The Complete Guide to UFC 207: Rousey vs. Nunes
Ronda Rousey is back.
Thirteen months after she dropped her bantamweight title to Holly Holm at UFC 193 in Australia, Rousey returns to action against Amanda Nunes with the belt on the line in the UFC 207 main event on Friday, December 30 in Las Vegas.
Questions have swirled about Rousey's mental state, her career plans outside of MMA, her dedication and her coach, but never her raw talent. Will it be enough to take out Nunes, who brutalized Miesha Tate to win the title in July at UFC 200?
That's the question the UFC is hoping fans will tune in to answer at UFC 207. This is a stacked event that features seven current or former champions and two title fights in addition to a plethora of other talented fighters, and from top to bottom it should deliver both action and divisional relevance.
In the co-main event, bantamweight kingpin Dominick Cruz defends his title against young-gun contender Cody Garbrandt, who has knocked out four of his five UFC opponents in devastating fashion to punch his ticket to a title shot. This should be an outstanding fight on the merits but even more so because Garbrandt is the designated successor at Team Alpha Male, Cruz's nemesis these many years.
The next contender for the winner of that fight will likely be decided by a fantastic bantamweight bout between TJ Dillashaw and John Lineker, one of the most exciting and compelling matchups that can be made in the division.
The prelims are solid, if not outstanding. Former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks takes on Neil Magny in the Fox Sports 1 main event, while Tim Means draws Alex Oliveira in a violent welterweight matchup on Fight Pass.
Let's take a look at each matchup.
The Fight Pass Prelims
Tim Means (26-7-1; 8-4 UFC) vs. Alex Oliveira (15-4-1, 1 NC; 5-2 UFC)
An action matchup of violent welterweights headlines the Fight Pass portion of the event as Brazil's Oliveira takes on New Mexico's Means. Means has won two in a row, knocking out both Sabah Homasi and John Howard, while Oliveira finished former Bellator champion Will Brooks in his last outing to run his streak to two after a loss to Donald Cerrone in February.
Means is a violent, aggressive fighter who likes to pressure his opponent toward the fence and unload shots in the pocket and the clinch. The southpaw uses his 6'2" frame nicely with straight punches and long kicks to stick his opponent on the end of his reach and buries him in a steady stream of punches, knees and elbows. He's a decent defensive wrestler and nasty from top position.
Oliveira isn't that tall for the division at 5'11", but he has a 76-inch reach, which gives him ridiculous leverage in the clinch. He excels at pinning his opponent against the fence and going to town with knees while working the occasional takedown, and he's solid on top. At range, he likes to bounce around and pick his opponent apart with kicks and single punches before moving into a tie-up.
Prediction: This is a close fight. Means is unquestionably the better range striker, but Oliveira likely has more shot-for-shot power. Means is nastier in the clinch with his elbows and knees, but Oliveira is stronger on the inside and has better takedowns there. Without much confidence, the pick is Means by decision in a violent, back-and-forth fight.
The Fox Sports 1 Prelims
Brandon Thatch (11-4; 2-3 UFC) vs. Niko Price (8-0; 0-0 UFC)
One-time hot prospect Thatch draws promotional newcomer Price, who has compiled an undefeated record entirely under the banner of Florida's Fight Time promotion. Thatch was once a favorite to be the next big thing, but he has now lost his last three, all of them by submission.
Price isn't a great athlete, and he's a bit limited technically, but he's durable, hits hard and pushes a serious pace on his opponent. Thatch is huge for the division at a thick 6'2" and has a slick striking arsenal and effective takedowns, but he hasn't made much progress in his grappling in recent years.
Prediction: Thatch is a much better technical striker, and Price isn't the kind of wrestler and grappler who has troubled him in recent years. Thatch finds the knockout in the second round.
Mike Pyle (27-12-1; 10-7 UFC) vs. Alex Garcia (13-3; 3-2 UFC)
Former blue-chip prospect Garcia looks to reestablish himself as a fighter to watch against the veteran Pyle. The 41-year-old Pyle is nearing the end of his career, going 2-4 in his last six with three of those four losses by knockout. Garcia, too, lost by knockout in his last fight, falling to Sean Strickland in February.
