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The Travelin’ Man goes to the 2016 IBHOF: Part two

15
Jun
Junior welterweight John Molina Jr. Photo credit: Amanda Westcott/Showtime

Junior welterweight John Molina Jr. Photo credit: Amanda Westcott/Showtime

 

Please click here for Part One.

 

Friday, June 10: The next six-and-a-half hours of slumber were pretty sound and I spent the next couple of hours putting into words what had happened the previous day. Once I reached a good stopping point, I packed my things, checked out of the hotel and began the business part of my trip by driving a few hundred feet to the Showtime crew hotel. Being an early bird (former NFL coach Tom Coughlin would have loved my punctuality), no rooms were ready for me but I was assured one would be waiting for me even if I returned after midnight, which I fully expected to do.



I drove to the Hall of Fame grounds and, while I missed Don Scott’s annual memorabilia Ring Talk, I arrived moments before two-division champion Julian Jackson began his.

When asked about his crunching fourth round knockout of Herol Graham to win the first of his two middleweight titles, Jackson said, “He came straight at me expecting to knock me out. I remember switching to southpaw (to protect my swollen eye) and literally throwing a right hook that caught him flush on the chin. After that, he was out 10 or 15 minutes.”

Women’s champ Christy Martin – who returned to the Hall after several years away – asked Jackson about whether his great power was helped by his timing and accuracy. He agreed with her assessment.

“When I hit the pads with my trainer, we were using timing and accuracy to develop our punching power,” he said. “Hitting the pads was something I fell in love with and I think I hit the pads more than anyone else because I believe it helped me develop power in both hands. Many people say that my right cross was my best punch and, while it was really good, it was the left hook that was the real danger. Also, I tried to make my opponent barely miss me; I didn’t swing way to one side or the other but I would have them miss me by inches because, when I did that, my counter-punch was even more powerful because of the timing.”

When asked about the origins of his nickname, “The Hawk,” he said, “Back home, we have chicken hawks and, when the hens have their chicks, the hawks come looking for the chicks. The chicks would run under the mother or find some shelter and my trainer said, ‘Julian, you’re like the hawk because a lot of guys are running away from you and hiding. So, from now on, you’re ‘The Hawk.’ I did this without knowing that Aaron Pryor was also called ‘The Hawk.'”

A note: Pryor’s nickname was not inspired by the bird of prey but rather a human being who had a massive impact in his life: Ken Hawk. I spent considerable time with Hawk during my early days at the Hall and he helped pave the way for a memorable meeting with Aaron in his hotel room. Unfortunately I never saw him again.

Jackson was then asked his thoughts about several past opponents:

Mike McCallum: “He was a tricky fighter who was slippery and, at that time, I was green. It was my first title fight and, at the time, I felt like I could knock out Mike Tyson. But I got a thumb in the eye and a few low blows and, the next thing I knew, the fight was over. I threw up my hands when the referee (Eddie Eckert) stopped it (in the second round). I did get hurt by low blows but he also caught me with some good punches too. McCallum and I became good friends but he’s from Jamaica and I’m from the Virgin Islands and we speak with almost the same accent. There’s still a part of me that says ‘One of these days I’m gonna get you.’ (laughs)”

In Chul Baek: “That fight was my second title shot and I was going through a drastic and terrible time in my camp. My trainer was upset and he was saying, ‘This is your last chance; if you don’t win, it’s the end of everything.’ I went to Las Vegas to finish my training at the spa and I remember sparring with a big middleweight from Africa named Israel Cole, whose name I will never forget. He was the last guy to spar with me because he was one of the better guys and he knocked me out. I remember, after that, I was in the bathroom and I thought I saw my wife in the mirror. She wasn’t anywhere near the gym – she wasn’t anywhere near Las Vegas – but I saw her in the mirror. Believe it or not, I remember getting on my knees beside my bed at the hotel and asking God to give me back my speed and power. I literally felt something after that prayer and I told my trainer, ‘This is going to be my easiest fight!’ My trainer said, ‘Are you crazy? Have you lost your mind? Get back to bed; you have to get up and run later!’ It turned out that it was my easiest fight; I knocked him out in the third round and, afterward, I thanked God.”

