Tag Archives: WWE NXT

Shawn Michaels’ Return: 6 Dream Matches for HBK

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

*sigh* He’s doing it. He’s actually doing it.

Shawn Michaels, who has stayed in retirement for more than eight years since losing to the Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXVI, is getting back in the ring. And of all things, it’s for a tag match with Triple H against Undertaker and Kane in Saudi Arabia. If it wasn’t official before, it damn sure is now. Retirement matches are a joke.

Alright. I’m done. That’s all I’m going to say about the tarnishing of one of the great stories in Wrestlemania history. I’m going to try and look at the silver lining here. This announcement obviously opens the door for more Shawn Michaels matches.

Am I being presumptuous? Possibly. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Shawn on a week-to-week basis. Or even month-to-month basis. Nor should we. But if things go well at Crown Jewel, I think there’s a damn good possibility HBK starts working an Undertaker-like schedule. We’ll see him a few times a year for big shows, most notably Wrestlemania. And if Shawn still has even half the gifts he had when we last saw him wrestle, there’s no shortage of potential new age mat classics he can help create.

I’ve listed six potential HBK opponents below. Some of them are obvious. Some of them might not be. Let the speculation begin!

1. AJ Styles
It doesn’t get more obvious than this, does it?

Both these men are considered to be among the best, if not the best, of their generations. People have been comparing Styles to HBK since his TNA days. Naturally, that talk has only accelerated since he started his WWE run. The run he’s having with the WWE Championship right now isn’t unlike the one Shawn had in 1996. There was even some online buzz about Shawn coming out of retirement last year to wrestle AJ at the Royal Rumble.

Clearly, if you want to talk about dream matches for HBK, this one is as big as almost any other. The problem is that expectations will be sky high. We saw how that worked for AJ and Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestlemania. Could the same fate befall Styles and Michaels? There’s only one way to find out, I suppose…

2. Daniel Bryan
The battle of the comeback stories. It’s tough to believe these two came back in the same year. What are the odds?

This is another pretty obvious one. Not just because Shawn had a hand in training Bryan, but because fans remember Bryan putting Shawn in the Yes Lock a few years ago (shown above). That’s certainly something they can reference, though they don’t need to. (Let’s be honest, they won’t.)

It would be interesting to see how Bryan’s style would match up with Shawn’s, as they were both often the babyfaces fighting from underneath. What happens when you put two of those guys in the ring together? Hopefully, something damn good.

3. Dolph Ziggler
Let’s make one thing clear: Dolph has never needed to imitate Shawn Michaels. He’s got the kind of natural athleticism and charisma that most wrestlers would fall off Hell in a Cell to have. And yet, Ziggler has clearly made an effort to pay homage to HBK in various ways. His use of the super kick is an obvious example. But at different points he’s worn ring gear that’s obviously based off what Shawn worn in the ’90s.

There’s an interesting story to be told here about all the modern wrestlers that clearly want to be “the next Shawn Michaels.” Shawn has talked about how he never set out to be the “next” anyone. But he’s clearly one of the most imitated wrestlers of the last 15 to 20 years. That’s a good jumping off point for a story about how Ziggler, despite imitating Shawn, has never quite reached the same heights he did. They don’t just have to repeat the Chris Jericho story from Wrestlemania XIX. They can come at it from another angle. Perhaps an even better one.

4. Seth Rollins
Rollins is another guy that falls into that “next Shawn Michaels” category. At face value, there’s not much of a story to tell here outside of the standard “generations collide” tale. But Shawn Michaels vs. Seth Rollins is a match that could address a pretty big elephant in the room: Why the newer, younger stars aren’t as over as the ’90s guys.

Mind you, they don’t have to phrase it that way. But there’s all this talk about “the era” that these guys are from. They’re talking about the Attitude Era, of course. So let’s dive into that. Have Shawn go on television and talk about how Seth can’t ever be like him, because Shawn was able to do things on TV that he could never do. In return, Seth can talk about how the current crop of guys are better conditioned, more athletic, and can do things the Attitude Era guys couldn’t.