Pyle can do everything well. He's not fast on the feet, but he has great timing, which makes him a dangerous counterpuncher. The clinch is the best part of his game, both as a striker and a wrestler, and on the mat he has a dangerous submission game.
Garcia is an outstanding athlete with great power and strength, which he puts to use with explosive combinations and double-leg takedowns, but he hasn't shown much growth recently.
Prediction: The real question here is whether Pyle's chin can hold up against the explosive punching of Garcia. It might, but the pick is Garcia by knockout in the second round.
Antonio Carlos Junior (6-2, 1 NC; 3-2, 1 NC UFC) vs. Marvin Vettori (11-2; 1-0 UFC)
The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3 winner Carlos Junior takes on Italy's Vettori in a decent middleweight bout. The Brazilian looked like a big-time prospect but has had only mixed results over the last several years, most recently falling to Daniel Kelly by knockout before submitting Leonardo Guimaraes. Vettori debuted with a submission win over Alberto Uda in August.
Carlos Junior is a big, athletic middleweight with developing striking skills, sharp takedowns and an excellent top game on the mat. He's suffocating and wears his opponent down with top pressure. The 23-year-old Vettori is a strong, athletic fighter. A southpaw, he's a sharp striker with big power in his shots, and he complements his game on the feet with surprisingly slick wrestling skills and a sneaky submission game.
Prediction: Carlos Junior is a more experienced and deep grappler, and if he can get the fight to the floor, he should be able to work his control game. The Brazilian wins a decision.
Johny Hendricks (17-5; 12-5 UFC) vs. Neil Magny (18-5; 11-4 UFC)
Former welterweight champion Hendricks tries to get back on track against Magny in a good headlining matchup on Fox Sports 1. Magny won three in a row after a loss to Demian Maia but fell to Lorenz Larkin by knockout in his last fight. Hendricks is at a crossroads after dropping his last two to Stephen Thompson and Kelvin Gastelum and desperately needs a statement win.
Magny is huge for the division at 6'3" and boasts an 80-inch reach, which he puts to good use with a long jab and steady diet of kicks at range. He does his best work in the clinch, though, where his frame gives him great leverage to land strikes and hit trips and throws. On the ground, he's dangerous from top position and maintains excellent control while landing strikes.
Hendricks has struggled in recent years, but the southpaw is still a crisp combination kickboxer with some pop in his hands. He's a powerhouse in the clinch and a slick, technical wrestler who mostly looks to control from the top. His lacking defense has started to catch up with him, though, and there's a genuine chance that he's shot as a fighter.
Prediction: It's hard to trust a Hendricks who has had increasing trouble cutting weight, who hasn't shown much in the way of knockout power in the last several years and who has seemed a bit lost in the cage. Magny wins a decision.
Louis Smolka vs. Ray Borg
Louis Smolka (11-2; 5-2 UFC) vs. Ray Borg (9-2; 3-2 UFC)
A fine flyweight matchup opens the main card as Hawaii's Smolka takes on New Mexico's Borg. Smolka was on an impressive four-fight winning streak, but late replacement Brandon Moreno submitted him in the first round in October to halt that surge to the top. The 23-year-old Borg is one of the more promising young fighters in the division, but Justin Scoggins snapped his winning streak in his last outing in February.
The winner will be back on track toward the top of the rapidly evolving flyweight division.
Smolka is big for the division at 5'9" and dangerous in every phase. On the feet, he showcases a high-volume striking attack that blends rangy punching combinations with a steady diet of front, side and round kicks. He's not an especially powerful striker, but his pace is punishing.
While he's proficient at striking distance, the Hawaiian's real wheelhouse is the clinch. His height gives him great leverage, which he puts to good use with a slick arsenal of trips and throws on the inside. Defensive wrestling isn't his strong suit, though, and he's fine with being taken down if it creates a scramble.
This willingness to engage on the mat is both a strength and a weakness of Smolka's game. He's fantastic in transitions and excels at getting to the back, and he's proficient at sweeping from his back amid chains of triangles, armbars and omoplatas. From top position, he's a dangerous ground striker and passes well. He can be outscrambled, though, and he occasionally leaves his neck exposed.
Borg is a quick, explosive athlete who lives and dies in the transitions between phases. Strikes lead into takedowns; takedowns lead into passes to dominant positions; scrambles lead into submissions and strikes as the opponent tries to stand. Aside from his top game, Borg doesn't have great depth of skill in any one phase, and if an opponent can stick him at striking distance or in the clinch, he's limited.