Terry Norris: “He was an up-and-coming fighter and, like me against McCallum, Norris was green. Everybody was rooting for him because of his boxing ability but I felt my experience was going to pay off. But it ended much earlier than I thought (round two). My corner told me to keep the pressure on him and I got in a good right hand and a left hook.”

Buster Drayton: “That fight was something. He had a heart that was amazing. I knew he was a warrior and I knew I was going to be in a tough fight but, other than that, I didn’t know too much about him. I heard from my managing team and Don King that all I needed to do was to hit him a couple of times and he would give up but, in the fight, he wouldn’t give. When I hit him with that left hook, I felt the shock run up my elbow and, when I felt that, I held out my right glove and pointed it toward the canvas as he fell. Everyone wanted to know, ‘What was that?’ From then on, every time I hit an opponent and felt that shock, I wouldn’t throw another punch and I would point the glove toward the floor.”

Gerald McClellan: “I remember, in that fight, it was said that whoever got hit first would probably lose the fight and I remember, in maybe the third or fourth round, I caught him with some good body punches but I couldn’t catch him to the head the way I wanted to because he was taller than me. But I knew I was getting to him and my coach, at the time, said, ‘Julian, take it to him now.’ I went in there and it’s amazingÔǪI dropped my hands. I got caught with a straight right and that was the end of it.”

Finally, Jackson recalled his first meeting with Don King:

“I remember, as a young athlete, I was just turning pro and the reason why I turned pro was that I was about to go to the 1980 Olympics but (US President) Jimmy Carter boycotted the Olympics and my trainer was going to turn me pro. My first fight was in Puerto Rico and I fought for $25 per round and it went four rounds (he out-pointed Inocencio Carmona on Feb. 2, 1981). As time went on, I met a man from New York and he wanted to hook me up with King. We figured, ‘Great, he might do something for us. Let’s check him out.’ I went to New York and met King; he had that hair sticking out and we thought that was funny. I remember King pulling out some money and saying, ‘Come stay at my hotel. I don’t need to see tapes; I know about you and I’m going to sign you right now.’ My manager from the Virgin Islands, as well as my trainer, was all excited about King, not realizing that I should have had an attorney (laughs).”

After putting away my press credential, to shift from writer mode to fan mode, I found a place in line and soon secured Jackson’s autograph in my “Big Book,” the first of this year’s trip. I then retrieved my credential and settled in for the next lecture by HBO’s “unofficial official,” Harold Lederman.

Lederman said his all-time favorite fight was Wilfredo Gomez-Lupe Pintor and he added that he owed his career at HBO to Eddie Futch, who was training Trevor Berbick for his WBC heavyweight title shot against champion Pinklon Thomas.

“It was my first assignment with HBO and Pinklon Thomas was like a 7-to-1 favorite,” he said. “Everyone thought Thomas would knock out Berbick in a couple of rounds and I wouldn’t have a chance to judge again. But the fight went the distance and Berbick won a decision. It was the only fight Futch ever worked with Berbick and, in his next fight, Berbick was knocked out in two rounds by Mike Tyson. For years afterward, I made sure to thank Eddie Futch.”

I asked Lederman at what point did he think his HBO gig would become a lasting one and he replied thusly: “HBO is a union shop, so a few fights after I started, they called me and told me to join AFTRA (American Federation of Radio and Television Artists). It isn’t cheap to join and I told them so. They replied, ‘Here’s what we’ll do: We’ll pay you to join AFTRA.’ I figured if they put me in the union, they’re going to keep me. I created something; Showtime has Steve Farhood. Fox has somebody. CBS has somebody. It’s now a standard thing to have a guy judging the fights and interpreting the rules.”

One of the more entertaining segments of his ring talk involved repercussions from trainers, fighters and managers after turning in scorecards with which they disagreed.

“Some of the most well-known people are the worst losers,” he said. “One night, I worked Emile Griffith vs. Vito Antuofermo and Emile was on the downside. When that fight was over and I scored it for Antuofermo, Griffith’s trainer Gil Clancy was giving it to me with both barrels, ‘How could you give that fight to Antuofermo?’ and I said, ‘Because he was hitting the body for 10 rounds.’

“Another time, I was judging David Braxton and James ‘Hard Rock’ Green at Ice World in Totowa (New Jersey) and, after I voted for Braxton, Green’s manager Lou Duva took Green’s hand wraps and threw them at me.”