The catch? Seth has to win. Regardless of how you feel about the Attitude Era vs. the current product, you just can’t bury the current crop of guys by having their representative lose in a story like that.

5. Roman Reigns
Yeah, I know. We’ve already had to watch Roman Reigns beat Triple H and the Undertaker in Wrestlemania main events. Now he has to beat Shawn too?

Not necessarily. But Roman has as much claim to a match with Shawn Michaels as anyone. He’s the top guy. Shawn used to be the top guy. That’s all the premise you need, really. And don’t think emotions wouldn’t be running high for this one. It would be every bit as volatile as when Reigns was out there with the Undertaker. For the most part, he wouldn’t be able to buy cheers.

Let’s not sell Roman’s in-ring abilities short either. He’s proven he can go out and have that epic, awesome match when the they need him to. Who the hell are we to say he couldn’t do it with, of all people, Shawn Michaels?

6. Tommaso Ciampa
Sam Roberts has pitched this match several times on his podcast. I like it a lot. From a story perspective, this could wind up being the best match out of all these.

What do you notice about the other names on this list? Most of them are babyfaces. AJ Styles. Daniel Bryan. Seth Rollins. Roman Reigns (in theory, at least). While they could all be fantastic in the ring with Shawn, there’s nothing quite like a classic good vs. evil program. And if Tommaso Ciampa has proven anything in the last year, it’s that heroes and villains still have a place in wrestling.

These days, Shawn coaches young talent at the Performance Center in Orlando. So I can only assume he’s more than familiar with the NXT roster. Imagine Shawn Michaels coming out during an NXT show, perhaps to help an injured talent, only to come face to face with Ciampa, and in the process become his next target. Like Johnny Gargano, HBK would make the perfect babyface to feud with the black-hearted Ciampa.

Is there a place for Shawn Michaels in an NXT ring? If, and only if, the story is right, my answer is an emphatic yes.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com!

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WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2016: AJ Styles, Charlotte, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Is Barbara Walters still doing her most fascinating people of the year list? I haven’t heard anything about it this year…

In any event, our list of WWE’s Most Fascinating People continues! While the current product may be marred by scripted promos, pro wrestling never has a shortage of interesting characters. For my money, these were the 10 most interesting of 2016.

Honorable mentions go to Goldberg, Dean Ambrose, and Shinsuke Nakamura.

AJ Styles, WWE Champion1. AJ Styles   

AJ Styles is the WWE Champion.

I’d like to say that again. Because even now, the novelty hasn’t worn off: AJ Styles is the WWE Champion. Imagine saying that a year ago at this time, before Styles made his debut in the Royal Rumble Match. We were asking ourselves questions about whether the former TNA mainstay would even be able to sniff the main event picture, let alone be WWE Champion. But to their credit, WWE conveyed Styles as a big deal from day one. He moved right into a program with Chris Jericho, which culminated in a Wrestlemania match. From there, he challenged Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship in two consecutive pay per view main events, stealing the show each time. And then? He went against the man himself, John Cena. Styles shocked the world by beating Cena in yet another show-stealer at Summerslam, At that point, it was practically inevitable. Styles took the belt off Dean Ambrose at Backlash in September, and has been the face of Smackdown ever since.

The 39-year-old Styles has been wrestling for almost 20 years, and has four kids at home. So it’s tough to hazard a guess as to how long he’ll remain on the active roster. But we can at least take comfort in the fact that against the odds, he made himself into a bonafide WWE superstar in 2016.

Shane McMahon, WWE Raw, March 7, 20162. Shane McMahon

When Shane made his surprise return to Raw in February, the way the crowd reacted you’d think Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin had walked out there. In an era where genuine human emotion can sometimes be hard to find on WWE programming, this was a hell of a moment for fans who’ve stuck with the show for a long time. Shane had been gone for nearly seven years. As silly as it seems now, we weren’t sure if/when we’d ever see him again. But here he was. And by the end of the segment he was in a Wrestlemania match with the Undertaker, inside Hell in a Cell.