If he can get his transitions going, however, Borg is hard to shut down. He's quick and flows so naturally from one thing to the next that everything comes together as one seamless whole rather than a stitched-together collection of skills. If he can establish control on the ground, he's suffocating and dangerous with both strikes and submissions.
Borg -115, Smolka -105
This is an interesting matchup. Smolka's rangy striking could stick Borg on the outside, and neither man is a great defensive wrestler, which should create a profusion of scrambles in which both fighters could potentially shine. In that scenario, Borg has the slightly better chance; he wins a decision.
Dong Hyun Kim vs. Tarec Saffiedine
Dong Hyun Kim (21-3-1, 1 NC; 12-3, 1 NC UFC) vs. Tarec Saffiedine (16-5; 2-2 UFC)
Veteran welterweights, both of them fringe contenders, meet in a well-matched fight. South Korea's Kim has fought 16 times in the UFC since 2008 and has won two in a row since a loss to Tyron Woodley, finishing Josh Burkman and Dominic Waters. Saffiedine, the former Strikeforce welterweight champion, has alternated wins and losses. He won a decision over Jake Ellenberger and then lost one to Rick Story in May.
Striking is Saffiedine's wheelhouse. He's effectively ambidextrous and uses an arsenal of jabs and heavy kicks set up with crisp footwork from both stances. Strong wrestling keeps him standing. He doesn't have real knockout power, though, and he's vulnerable to being controlled in the clinch.
The southpaw Kim is aggressive and likes to apply pressure, forcing his opponent toward the fence with kicks and long punches before diving into the clinch, where he hits slick trips and throws. He's stifling from top position and can finish with strikes or submissions from the top, though he's mostly a control artist.
Kim -135, Saffiedine +115
This is a close fight. If Kim gets stuck at long range, he's going to get chewed up, but he can control Saffiedine in the clinch if he can get it there. Kim wins a grinding decision.
TJ Dillashaw vs. John Lineker
TJ Dillashaw (13-3; 9-3 UFC) vs. John Lineker (29-7; 10-2 UFC)
Former champion Dillashaw returns to action against the surging Lineker in a probable top-contender matchup at 135 pounds. Dillashaw lost his title to Dominick Cruz last January but defeated Raphael Assuncao in a rematch in July. Lineker has won six in a row and four since moving back up to 135 pounds, including a split-decision win over John Dodson in October.
Dillashaw is an unorthodox but fundamentally sound striker who has transformed into one of the most dangerous kickboxers in the division under the tutelage of Duane Ludwig. His game is built on outstanding footwork and movement, which allows him to bury his opponent in a constant stream of offense until either the final bell sounds or his opponent quits, whichever comes first.
Unlike Cruz, after whom Dillashaw initially patterned his movement, Dillashaw is focused on the offensive side of the equation. His constant stance-switches, forward, backward and lateral motion, and pivots all give him a variety of options from which to land, and he sets a tricky rhythm by constantly tapping away with strikes before ripping a full-speed, full-power combination. Hiding head kicks behind punches is a specialty.
At his best, Dillashaw's footwork keeps him just close enough to his opponent that he can blitz in with a combination that attacks all three levels while avoiding the worst of the counters. He's willing to risk eating a few shots in order to land a long combination, but he's hardly irresponsible defensively; it's just the cost of doing business to land the kind of pace and volume he prefers.
Wrestling is a strong secondary skill set for Dillashaw. He has great timing on his reactive takedowns and puts together good chains. Outstanding takedown defense keeps him standing against all but the best wrestlers in the division, and even then he's almost impossible to hold down.
On the mat, transitions are the heart and soul of Dillashaw's game. He has a knack for getting to the back from practically any position, whether it's as his opponent stands, from the front headlock or in a wild scramble.
Lineker is a dangerous puncher with enormous power in his hands and a game built around planting them on his opponent as early and often as possible. Pressure is his best tool for accomplishing this; since his opponents are so focused on staying away from his power, pinning the opponent against the fence is the easiest way for Lineker to impose his preferred game.
