Updated: Oct 25
It's time once again to look back and go over the best of the best from the month of September in the world of pro wrestling. September was stuffed to the gills with some terrific matches and shows, in fact, this past month sported the most "match of the year" candidates of 2022 with 28 as well as up to four events that could reach my Top 15 Shows of the Year.
A lot of this success could be directly linked to Stardom, as we'll see a little later on, but other companies like DDT also added to the excitement. Elsewhere, WWE continued to move forward without Vince McMahon, NOAH completed their N1 Grand Prix, AEW continued to be more exciting on the dirt sheets than on their actual programming, and Just Tap Out gave us the best death match of the year.
There were so many other things that happened, but we're not here to unpack it all. Instead, these posts exist to shine a spotlight on the best of the best. So without further ado, let's start this thing with a look at my favorite male wrestler from the past month.
FAVORITE MALE WRESTLER
Kazusada Higuchi (DDT)
Kazusada Higuchi, the reigning KO-D Openweight Champion, has been one of the best wrestlers on the planet this year, but it wasn't until this past month when he finally did just enough to edge out his competition and achieve this honor.
The 33-year-old entered September as both the aforementioned KO-D Openweight champ, the highest honor in DDT, as well as one half of the KO-D Tag Team Champions, along with the great Naomi Yoshimura. He would leave this past month not only with both straps, but also as arguably the biggest star in DDT today. A lion-share of his metamorphosis could be directly associated with his successful world title defense against the incredible Konosuke Takeshita from September 25th in a match we will discuss a little later.
Not only did he find immense success as a top champion, but he also began a new chapter as the leader of a new faction. In Japanese wrestling, it's accepted that the biggest stars in each promotion lead their own group. For instance, Kazuchika Okada runs CHAOS in New Japan, Giulia leads Donna Del Mondo in Stardom, and so on. A few months after he created the "Harimao" tag team along with Yoshimura, Higuchi welcomed Yuki Ishida into the fold, thus officially making the newest faction in DDT.
Suffice to say that Higuchi's resume from this past month was more than enough to help him edge out strong competition like Takeshita, All Japan's Kento Miyohara, and WWE's Sami Zayn. This guy totally deserves to be DDT's top babyface and I'm eager to continue to witness his continued success as the ace of one of the Japanese scene's most popular companies.
Cara Noir (Freelance)
El Desperado (NJPW)
Kento Miyohara (AJPW)
Konosuke Takeshita (DDT)
Sami Zayn (WWE)
Yuki Ueno (DDT)
FAVORITE FEMALE WRESTLER
Mayu Iwatani (Stardom)
Speaking of aces, this month's pick for my female wrestler of the month goes to the ace of Stardom, Mayu Iwatani. Iwatani was one of the most dominant forces in terms of in-ring ability over the past month not only in Stardom, but anywhere in the world. She was a part of three matches that I rated high enough to be a "Match of the Year" finalist, and her fall down the staircase during the "Stardom in Showcase Vol.2" event on 9/25 was easily the most memorable spot of the past month.
Additionally, Iwatani also planted herself as one of the top contenders to win this year's 5STAR Grand Prix, a competition I'll talk a little more about later on. She took on, and subsequently beat some of the tournament's top stars in September including Suzu Suzuki and Hazuki, and she drew with Giulia in an unreal clash I'd recommend to everyone to watch at some point. Even in matches where she lost, like against Saya Kamitani, Natsupoi, and Momo Watanabe, Iwatani showcased her unparalleled spirit and unbreakable connection with the Stardom audience.
Iwatani's spirit was brought to the forefront again on the aforementioned 9/25 event where she was kicked down a steep staircase at the Belle Salle Takadanobaba arena in Tokyo and still somehow wrestled for several more minutes before she, AZM, and Ram Kaicho all finally pinned Maika to score the winning fall. I'll include the fall down below because it's something that can't be adequately describe without either under or overselling the insanity displayed in the moment. Iwatani is truly a woman with no fear, inhibition, or a normal skeleton.