The story they concocted for Shane’s return was initially very compelling, but eventually fell apart. He came in saying what a lot of people thought was reality-based stuff about wanting to take his rightful place in the company. Vince McMahon essentially used the Undertaker as a hired gun to take Shane out, with the caveat that if Shane could beat him, he’d be put in charge of Raw. But Undertaker’s role in the story was severely underdeveloped. And while he lost the match, Shane was essentially put in charge of Raw anyway. Also, while Shane took one of his trademark crazy bumps, the match was mostly underwhelming.

Shane currently serves as the Commissioner of Smackdown. Despite the rocky way he came back, he has something going for him that very few WWE personalities do. When he walks out there, it’s instant intrigue. There’s a constant question about how blurred the lines are between reality and fantasy. Plus, as we saw at Survivor Series, he’s still not afraid to take big risks for the fans. He earned the massive pops he gets out there.

Sasha Banks, WWE Women's Champion3. Sasha Banks

It’s been an up and down year for Sasha. Her match with Charlotte and Becky Lynch stole the show at Wrestlemania. Then she flat out disappeared from television for several weeks. When she finally returned, she was put with Charlotte for most of the remainder of the year. She’d win her first Women’s Championship on the main roster in July, and would hot potato it with Charlotte multiple times.

While I’ve come to find her babyface promos very white-meat and and annoying, her passion for what she does in the ring can’t be denied. It may have gone on a little too long, but she and Charlotte made history together. After main eventing Raw together, at Hell in a Cell they were the first two women in WWE history to headline a pay per view. They’ve brought women’s wrestling to perhaps an unprecedented level of prominence and importance. In many ways, 2016 saw Sasha Banks become the game-changing performer many of us knew she was destined to be. Hopefully she’s just getting started.

Samoa Joe, NXT Champion4. Samoa Joe

Joe is another TNA mainstay that should have been in WWE a long time ago. He was making waves in Ring of Honor alongside the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan as far back as the early 2000s. He would then elevate his game with guys like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Kurt Angle in TNA. But WWE had always eluded him until last year, when he finally broke into NXT.

As a monster heel, Joe ascended to the top of NXT this year, winning the NXT Championship from Finn Balor in April. From there, he and Shinsuke Nakamura would trade the belt back and forth at Takeover: Brooklyn and Takeover: Toronto. Earlier this month, he dropped the belt back to Nakamura in Osaka, Japan. Rumors are now buzzing about a potential debut in the Royal Rumble Match, similar to what AJ Styles did last year.

In today’s WWE, wrestlers that come off legitimately angry and tough are a surprising anomaly. Brock Lesnar is one. I’d argue Braun Strowman is another. You can make a case for Rusev, too. But one man who’s definitely in that category is Joe. He can come to the main roster and be an easy sell as a threat to a top babyface or champion. It’s just a matter of figuring out where to put him.

In the end, his long road to the WWE roster may have been a blessing in disguise. Had he come in during a previous era, he might not have been allowed to be himself. Pissed off bad ass Samoa Joe is the guy we want. Thankfully, he’s the guy we got.

James Ellsworth5. James Ellsworth

The July 25 edition of Raw was probably the best of the year for a variety of reasons. It was Finn Balor’s first night on the main roster, and he immediately became the top contender for the Universal Title. Sasha Banks won her first Women’s Title. We also saw the debut of WWE’s most unlikely signee in over a decade: James Ellsworth. Granted, he wasn’t signed at the time. He was there to be squashed by Braun Strowman. But fans were captivated by his odd look, and the seemingly impossible odds he faced against Strowman. In a quick pre-match interview spot, Ellsworth put the icing on the cake by saying: “Any man with two hands has a fighting chance.”

That little squash match was all it took. Fast forward to today, and Ellsworth is now Smackdown‘s resident underdog. While you can probably count the number of offensive moves Ellsworth has hit on less than two hands, through the magic of storytelling he’s now due a shot at AJ Styles and the WWE Championship. Some say his act is getting old. But there’s just something about him that’s undeniably captivating. Ellsworth is a real life Cinderella story, and WWE was smart enough to capitalize on that.