Lineker's pressure game isn't on par with fighters like Rafael Dos Anjos or Conor McGregor—whose combination of footwork, straight shots and kicks is masterful—but he does a decent job of cutting off the cage and attacking the space into which his opponent will try to move. If the opponent does stop against the fence, Lineker unloads brutal body-head combinations of hooks.
Counters might be the best part of Lineker's striking game. He excels at backstepping and throwing as his opponent tries to create space with strikes, and he's perfectly willing to take a shot in the pocket to give one back. His chin is iron, and his willingness to pull the trigger and throw means that he piles up a great deal of damage quickly.
The rest of Lineker's game is good enough to help him impose his preferred approach. His takedown defense isn't bulletproof, but it has drastically improved over the last several years, and opponents who try to get him to the mat have to worry about a slick guillotine choke. He can hit the occasional takedown of his own to change things up.
Dillashaw -250, Lineker +210
The betting line undersells Lineker's chances. Dillashaw is often there to be hit, and outside of John Dodson, who knocked him out, nobody he has ever fought has hit him the way Lineker will. Either Dillashaw will have to dial back his offensive output to minimize the risk or take his chances in a quick-paced firefight with a heavy puncher.
The first option seems like the more likely approach for Dillashaw, especially if he can mix in some takedowns and control on the mat. Lineker's no slouch, though, and he'll make Dillashaw pay for sloppy attempts with uppercuts on the way in and counters on the way out. If Lineker can string together a few good combinations, Dillashaw might not have a choice about turning the bout into a firefight.
With those caveats, the pick is Dillashaw by 29-28 decision in a fight that gets scary for him more than once.
Dominick Cruz vs. Cody Garbrandt
Dominick Cruz (22-1; 5-0 UFC) vs. Cody Garbrandt (10-0; 5-0 UFC)
Rising star Garbrandt gets a huge step up in competition as he takes on grizzled champion Cruz in an outstanding matchup for the bantamweight title.
The brick-fisted Garbrandt has moved up the ladder quickly since debuting in January 2015, knocking out four of his five opponents in the promotion in devastating fashion. First-round finishes of Augusto Mendes, Thomas Almeida and Takeya Mizugaki punched his ticket to the big fight with Cruz.
Following the final title defense in his first run, a decision win over Demetrious Johnson in October 2011, Cruz spent three years on the shelf with a variety of ailments. After finishing Mizugaki, he spent another 16 months on the sidelines before returning with a tight win over TJ Dillashaw to reclaim his title last January. A dominant win over Urijah Faber in June solidified him as the division's top dog.
This is an outstanding matchup on every level.
Cruz moves constantly through the space of the cage, and that movement is the foundation of his game. He shuffle-steps, side-steps, pivots, turns, changes directions on a dime and is always in the process of creating new angles and ranges.
Every new angle and distance creates a flow chart of possible actions for Cruz. The same pivot in the face of a pressuring opponent might lead to a punching combination, a level change for a takedown, a clinch entry or a sneaky high kick. Opponents never have any idea of what's coming next because Cruz's potential options in each situation are effectively limitless.
Offense and defense flow together seamlessly. The same angle that gives Cruz an opportunity to land a strike also takes him out of the path of a counter, with the net effect that he's almost never there to be hit. When he is in range, slick head movement makes it difficult to hit him cleanly.
The key to understanding Cruz's game is grasping that there's no division between offense and defense, wrestling and striking, grappling and clinching. Everything blends together. A level change might lead to a three-punch combination or vice versa. A slip to avoid a punch could create a new angle, a counter or a level change.
Power isn't Cruz's calling card, but he works at an outstanding pace and does have some pop. His counters have improved dramatically over the last several years as well.
As a wrestler, Cruz showcases excellent fundamentals and puts together strong chains. Only the best takedown artists have succeeded in getting him to the mat. Both offensively and defensively, his command of angles and distance allows him to dictate when he shoots and when his opponent can. Cruz isn't much of a control artist on the mat, though he's competent, and his takedowns mostly serve as a change of pace.
Garbrandt is a puncher blessed with enormous power and blazing speed, both of hand and foot. An amateur boxer with 33 fights on his record, Garbrandt's background shows up in his crisp jab, clean and fundamentally sound combination punching, and tight footwork.