The "Icon of Stardom" is truly one of the prime examples that proves wrestling is a universal language; one where it's best performers can manifest sympathy from an international crowd with a simple facial expression or minor body movement. If you've never seen the third sister of Stardom (the others being Io Shirai and Kairi Hojo), I implore you to watch her matches.
(Video Credit: @PuroresuFlow on Twitter)
Saya Kamitani (Stardom)
Suzu Suzuki (Freelance)
FAVORITE TAG TEAM
The Acclaimed (AEW)
While I've soured a great deal on the promotion they are a part of, Anthony Bowens and Max Caster of The Acclaimed were an easy choice for my favorite tag team of the past month. These two completed their long road to the top of AEW's stacked tag team division when they defeated Swerve in Our Glory at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens to become the first pair of AEW originals to hold the tag team championships, and I couldn't have been happier for them.
Bowens and Caster's ascent took a while, but they received a shot of adrenaline over the past couple months when the AEW fanbase really began to embrace the pair as a top act. Caster has always been over thanks to his terrific rapping gimmick, but in my opinion, it was Bowens' evolution into a mega likable babyface that I believe pushed the duo over the top. So while I was a little surprised with just how mega over they were at All Out on September 4th, I was fully on board.
While I can't say that either of their clashes with Swerve and Keith Lee was the best tag team match in AEW's history, I will say that they both were special in their own right. The first match at All Out was a bonafide classic up there with some of the best tag title matches the promotion has sanctioned in their three plus year history, but the second might have the greatest single moment in the promotion's run of tag team greatness. Seeing Max Caster finally get the pin after their hellacious second clash with Swerve in Our Glory gave me a catharsis I never knew I could feel.
Everybody LOVES The Acclaimed and long may they reign as the AEW Tag Team Champions!
Cosmic Angels (Natsupoi and Tam Nakano - Stardom)
Harimao (Kazusada Higuchi & Naomi Yoshimura - DDT)
Las Fresa de Egoistas (ASUKA & Makoto - SEAdLINNG)
Swerve in Our Glory (Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland - AEW)
The Bloodline (WWE)
WWE held some pretty solid shows over the past month, but a lot of my personal enjoyment surrounding the promotion has hinged on the success of The Bloodline, which is easily the most dominant faction not just in America, but on Earth. Led by the indomitable Roman Reigns, the unit started out this month as the biggest thing in WWE, and left the month somehow even bigger, not just in stature but in numbers too.
They've not only dominated in the ring, but also in promo segments. Roman is as interesting a character as anyone in wrestling, of course, but it seems that every member of the group adds something critical to the equation.
Paul Heyman brings a different level of legitimacy to the crew as the miserly herald who's venomous tongue can whip any fan into a frenzy.
Jimmy Uso is the neutral rock of the unit who's seemingly enjoying the ride as one half of the greatest tag team in WWE history.
Jey Uso is fanatical in his devotion to Roman and The Bloodline, and sports an icy cold stare that can shut down even the most excitable victim.
Sami Zayn is genuinely the most entertaining talker in the world right now and is THRIVING in his role as "Honorary Uce". He brings a much needed sense of levity to the group. Also, his relationships with each other member are varied and well defined, from his friendship to Jimmy Uso and Solo Sikoa to his issues with Jey Uso.
And newcomer Solo Sikoa brings a fresh new quality of aggression. He's been terrific so far in his role.
I know I'm preaching to the choir, but The Bloodline is easily the most interesting thing in American wrestling, not counting the White Rabbit stuff, and as they will continue to be that way until the wheels fall off.