Braun Strowmann, WWE Raw6. Braun Strowman

When Strowman had that squash match with Ellsworth on July 25, I wrote: “Braun Strowman is on his own now, which I’m afraid means we have to endure yet another generic giant. I actually would have preferred another attempt to make Erick Rowan a single.”

It wasn’t an unfounded fear, given what WWE has done with certain big men in the past. But they’ve protected Strowman in ways they didn’t protect others. As such, he’s now a commodity despite his relative inexperience. In the past few weeks, his story with Sami Zayn and Mick Foley has been one of the more interesting parts of the show. His presentation is simple, but so effective.

It’s very much in WWE’s interest to continue protecting Strowman in 2017. I never thought I’d say it, but if what we’re seeing from him continues, he’s got main event potential.

Finn Balor, WWE Raw, August 8, 20167. Finn Balor

This was supposed to be Finn Balor’s year. One night in, he pinned Roman Reigns clean in the main event. That really can’t be understated. Roman was, and still is, pegged to be WWE’s new poster boy. So for this new guy to beat him and earn a Universal Title Match at Summerslam was an amazing surprise. And of course, he beat Seth Rollins to win the title. Combine that momentum with Balor’s unique presentation and in-ring style, and it looked like we had Raw‘s new top star on our hands.

Clearly fate had other ideas. In a case of absolute disastrous timing, Balor suffered a torn labrum in the Summerslam match. One night after becoming the inaugural WWE Universal Champion, he was forced to hand the belt back.

Balor was on the main roster for just under a month. But Raw dearly misses him. Since September, the Universal Title picture has been monopolized by Rollins, Reigns, and the man who stepped up in his absence, Kevin Owens. Balor was a fresh face to signify  a new era. And if there’s one thing the Raw main event scene is hurting for, it’s fresh faces.

The good news is that Balor should be back around Wrestlemania. As he obviously never lost the belt, he should be in line for a title shot.

Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, October 24, 20168. Chris Jericho

Chris Jericho got a clipboard over in 2016. If that’s not a testament to his talents, I don’t know what is.

Jericho spent most of 2016 helping to get newer talent over. He was a vital component in AJ Styles getting over as well as he did, and got a match with him at Wrestlemania. He would then move on to Dean Ambrose, which would culminate in the first (and hopefully last) Asylum Match. But Jericho’s best stuff this year was his character work with Kevin Owens. Their tumultuous “best friends” partnership has been the most consistently entertaining thing about Raw these past few months. The “List of Jericho” running gag is more popular than most of the active wrestlers. WWE obviously recognizes their chemistry, as they’ve held off on putting Owens and Jericho against each other in a Universal Title program. They could easily have pulled the trigger at Survivor SeriesRoadblock, or the Royal Rumble. At this point, Wrestlemania seems like the earliest we’ll see them go at it. But even that isn’t a guarantee. And frankly, that’s okay. Roughly 17 years after his WWE debut, Chris Jericho is a vital part of WWE’s flagship show. So few are on his level both in the ring and on the mic. Perhaps he truly is the best in the world at what he does…

The Miz, Maryse9. The Miz

Maryse turned out to be the missing ingredient to Miz’s Hollywood A-lister persona. He always had that smarmy confidence about him. But having this gorgeous French supermodel next to him almost validates that confidence. Maybe he really is as great as he says he is. And the fact that she’s actually his wife adds a great layer of realism.

This newly completed package did wonders for the Intercontinental Championship in 2016. He became a beatable champion that somehow no one could beat. He and Dolph Ziggler had one of WWE’s most compelling feuds this year. Miz constantly found underhanded ways to win despite Ziggler’s tireless efforts. It seemingly culminated in Ziggler dropping his status as a lovable loser, taking the title from Miz at No Mercy. But Miz would take it back from him a few weeks later. The apex of his douchebaggery came just last week, when he publicly “outed” Renee Young’s relationship with Dean Ambrose.

A year ago, the idea of him ever regaining the WWE Championship seemed unlikely at best. But now? Not so much. At this rate, Miz could very well stand at the top of the mountain again in 2017.

WWE Raw, July 4, 2016, Charlotte10. Charlotte Flair

When 2016 began, we’d heard a lot of talk about a “Divas Revolution,” and how women’s wrestling was changing in WWE. Surprisingly, they were able to make good on those bold claims. Why? Because of Charlotte.

