginaw, Michigan’s Jermaine Franklin who had misleading 21-0 record, lacked fight-altering power, had fought only once in the last three years, and came in at a too-heavy 257 pounds. But the “Body Snatcher,” in his first fight with trainer Buddy McGirt, delivered a lackluster performance while walking away with a majority decision (114-114, 116-112, 116-112).

Whyte, 35, improved his ledger to 29-3 (19) in what some are calling a hometown decision. To his credit, he came on strong in the final rounds after being rocked in the ninth. There is talk that he will be granted a rematch with Anthony Joshua who stopped him in the seventh round at this venue in December of 2015.

Other Wembley Bouts of Note

Welterweight Pat McCormack, a silver medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, was forced to go the distance for the first time in his young pro career, but swept all six rounds on the referee’s card, improving to 3-0 against Argentina’s clumsy, feather-fisted Christian Nicolas Andino (16-6-2). McCormack is trained by Ben Davison.

Derby super welterweight Sandy Ryan improved to 5-1 (2) with a wide decision over Argentine veteran Anahi Ester Sanchez (21-6). The scores were 98-92, 99-91, and 100-92. Ryan, who avenged her lone defeat at the pro level, spent 10 years in the amateurs racking up more than 50 wins.

Photo credits:

Ryder-Parker — Alex Morton / Getty

Wardley-Gorman — Mark Robinson / Matchroom

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Avila Perspective, Chap 213: Regis Prograis vs Jose Zepeda Harks to Pryor-Aguello

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Two of the most avoided super lightweights in the last 40 years, Jose “Chon” Zepeda and Regis Prograis cross paths. One a strong, intense athlete reared in the competitive American amateur boxing world and the other a learn-in-the-ring slugger with heavy fists.

Both are 33-year-old southpaws steeped in dangerous power.

Prograis (27-1, 23 KOs) meets Zepeda (36-2, 27 KOs) on Saturday, Nov. 26, at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. for the vacant WBC super lightweight title. FITE.TV pay-per-view will show the loaded card staged by MarvNation Promotions and Legendz Entertainment.

Not since Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello roamed the super lightweights in the early 1980s have two more dynamic fighters with advanced boxing pedigrees met in the prize ring.

Fans still debate their two fights that saw Pryor win consecutive clashes loaded in controversy regarding a mysterious bottle containing an unknown substance imbibed during the final rounds of their first fight. Pryor would proceed to stop Arguello twice in battles that still create excitement when seen.

Can Prograis and Zepeda deliver with equal zeal?

When Hurricane Katrina flooded Progais’ neighborhood in New Orleans his family was forced to move to Houston. In high school he was an outstanding athlete in football and engaged in the amateur boxing program. Errol Spence Jr. blocked his entry into the US Olympic team.

As a professional Prograis proved too strong for most foes and bludgeoned his way to a world title with dominant wins over Joel Diaz Jr., Terry Flanagan and Kiryl Relikh and won the WBA title. In October 2019, he met IBF titlist Josh Taylor of Scotland and lost the unification bout by majority decision to the Scotsman.

Since that loss few are willing to face Prograis who knocked out three foes in three years.

“When I was the world champion everybody called my name but once I didn’t have the belt it all stopped and I know I’m a dangerous fighter and that’s part of the reason,” said Prograis.

Zepeda took a different path.

The American-born Mexican fighter began performing professionally at the late age of 20 in Mexico, in the border town of Mexicali. His heavy hands immediately ended all four of his first pro fights via knockout.

Slowly Zepeda was matched against different style of fighters in Southern California club shows like Ontario, Commerce, Montebello and Burbank. He was always a deliberate and careful pugilist and never the wild swinging type. But if an opponent got too frisky Zepeda could easily unload the left or right to end the fight quickly. That was never more evident than last year when the braggadocious Josue Vargas attempted to intimidate him with words and shoving in a press conference. The Puerto Rican was bludgeoned in the first round in front of his own fans at Madison Square Garden.

Never flashy but deliberate, Zepeda likes finishing the fight inside the distance.

“I have all the experience I need. Regis Prograis is going to be fighting the best version of Jose Zepeda. I really believe it’s now or never,” Zepeda said.

Prograis respects Zepeda and vice versa. But he remains confident.

“I have more experience and I’ve been at the top already. If you compare strength, power, chin, stamina, speed, defense, I feel like I win every time. Every category, it’s me,” said Prograis. “He’s been hurt, he’s been dropped a bunch of times. I’ve never been hurt and I destroy people.”

Zepeda shrugs at the comments.

“Prograis is going to be very surprised by my power and speed. We’re both going to fight the way we’ve been fighting. He hits hard, I hit hard and both of us are desperate to win which will make for a great fight,” Zepeda says.

Expect one of the best super lightweight fights in the last 40 years when they finally exchange blows.

Women co-main

Argentina’s Evelin Bermudez (17-0-1, 6 KOs) defends the WBO and IBF light flyweight world titles against Costa Rica’s Yokasta Valle (26-2, 9 KOs) in a 10-round match. It’s Bermudez’s pressure versus Valle’s speed and agility.

Bermudez, 26, is younger, taller and relentless in her attacks, especially with the right hand. She loves the right and has no left hook. But she does possess a strong left jab to set up the right cross. She has never fought in the USA.

Valle, 30, has plenty of speed and has been working on her power with American-based trainer Gloria Mosquera. This will be a tough test for the Costa Rican who recently signed promotion deals with MarvNation and Golden Boy Promotions. This is her second fight in the USA and toughest foe since losing to Naoko Fujioka in 2017.

It’s a very tough match to predict the winner.

Others on the card include undefeated Ruben Torres, the tall lightweight promoted by Thompson Boxing Promotions. He was popular on social media for a recent knockout of a guy who tapped gloves with him and then was knocked out a single second later. Super welterweight Charles Conwell is another budding contender out of Cleveland. He’s extraordinarily strong for the weight class and opened eyes with his knockout of Kazakhstan’s Madiyar Ashkeyev who was undefeated when they met.

Also, two sons of the great Fernando Vargas are planned to fight too. Super welterweight prospect Fernando Vargas Jr. and featherweight Amado Vargas are scheduled to perform.

Doors open at 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at AXS.com.

Fights to Watch

Sat. DAZN 2:00 p.m. ET Dillian Whyte (28-3) vs Jermaine Franklin (21-0); Sandy Ryan (4-1) vs Anahi Sanchez (21-5).

Sat. ESPN+ 2:00 p.m. ET (main card) 5:00 p.m. ET (main event) Zach Parker (22-0) vs John Ryder (31-5).

Sat. FITE.TV ppv 9 p.m. ET (main card) 11:15 p.m. ET (main event) Regis Prograis (27-1) vs Jose Zepeda (36-2); Yokasta Valle (26-2) vs Evelin Bermudez (17-0-1); Ruben Torres (19-0) vs Eduardo Estela (13-1); Charles Conwell (17-0) vs Juan Carlos Abreu (25-6-1).

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hogan Photos

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