As for Ali, Lederman never had any personal dealings but he did judge the third fight with Ken Norton, which Lederman called “the most controversial heavyweight championship fight in history.” While fans and writers vehemently disagreed with the verdict (of which I am one), the biggest controversy for Lederman (who scored the fight eight rounds to seven for Ali) involved the low pay he and his compatriots received.

“Bob Arum, the big spender, gave me and Barney Smith $250 while (Arthur) Mercante (Sr.), the scoring referee, got slightly more,” he recalled. “I’m not the most sharp-tongued guy in the world but Arthur was – and he was livid. I heard Arthur give it to Arum with both barrels. To me, Arthur deserved $5,000 minimum. He scored, reffed and did a good job and Arum gave him $350. Arum came to me afterward and said, ‘I’ll make it up to you’ but he made up nothing. You don’t go into boxing to make a lot of money and you have to know that going in. I think that there should be full-time judging; that would be terrific for boxing. You’ll have better officials and we’d know them like we do the officials for baseball or football.”

Following Lederman’s talk, James ‘Smitty’ Smith informed us that Lederman and Jerry Izenberg would be signing at a nearby tent. While I had snagged Lederman’s signature several years before, I asked Izenberg to sign directly above Harold’s – which he did. For me two signatures remained outstanding: Marc Ratner and Lupe Pintor.

The hall had several activities connected to the passing of Muhammad Ali and one of them was a Ring Talk session that asked not only celebrities but also fans to come out of the audience and offer their recollections. The celebrity speakers included referee Kenny Bayless, writer Bernard Fernandez (who actually spoke twice) and former light heavyweight champion Montell Griffin. I also offered a few remarks that centered around my memories as a 13-year-old watching both Ali-Spinks fights and a few other fans stood up and addressed the audience. It was a nice touch to a tough week.

With every passing minute, the purely personal portion of the trip was waning at the same rate my professional part was approaching. Although my call time at the Turning Stone Resort Casino to conduct our pre-show connection test wasn’t until 4, I left the grounds at 2:45 p.m. and arrived at ringside 30 minutes later. Although the ringside area was nowhere near ready for us to test there, I was able to complete the task inside the production truck within five minutes. Even though I still had more than 90 minutes to go before the start of the mandatory format meeting, I spent my time productively as I put my copy through the polishing process. I finished just five minutes before the meeting’s 5 p.m. start.

Because we were going over the details of two shows instead of one, the meeting lasted nearly 90 minutes and, once it broke up, I broke away and headed back to Canastota. I ate a leisurely dinner at the McDonald’s located across the road from the Hall’s grounds, after which I drove to Graziano’s to engage in even more boxing talk, which ended up lasting more than five hours. To me, it was time well spent as I first conversed with Aussie super-fan Aubrey Pitt (who was returning to the Hall after several years) and delightful Floridian Carole Myer, who was Hall of Fame historian Hank Kaplan’s closest companion. The rest of the time was spent with aspiring writers Samuel “Kid Hersch” Rosenberg and Ron Eggleston. Both knew of my writing career and each asked about my path to success. Me being me, I gave them the unabridged version, which was the reason why those two conversations lasted nearly three hours.

At 12:36 a.m., I finally called it quits because a 30-minute drive back to the hotel awaited me – and, remember, I still hadn’t checked in. I needn’t have worried; my fourth-floor suite was ready to occupy. It took me quite a while to wind down; it wasn’t until 2:45 a.m. when I reluctantly turned out the light.

 

 

Saturday, June 11: My internal alarm worked perfectly as I stirred awake just five minutes before my goal time of 8 a.m. To my dismay, however, I pulled back the curtain and saw steady rain falling. Then again, I was going to stay indoors most of the day, so much so that I didn’t bother to apply any sunscreen. That’s because of the card and memorabilia show at Canastota High School at 10 a.m. and my being at the Turning Stone Resort Casino from 1 p.m. onward.

The card show is my favorite part of Induction Weekend because of the vast array of magazines, books, programs, posters, tickets, t-shirts and other boxing-related items – even a “life mask” of Ali. If you’re missing back issues of a certain magazine, it’s likely you can fill most of the gaps at the show. Also, I often run into friends and colleagues at the show and I spend a great deal of time catching up with them.