That’s not to say it couldn’t have happened without her. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Bayley, Alexa Bliss, and numerous other talented ladies are on the WWE roster right now. But Charlotte has been the centerpiece to it all. She was the first to strike gold, winning the then-Divas Championship in September. She was victorious when the women stole the show at Wrestlemania for the first time. She and Sasha Banks were the first women of this era to main event Raw, and the first women of any era to main event a pay per view. All the while, she’s been arguably the best heel in the entire company.

Keep in mind, she accomplished all of that in about a year and a half. The smart bet is she’s just getting started. So what will she have

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Kevin Owens Stands Tall, More Cruiserweights, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Brian Kendrick, TJ Perkins, Lince DoradoBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Question: How much content is too much? Is there such a thing?

Last week, we got the announcement of WWE 205 Live, a WWE Network exclusive show featuring the cruiserweights. The show will air after Smackdown on Tuesdays. Mauro Renallo and Corey Graves will call matches featuring the likes of Brian Kendrick, TJ Perkins, Cedric Alexander, etc. Talking Smack will now move to 11 p.m. Eastern.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this. Obviously, WWE’s number one priority right now is the network. From a business standpoint, there are few things more important than getting those subscription numbers up. Obviously the network appeals primarily to die-hard wrestling fans. So what better way to entice them than with more wrestling? Called by Mauro Ranallo and Corey Graves, no less.

But even the geekiest of pro wrestling geeks have lives, don’t they? Is WWE going to burn out their dedicated core audience by giving them too much? Factoring in RawSmackdownNXT, and now this 205 Live show, that’s seven hours of fresh content a week. And that’s not counting supplementary shows like Main Event and Superstars. That’s also not accounting for pay per views, of which there are now 19. I don’t care how big a fan you are, that’s a lot of wrestling.

WWE Raw, October 31, 2016, Brian Kendrick, TJ PerkinsPerhaps its a matter of variety. For years we’ve heard talk about the Raw brand, the Smackdown brand, etc. But in reality, it’s pretty much all been the same stuff. In a lot of ways, NXT changed that. NXT isn’t simply about different talent. There’s a different look and vibe to the entire product. It’s an alternative, and you can only get that alternative by forking out 10 bucks a month for the network. Is 205 Live going to be it’s own unique alternative? What can we see on that show that we can’t see on Raw?

I understand the on-demand nature of the WWE Network, and that you can essentially take in this content at your own pace. But with all this content coming out from WWE, at what point to we stop being surprised that Raw ratings are going down? It’s not rocket science, folks. The more content you give, the less urgent it is to see it. When all we had were two hours of Raw every Monday, we couldn’t wait to take it in. Now there are weeks where we simply can’t take it anymore.

At the very least this show will give the guys who aren’t on Raw every week, i.e Cedric Alexander, Lince Dorado, and Jack Gallagher another stage to perform on. I just wonder if and how the audience will divide as WWE continues to expand and diversify its offerings.

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, November 7, 2016After a volatile start to the show, a fatal five-way match is made between Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, and the newest member of Team Raw, Seth Rollins. I hate these fatal five-way matches. It’s an awkward number. Somehow four wrestlers work, and six wrestlers work, but five is don’t.

A pretty standard segment for a “Can these teammates get along?” story. I wish we’d had more definitive consequences. Stephanie told them to fight like their jobs depend on it, “Because they do.” Does that even mean anything? They also missed an opportunity to make the winner the captain of the team.

Rich Swann & Sin Cara def. Brian Kendrick & Noam Dar. Assuming these rumors of a fight with Chris Jericho are true, it’ll be interesting to see if Sin Cara remains on television. It’s not like they don’t have plenty of cruiserweights. Though he earned mad respect for me after that senton to the outside on Noam Dar.

This was my first exposure to Noam Dar. We didn’t get to see much of him. But a nice little introduction. Brian Kendrick deserves a lot of credit for helping establish some of these guys in front of the mainstream audience. I expect he’ll face Rich Swann for the title at Survivor Series.