The Acclaimed (Anthony Bowens, "Daddy Ass" Billy Gunn, Max Caster - AEW)
Damage CTRL (Bayley, Dakota Kai, IYO SKY - WWE)
Death Triangle (PAC, Penta El Cero Miedo, Rey Fenix - AEW)
Harimao (Kazusada Higuchi, Noami Yoshimura, Yuki Ishida - DDT)
Queen's Quest (AZM, Hina, Lady C, Miyu Amasaki, Saya Kamitani, Utami Hayashishita - Stardom)
FAVORITE MATCH (MALE)
Kazusada Higuchi vs. Konosuke Takeshita (DDT Who's Gonna Top? 2022, 9/25)
For much of the past month, this award was going to go to Gunter's IC Title defense against Sheamus at the "Clash of the Castle" event from September 4th. However, while it was a tremendous hoss fight and a match of the year candidate, Kazusada Higuchi's KO-D Openweight Title defense against Konosuke Takeshita at DDT's "Who's Gonna Top" show from 9/25 just did enough to swipe this award at the last month.
The story going into this match was that while Higuchi was the top champion in DDT, he wasn't the true top guy in the promotion. That title belonged to Takeshita, who had only risen his profile in 2022 thanks to his famous excursion to AEW earlier in the year. Following his return to Japan, Takeshita set his eyes on Higuchi and his KO-D Championship, and the match was set.
If you ask me, this wasn't just a terrific match between two of the best in-ring competitors on Earth right now, but it successfully marked the moment when Higuchi earned the claim as DDT's newest ace, or top babyface. Not only did he successfully defeat Takeshita after 19 hellacious minutes, but he did so in definitive fashion. There was no doubt after the final bell rang that Higuchi had fairly defeated his challenger.
Now that Takeshita is planning another sabbatical to AEW later this year, Higuchi and DDT appear to be in a pretty strong position as they now have someone who can fill Takeshita's big shoes. And while I know he'll kill it once again in the states, I'm looking forward to seeing these two mix it up again in the future.
Gunther vs. Sheamus (WWE Clash at the Castle, 9/3)
Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland vs. Anthony Bowens and Max Caster (AEW All Out, 9/4)
Kazusada Higuchi & Naomi Yoshimura vs. HARASHIMA & Toru Owashi (DDT Dramatic Explosion 2022, 9/4)
El Desperado vs. Jun Kasai (JTO TAKA Michinoku Debut 30th Anniversary, 9/12)
Yuki Yoshioka vs. Eita (Dragongate Dangerous Gate 2022, 9/19)
FAVORITE MATCH (FEMALE)
Mayu Iwatani vs. Giulia (Stardom 5STAR Grand Prix 2022 Night 13, 9/11)
Way back in January, Mayu Iwatani and Giulia took had a phenomenal battle for the right to take on Syuri in a future red belt clash. While I didn't name it my favorite female match of the month at the time, that was only because I hadn't yet split this category into male and female sections. But it's safe to say that it would've won. Eight months later, Iwatani and Giulia once again took part in a terrific clash, this time in the 5STAR Grand Prix, and this time, I can give these two the praise they deserve.
Giulia and Mayu Iwatani have a rare chemistry in that they can continue to have multiple classic singles matches without either one of them grabbing the win. From their underrated 15 minute draw in what was essentially a tribute match to Hana Kimura last year, to their two aforementioned wars this year, these two are as evenly matches as any other rivals in Stardom.
Giulia usually portrays the bully in most of her other rivalries, but she's unable to do much of anything to Iwatani, a woman who's experience has made her a tough nut to crack in most situations. For her part, Iwatani has been able to dominate Giulia at times, but she's never fully able to get the job done, as Giulia has a rare amount of tenacity and grit.
And that paradigm was front and center during this crucial 5STAR Grand Prix clash. Both competitors came into the match as high favorites to win their block; Iwatani was sitting on 8 points, while Giulia had 10, meaning both were in the thick of the race. Following 15 minutes of these two throwing haymakers and maybe one or two too many head butts, the bell rang indicating a time limit draw, the first of the tournament at the time.
If you want to see the best form of an abbreviated main event style match between two women at the top of their game, check out this match right here. It's well worth the quarter hour of time you'll have to spend.