However, I had work to do first as I needed to compile the judges’ information for tonight’s HBO telecast. For nearly the past decade, I have compiled a running list of judges worldwide and, for these shows, I simply update their resumes. Because of that, it usually takes between 30 and 45 minutes to update the information and such was the case here. After polishing up my writing, I packed my things and headed out to the high school.

When I arrived, I immediately saw I had arrived far too late to snag a convenient parking spot. Every space within 100 yards of the high school entrance was filled, so I ended up parking in the third farthest lot. Once inside the high school, I made a beeline to the booth occupied by essayist Springs Toledo, who was selling copies of his first book “The Gods of War” as well as his new offering “In the Cheap Seats.” While I had the former, I lacked the latter – but not for long. Better yet, I got an inscription in the deal.

Before it was all over, I acquired quite the haul, both in terms of books (“Jack ‘Kid’ Berg” by John Harding and Berg, “Nobody Asked Me, ButÔǪ” by Jimmy Cannon, “Champagne Charlie” by Charlie Magri, “The Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists” by Bert Randolph Sugar and Teddy Atlas, “Somebody Down Here Likes Me Too” by Rocky Graziano and Ralph Corsel), THE RING magazines (August 1936, May 1945, August 1947 and October 1947) and t-shirts from Alex Pinnix and Hall of Famer J. Russell Peltz, but also conversation partners. Along the way, I ran into 2016 inductees Harold Lederman and Marc Ratner (Why did I forget to have him sign my book?), SiriusXM radio star Randy Gordon and his wife Roni, longtime chat room buddy (and longtime referee) Woody Kislowski, fellow writers Dan Rafael, Lew Freedman, Eric Thompson and Jamie Rebner, as well as several “Tales from the Vault” buyers.

I would have loved to stay even longer – and spend even more money – but I needed to get to the Turning Stone by my 1 p.m. call time and make sure all was right electronically before the show (an interesting numerical coincidence: I parked in Level 4, Space 10 and my hotel room number is 410). As was the case yesterday, all went perfectly and, by 1:30, I was all but ready to begin the show.

Punch-counting colleague Andy Kasprzak arrived on the arena floor a little before the 5 p.m. crew meal and apparently his five-hour drive was fraught with meteorological peril – torrential rain, strong lightning, traffic backups and puddles several inches deep on the interstate. However, he emerged from the white-knuckle driving ready to eat and even more ready to count.

The first Showtime Extreme broadcast pitted heavyweights Andrey Fedosov and Mario Heredia against one another and, at first glance, this pairing appeared fated to be brief. However, the 286-pound Mexican dominated round one behind a startlingly prolific jab (13 of 48) which held Fedosov to just 12 punches thrown. The gap began to close in round two as each landed 11 punches but Fedosov only needed to throw 22 to gain that total while Heredia required 55. Slowly but surely, Fedosov’s marksmanship and superior power started to change the dynamic.

Fedosov turned the fight for good starting in the third as a hook floored Heredia near the end of the round and he followed with knockdowns in round four (left hook), five (combination) and six (left hook), the last of which persuaded referee Dick Pakozdi to intervene with Heredia on his feet.

The final CompuBox stats told the story well: Fedosov may have thrown far fewer punches overall (172 to 258) and jabs (69 to 187) but Fedosov led 103-71 in attempted power shots and landed 60% of them to Heredia’s 30%. While a higher work rate usually paves the road toward victory, a more reserved fighter can control a fight if he fires precision bombs.

The broadcast’s main event pitted middleweight Willie Monroe Jr. against longtime junior middleweight John Thompson, who chose to rise in weight due to the opportunity. Both were coming off unsuccessful title shots that ended in knockouts (Monroe against Gennady Golovkin for the WBA middleweight belt and Thompson versus Liam Smith for the vacant WBO junior middleweight title). Monroe also was coming off a 13-month layoff and one had to wonder whether his timing would be compromised.