Neither sticking and moving nor pressuring are in Garbrandt's wheelhouse on the feet, though he can do both in small doses. Instead, he does his best work exchanging in the pocket, where his power, quick hands and tight footwork allow him to land crushing, accurate punches from subtle angles. Cracking low kicks and the occasional flashy strike add some variety to this basic, meat-and-potatoes package.
As dangerous as he is on the feet, Garbrandt is something of a jack-of-all-trades, which can play against him. He can pepper his opponent with jabs and kicks from the outside, but he's clearly not comfortable there for extended periods, and his pressure game isn't up to the task of getting after his opponent for more than a couple of minutes at a time. His forward-moving combinations are lethal, but they leave him vulnerable.
The biggest problem with Garbrandt's game is suspect defense in the pocket, which is a real issue for a fighter who likes to exchange as much as he does. He barely moves his head and doesn't parry or block much, relying entirely on his tight footwork to create angles and keep him out of trouble. He doesn't take a great punch either.
The rest of Garbrandt's game is functional but mostly untested. He's an explosive takedown artist when the mood strikes, mixing doubles, knee taps and trips into strong chains, but he mostly uses them as a change of pace. On top, he throws hard strikes and can control, but that's about it. We have no real idea how good his takedown defense is since no opponent has made a real attempt at shooting on him in the UFC.
Cruz -210, Garbrandt +175
Garbrandt is the hardest puncher and, alongside Dillashaw, the most technical striker Cruz has ever faced. His speed and raw power, combined with his limited but effective well of technical tricks, will be a stiff test for the champion, especially early in the fight.
If Cruz can survive the early going unscathed, however, the fight is his to lose. Garbrandt isn't the kind of pressure fighter who can safely and technically force Cruz to the fence, and Cruz won't be baited into the kinds of toe-to-toe exchanges that favor Garbrandt. If it becomes a stick-and-move striking match in the middle of the cage, there's little question that kind of fight favors Cruz.
Once he gets his movement going, the sheer profusion of possibilities will make it hard for Garbrandt to keep up. If he were a little more inclined to work the legs and body or had a better pressure game, it might be closer, but barring the landing of a big punch—a real possibility—Cruz will pepper Garbrandt and mix in takedowns for 25 minutes. Cruz overcomes a few scary moments and wins a clear decision.
Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey
Women's Bantamweight Championship
Amanda Nunes (13-4; 6-1 UFC) vs. Ronda Rousey (12-1; 6-1 UFC)
Ronda Rousey returns after a 13-month absence from the sport following a crushing defeat, and the loss of her title, against Holly Holm last November. She draws champion Amanda Nunes, who brutalized Miesha Tate to win the belt in July. Prior to that, Nunes defeated Valentina Shevchenko, Sara McMann and Shayna Baszler to set up her title shot.
The first loss of Rousey's career was hard for her to take, and in an appearance on The Ellen Degeneres Show, she even mentioned that she contemplated suicide in the aftermath of the fight. Whether she's psychologically ready for the kind of challenge Nunes represents is an open question.
Explosiveness, power and killer instinct define Nunes' game. The Brazilian is light on her feet and exceptionally fast, by any measure one of the most physically gifted athletes in the division.
It would be a mistake to overlook Nunes' technical prowess, though. She's a crisp, skilled kickboxer with excellent footwork, a punishing jab and a knack for putting together counter combinations in the pocket. The occasional bit of flash in the form of a spinning kick adds another dimension to a mostly meat-and-potatoes striking arsenal.
Angles and pivots are the key to Nunes' approach on the feet. She consistently uses small steps and turns to create advantageous angles as she moves forward; on the other hand, when pressured, she excels at pivoting and sidestepping to find a new angle from which to throw or counter. Once she has completed her combination, Nunes immediately pivots and moves to get back to open space.
All of Nunes' shots carry enormous power, and in recent years she has done a better job of reining in her aggression and not overextending in an effort to get at her opponent. Nunes' killer instinct is still off the charts, though, and any sign of weakness in her opponent results in a barrage of strikes.
Things don't get any easier for Nunes' opponents in the clinch. She's a slick takedown artist with a nice array of trips and throws, and her strong hips and great balance make it difficult to hit clinch takedowns on her in return. Nasty knees and heavy punches complement her takedowns, and it's difficult to hold her there if she doesn't want to be tied up.