Suzu Suzuki vs. Saya Kamitani (Stardom 5STAR Grand Prix 2022 Night 13, 9/11)
ASUKA & Makoto vs. Ayame Sasamura & Riko Kaiju (SEAdLINNNG, 9/22)
Mayu Iwatani vs. Hazuki (Stardom 5Star Grand Prix 2022 Night 18, 9/23)
Giulia vs. Saya Kamitani (Stardom 5Star Grand Prix 2022 Night 19, 9/24)
AZM vs. Maika vs. Mayu Iwatani vs. Ram Kaicho (Stardom in Showcase Vol. 2, 9/25)
NJPW Burning Spirit Night 3 (9/5)
While not nearly as incredible as many other shows from this past month in terms of in-ring action, New Japan's effort from September 5th was an event that I will not soon forget as it was the first to feature crowd noise in over two and a half years. Emanating from the legendary Korakuen Hall, NJPW fanatics were finally able to vocalize, adding an incredible amount of excitement to what was in all honesty a pretty normal house show.
The card itself wasn't anything to write home about as there was only one singles match, but it almost didn't matter as everyone put in top notch efforts from start to finish. Minoru Suzuki and Bad Dude Tito started things off with a fun and violent sprint. The House of Torture fell to CHAOS all the while being showered in absolute hatred from the Korakuen faithful. KUSHIDA teamed up with Jado against Taiji Ishimori and Gedo. And the two GOATs, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada, finished off the event with a hot tag team clash against JONAH and Shane Haste of TMDK.
But if I had to earmark one moment as being the one reason why this perfectly ordinary event beat out even the best efforts from DDT, Stardom, and Just Tap Out, it was in the semi-main event. Tetsuya Naito, a man who hadn't left Japan once to wrestle anywhere else since the start of the pandemic, emerged for his match to the sounds of people chanting his name. The moment that the camera catches Naito get red in the face and tear up genuinely moved me to tears. A man who had once been shunned by the NJPW fanbase and had since become it's most beloved star, was finally showed the love and admiration that the booking team in the promotion often fails to do much with. For that moment, this show will live on in my mind as the perfect show because it finally felt like a real New Japan event.
WWE Clash at the Castle (9/4)
Stardom 5STAR Grand Prix 2022 Night 13 (9/11)
JTO TAKA Michinoku Debut 30th Anniversary ~ TAKATaichiDespeMania (9/12)
Stardom 5Star Grand Prix 2022 Night 18 (9/23)
DDT Who’s Gonna Top? 2022 (9/25)
For the FOURTH time in 2022, Stardom has edged out their competition to win my favorite promotion of the month. The Joshi giant consistently gave us the best in-ring competition in September thanks in large part to their incredible 5STAR Grand Prix tournament. Over this past month, 12 matches achieved match of the year consideration (listed below), one of them won my female match of the month, and company ace Mayu Iwatani won my favorite female wrestler. Suffice to say, it's been a great month to be a Stardom fan.
Zooming out to examine their events as a whole, two of them were show of the month finalists, two more were excellent watches, and the rest at least progressed the 5STAR, thus making even the worst shows must-watch to some extent. Case in point, Stardom held their second edition of the controversial "Showcase" series, and while the program did include some utter garbage, it did include two 5STAR matches as well as a thrilling fatal four way falls count anywhere match that was mentioned in my Mayu Iwatani section.
Rossi Ogawa clearly has a tremendous ability to book a tournament, as he successfully added more intrigue to who could actually win the crown as the month progressed. Each competitor had to take part in 12 matches before the finals, so there were quite a few exciting upsets and surprising finishes that could be used to craft future storylines and rivalries down the road. Additionally, the promotion continued to experiment and try new things. I will never shame a company that is willing to twist their formula, even if it doesn't work all too well, just as long as they don't make a habit of making the same mistake too often.