Monroe showed everyone he remained sharp and powerful as a left cross floored Thompson in round two and a shotgun jab registered a second knockdown in the fifth. With a commanding lead on the scorecards, while also placing himself in position for an impressive inside-the-distance victory, Monroe instead devolved into boxing’s equivalent of the four-corners offense in basketball. In rounds six-through-10, Monroe averaged just 22.2 punches per round (and 26.9 for the fight) while Thompson couldn’t draw a bead on his mobile target (34.6 per round in the final five rounds and 36.9 for the fight, well below the 55.3 middleweight average). Yes, Monroe won on points (99-89, 96-92, 95-93) but his approach forced his home area crowd to watch politely instead of cheer wildly – never a good thing for a TV fight designed to attract a promoter and impress a network. In that respect, he may have won the battle but took a step back in the wider war.

With a sizable gap between the end of the Showtime Extreme telecast and the start of the Showtime Championship Boxing portion, there was time to fit in the heavyweight bout between Stivens Bujaj and Sergio Ramirez. In fact, a decent commercial break would have sufficed as Bujaj (now 16-0-1, 11 knockouts) finished Ramirez (now 11-1, 7 KOs) in 69 seconds.

First up on the mid-evening telecast was Dejan Zlaticanin against Franklin Mamani for the vacant WBC lightweight title stripped from Jorge Linares, who, because he was on the shelf due to injury, was declared a “champion in recess” and would be the first to challenge the winner. Both men were not only fighting for a major boxing title; they also were vying to become the first from their respective countries to do so (Zlaticanin hails from Montenegro while Mamani is a native of Bolivia). In looking at video of Mamani, I thought the styles would result in pyrotechnics and, within moments, I was proven right as the southpaw Zlaticanin staggered Mamani with his most dangerous weapon, a wicked left cross. To his credit, Mamani survived the opening wave (29 of 63, 46% overall and 19 of 52, 59% power) and made it to the end of the round.

Unfortunately for Mamani, the reward for his resourcefulness was another three minutes and 54 seconds of Zlaticanin’s “Dynamite,” which was detonated in impressive up-and-down bursts. A series of power shots rendered the Bolivian nearly helpless along the ropes and, at that point, referee Charlie Fitch rightly opted to intervene.

The CompuBox stats reflected Zlaticanin’s level of dominance as he out-landed Mamani 67-19 overall and 46-19 power. The most stunning statistic, however, were the jabs: The 5-foot-4 southpaw with the 65-inch reach went 21 of 68 (31%) while also pitching a shutout (0 of 45). He landed 10 of 31 in the first, nine of 34 in the second and two of three in the third. Many pundits cite Mike Tyson’s ability to jab well against his taller opponents and, while I don’t know whether Zlaticanin ever heard about it, it’s obvious he has put that principle into practice. It should serve him well against Linares, who will enjoy advantages of three inches in height and four inches in reach but will have to cope, as always, with his cut-prone eyes.

Next up was the WBC junior middleweight title eliminator between former WBO titlist Demetrius Andrade and quality spoiler Willie Nelson, whose 6-foot-3 height and 74-inch wingspan were even more formidable than “Boo Boo’s.” From the start, Andrade asserted his authority as a wicked body shot set up a zinging right hook that dropped Nelson in the first round. Nelson arose and managed to survive until the bell but, from that point forward, it was Andrade’s show as he blasted in lead right uppercuts, connected on scorching body shots and continuously split the guard with needle-sharp lefts. The variety of Andrade’s combinations was breathtaking at times and Nelson wasn’t able to conjure an answer.

After landing a fight-high 31 punches in the eighth that prompted a deceleration in the ninth (8 of 52 overall), Andrade began his final assault in the 10th as he out-landed Nelson 24-7 overall and connected on 64% of his power shots (21 of 33). The next round was even worse for Nelson as he was out-landed 17-1 and was floored with a whistling right hook just before the bell. Eager to close the show impressively, Andrade added two more knockdowns in the 12th that prompted referee Dick Pakozdi to intervene at the 1:38 mark.

For all of the criticism of his early-career opponents and the delays that caused his title reign to end with a press release, the 28-year-old Andrade was nothing short of brilliant. The combination of precision, patience and power will present significant issues to WBC titlist Jermell Charlo and Andrade’s southpaw stance will only add to the degree of difficulty. Based on this performance, Andrade’s future appears bright.