Bill GoldbergA retrospective vignette on Goldberg airs. I was hoping they’d do something like this, as they usually do for Brock Lesnar’s matches. These are always good.

Since Goldberg has resurfaced, WWE has made a point to market him as a WCW star, WCW legend, WCW Champion, etc. That’s fair enough. He’s as much a WCW guy as anything else. But he wasn’t just a WCW guy. He was a champion in WWE as well. They’ve almost glossed over that. Perhaps it’s fitting, considering how forgettable most of Goldberg’s WWE run was.

The New Day rally Team Raw for their match at Survivor Series. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson knock off the champions in a non-title match. The crowd really pulled this segment out of the ground. When you’ve got so many guys out there, I understand having to script the dialogue. But this was the same canned verbiage we always get, and it seemed like it went on forever. At least the Scotland fans were having fun.

Imagine my shock to see Anderson and Gallows get the win here. So do they now fight Cesaro and Sheamus to see who gets the next title shot?

WWE Wrestlemania XX, Bill Goldberg, Steve AustinBrock Lesnar talks Goldberg via video package. This one was even better than Goldberg’s, considering how politically incorrect Brock always is. “At Wrestlemania XX in Madison Square Garden, I didn’t give two sh*ts about wrestling.” HA!

This was another awesome line: “I don’t give a damn what his 10-year-old son is gonna think. I’m not gonna show any f@#kin’ mercy on Bill Goldberg.”

Finally, someone on this show has some balls. No wonder Brock is so over. Look at how he talks, compared to how everyone in that New Day segment talked. There are no chains on Brock. He’s allowed to be himself.

The Shining Stars def. Golden Truth to get their spot in the tag team elimination match at Survivor SeriesI zipped right through this one on the DVR. Here’s what I will say: At least they kept the Shining Stars out of the third hour.

Not sure why they did this. To even the babyface-heel ratio on Team Raw? Why? What’s the difference either way? I’d much rather see Goldust and R-Truth in a pay per view match than Primo and Epico. I don’t know what it is about these guys, but I don’t know if an act has ever had as much channel-changing heat with me.

Bayley, Charlotte, WWE Raw, November 7, 2016Michael Cole interviews Raw‘s female team. Sasha Banks and Alicia Fox are revealed as the remaining two members. The Scotland fans serenade Bayley.  The crowd didn’t exactly make it easy on them, did they? The girls couldn’t even get their lines out. As off-putting as it may have been, it’s always great to see a crowd that enthusiastic. Especially for the women’s division. Bayley might have been the one person more over in Scotland than Noam Dar.

The Alicia Fox portion of this segment was painful. Not because of Alicia, but because of that Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie reference. They really shoehorned that line in there.

Bayley, Sasha Banks, & Alicia Fox def. Charlotte, Nia Jax, & Dana Brooke. My favorite part of this match was when Bayley and Nia were in the ring together. They have to do some kind of program between them soon.

I’m not thrilled that Charlotte took the fall on this one. After Gallows & Anderson beat the New Day, that means two champions were beaten on this show.

WWE Raw, November 7, 2016, Sami Zayn, RusevSami Zayn def. Rusev to earn an Intercontinental Title Match at Survivor Series. I breathed a sigh of relief on this one. After all the love triangle stuff last year, I’ve had my fill of Rusev/Dolph Ziggler stuff for awhile. Ziggler and Zayn should also have a hell of a pay per view match.

Rusev hasn’t had a great couple of weeks. He lost to Roman Reigns at Hell in a Cell, he got punched out by Goldberg last week, and now he loses to Sami Zayn. I’m hopeful we can get Rusev back on track as a monster soon.

Kevin Owens def. Seth Rollins, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, & Braun Strowman in a fatal five-way match. The right person won this one, especially on a show where the New Day and Charlotte were pinned. And he pinned Jericho, which was a nice touch.

To WWE’s credit, they’ve done an excellent job making protecting Braun Strowman since the roster split. I once cringed at the thought of him challenging the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. It’s still not a match I’m dying to see, but at least now Strowman is a commodity. Until now he’s just been large.

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