Takedown defense is a strength for Nunes. Her aggression means she often gives up the initial shot or entry, but her technique is impeccable, and she's difficult to hold down. She offers little if stuck on her back, though.
From top position, Nunes is brutal. She has great posture and maintains stifling control, which means she can throw huge ground strikes at will without sacrificing position. Her passes are technically sound as well, and in transition she has a knack for getting to the back.
The problem with all this is endurance. Nunes is a monster in the first round and still dangerous in the second, but by the third round, she's as good as done. Any sort of sustained attempt at fight-finishing offense, even in the first round, is enough to drain her gas tank. After that point, she hangs on for dear life. For whatever reason, this seems to be a built-in part of Nunes' game, and it has to be taken into account.
Aggression is the key to Rousey's game. She's at her most comfortable moving forward behind a heavy, consistent jab that gauges the distance and pushes the opponent back toward the fence, and she excels at slinging heavy straight rights and left hooks on her way in. All of her shots carry genuine power, and she's perfectly willing to take one to give one back if it means getting into her preferred range and type of fight.
Rousey moves well from punches into the clinch, her wheelhouse, and in general does an excellent job of entering without overextending or exposing herself to too much danger. Once tied up with her opponent, Rousey is a monster. Her arsenal of trips and throws is without peer in all of MMA, a menagerie of creative, relentless chains of takedowns that almost always end with her opponent on the mat.
What's less appreciated about Rousey's clinch game is her striking repertoire. She's a vicious inside worker with brutal knees, nice elbows and a gift for blending them with takedowns. Her command of footwork and angles constantly gives her dominant positions from which to throw as well. Against the fence, she excels at pinning her opponent in place with head pressure and going to town with strikes before working takedowns.
The armbar is Rousey's specialty on the mat, but she's not a one-trick pony. On top, she throws hard ground strikes and passes well, but for the most part, she looks to create transitions and move directly into dominant positions. The armbar can strike at any time and from practically any position, whether it's a scramble, an extended sequence of top-control or from Rousey's guard.
Those are the good parts of Rousey's game, but there are some real downsides as well.
First, her pressure game is built more on her outstanding speed and athleticism than tight, technical footwork, and she doesn't have many tools for cutting off the cage. An opponent who refuses to move straight back and is capable of basic pivots and sidesteps can give her serious problems.
Second, Rousey doesn't react well to getting hit. It's not so much that she cringes and disengages, like Brock Lesnar used to, but that she seems to feel as if she has to respond with more aggression and by throwing wildly. This reduces her already limited ability to pressure intelligently and puts her right in position to eat punches as she swarms.
Finally, Rousey's defense is downright bad. She barely moves her head and doesn't do much in the way of parrying or blocking, and her aggression means she's constantly there to be hit. Her takedown defense is surprisingly limited as well, and she's fine with conceding a takedown if it creates a scramble or an opportunity to hit an armbar.
Rousey -135, Nunes +115
Rousey didn't suddenly become a bad fighter because she lost to Holm, but that fight did expose some serious issues with her approach that had been present if not obvious beforehand.
Although she does her best work on the inside and likes to push her opponent to the fence, she doesn't have the tools to get the fight into that particular space safely and technically. Her reliance on bull-rushing doesn't work against technical strikers with the footwork to stay out of danger and the ability to punish her for trying.
That's what makes Nunes an intriguing matchup. Holm is a pure outside fighter who was perfectly equipped to deal with Rousey's pressure, but Nunes is no slouch in the footwork department, and she's by far the most powerful puncher Rousey has ever faced. If the relatively light-punching Holm could hit Rousey hard enough to put her off her game plan, how will she react to someone with legitimate one-punch knockout power?
That's the central question of this fight. Rousey is entirely capable of jabbing her way into the pocket, sliding into the clinch, tripping Nunes to the mat and finishing with an armbar. Whether she can hold herself together when a skilled, dangerous puncher who's no slouch in the clinch or on the mat blasts her with combinations is another question entirely.
For that reason, the pick is Nunes by knockout in the first round.
Odds courtesy of OddsShark.
Patrick Wyman is the Senior MMA Analyst for Bleacher Report and the co-host of the Heavy Hands Podcast, your source for the finer points of face-punching. For the history enthusiasts out there, he also hosts The Fall of Rome Podcast on the end of the Roman Empire. He can be found on Twitter and on Facebook.
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