As for Nelson, he had a potential answer to the Andrade issue right under his nose and, for whatever reason, he chose not to access it. One would think a fighter with his massive height and reach would utilize the jab but Nelson instead opted to come forward and try to get inside Andrade’s reach. Not only did he smother his own attack, he put himself in range of Andrade’s. For the fight, Nelson threw just 43 jabs and connected on only four. Had he thrown as many jabs as Andrade did (277), he would have forced Andrade to wade through the thicket while also keeping the former titlist at a safer range.

For the fight, Andrade led 247-68 overall, 33-4 jabs and 214-64 power and the accuracy gaps were just as huge (38%-19% overall, 12%-9% jabs and 57%-20% power). Andrade averaged a respectable 54.2 punches per round (slightly below the 56.7 junior middleweight norm), while Nelson was limited to 30.1. We can only speculate how much better Nelson would have performed had he fought according to the anatomical gifts he was given but my guess is, while he would have fared better, Andrade still would have been the better fighter. His performance was that good.

Many believed the main event pitting Ruslan Provodnikov and John Molina Jr. would be a poor man’s version of last week’s slugfest between Francisco Vargas and Orlando Salido, which many now consider the frontrunner for 2016’s “Fight of the Year.” But when word emerged that Molina had packed on 20 pounds between the weigh-in and fight night, those expectations soured. We’ve seen this movie before: An overly-hydrated fighter usually is one ripe for destruction and few fighters can capitalize like “The Siberian Rocky,” a rugged high-volume aggressor who stops attacking only when the bell rings or after the referee intervenes.

But once the opening bell sounded, Molina defied all expectations. The man whose take-no-prisoners style earned him the nickname of “Gladiator” turned into a brilliant boxer-puncher who controlled range with superb jabbing and almost constant combinations that included robust body punching. At age 33, Molina was fighting better than he had in years and, in the process, he was making the 9-to-1 odds against him seem foolish.

Averaging a sky-high 91 punches per round – a far cry from the 20.8 he logged in a lopsided decision loss to Adrien Broner – Molina topped the 100-punch mark in rounds three-through-seven and finished the fight with bursts of 88 in the 11th and a fight-high 110 in the 12th, while Provodnikov, usually a high-octane punching machine, was limited to 58.8 per round, never threw more than 72 (round four) and finished the fight by throwing 66 in the 11th and 54 in the 12th, a round that saw Provodnikov out-landed 46-16 overall.

Make no mistake, Molina-Provodnikov was a genuine action fight that delivered punishment on both sides – the pair combined for 660 total connects and 422 landed power shots – but few expected Molina to come out ahead 377-283 overall, 225-197 power and especially 152-86 jabs. Yes, the defensive numbers were sub-par (Provodnikov led 40%-35% overall and 33%-24% jabs while Molina prevailed 50%-45% power) but Molina’s multi-dimensional performance changed his narrative for the better while worsening Provodnikov’s, especially when Provodnikov said during the post-fight interview that he had trouble finding his hunger, the trait that had defined him as a fighter.

Meanwhile, Molina has long been a fighter who bucked numerical trends. More than once, he has won fights in which he trailed in connects and lost fights in which he was ahead in the punch numbers. He’s done the latter because of his melodramatic come-from-behind knockouts and, because he had gone 4-5 in his last nine fights, little was expected of him in terms of victory, especially after his rehydration. Once again, Molina proved he’s the one fighter who is impossible to peg and his performance has breathed new life into his career. Good for him.

After packing my equipment and eating the post-fight meal (sandwiches and diet soda), the drive back to the hotel took nearly 45 minutes to complete, thanks to the massive traffic exiting the Turning Stone’s parking garage. Once I re-entered the hotel room, I still had work to do as I needed to input the night’s data onto our master database (a task that is directly linked to CompuBox’s fantasy game “Throwdown Fantasy”). By the time I finished, it was 2:20 a.m. and I wanted nothing more than to turn out the lights and go to sleep. It had been a long and demanding day and, for the first time during this trip, I was feeling its rigors.

I know I will have to recover quickly, for the trip’s main event was quickly approaching – Induction Sunday.

*

 

 

 

Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 15 writing awards, including 12 in the last six years and two first-place awards since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics. To order, please visit Amazon.com. To contact Groves, use the e-mail [email protected]

 

 

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