There's little doubt in my mind that Stardom will continue to put on exciting performances in the near future. The 5STAR itself is set to conclude in October. They'll be holding what I believe is a pay-per-view on the 15th. The fifth edition of the successful "New Blood" series will be held on the 19th. The 12th annual "Goddesses of Stardom Tag League" will commence on October 23rd. And, some wrestlers will fly to the states to perform in NYC on October 27th and 28th. If all that wasn't good enough for you, Stardom will also begin a tournament to crown the newly minted IWGP Women's Championship as they inch closer to their historic crossover event with brother promotion New Japan on November 20th.
So be on the lookout for another potentially incredible month for Stardom, and if you haven't already, join the Stardom cult today!
PREVIOUS WINNERS Wrestler(s)
January (Male/Female) - Dragon Dia (Dragongate)
February (Male/Female) - MJF (AEW)
March (Male) - Zack Sabre Jr. (NJPW)
March (Female) - KAIRI (Stardom)
April (Male) - Wheeler Yuta (AEW)
April (Female) - AZM (Stardom)
May (Male) - El Desperado (NJPW)
May (Female) - ASUKA/VENY (Freelance)
June (Male) - Will Ospreay (NJPW)
June (Female) - Miyuki Takase (Freelance)
July (Male) - Claudio Castagnoli (AEW/ROH)
July (Female) - Natsupoi (Stardom)
August (Male) - Will Ospreay (NJPW) (2nd)
August (Female) - Hazuki (Stardom)
September (Male) - Kazusada Higuchi (DDT)
September (Female) - Mayu Iwatani (Stardom)
January - D'Courage (Dragon Dia and Yuki Yoshioka - Dragongate)
February - 37KAMIINA (Konosuke Takeshita and Yuki Ueno - DDT)
March - Blackpool Combat Club (Bryan Danielson and Jon Moxley - AEW)
April - FTR (Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood - AEW/ROH)
May - F.W.C. (Hazuki and Koguma - Stardom)
June - FTR (Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood - AEW) (2nd)
July - FTR (Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood - AEW) (3rd)
August - Cosmic Angels (Natsupoi and Tam Nakano - Stardom)
September - The Acclaimed (Anthony Bowens and Max Caster - AEW)
January - Prominence (Freelance)
February - House of Black (AEW)
March - Donna Del Mondo (Stardom)
April - Blackpool Combat Club (AEW)
May - God's Eye (Stardom)
June - Natural Vibes (Dragongate)
July - Blackpool Combat Club (AEW) (2nd)
August - The United Empire (NJPW)
September - The Bloodline (WWE)
January (Male) - Go Shiozaki vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima (NOAH The New Year, 1/1)
January (Female) - Mayu Iwatani vs. Giulia (Stardom Nagoya Supreme Fight, 1/29)
February (Male) - HARASHIMA & Naomi Yoshimura vs. Konosuke Takeshita & Yuki Ueno (DDT Ultimate Tag League 2022 The Final!!, 2/27)
February (Female) - AZM vs. Starlight Kid (Stardom Cinderella Journey In Nagaoka, 2/23)
March (Female) - Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Will Ospreay (NJPW New Japan Cup Night 13, 3/26)
March (Female) - Saya Kamitani vs. Tam Nakano (Stardom World Climax Night 2: The Top, 3/27)
April (Male/Female) - FTR vs. Briscoe Brothers (ROH Supercard of Honor, 4/1)
April (Female) - AZM vs. Mei Suruga (Stardom Cinderella Tournament 2022 Final, 4/29)
May (Male/Female) - El Phantasmo vs. Robbie Eagles (NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Night 9, 5/26)
May (Female) - Syuri vs. ASUKA (Hana Kimura Memorial “Bagus”, 5/23)
June (Male) - Will Ospreay vs. Orange Cassidy (AEW/NJPW Forbidden Door, 6/26)
June (Female) - Miyuki Takase vs. Miyu Yamashita (DPW No Pressure, 6/5)
July (Male) - FTR vs. Briscoe Brothers (ROH Death Before Dishonor, 7/23)
July (Female) - Bianca Belair vs. Becky Lynch (WWE SummerSlam, 7/30)
August (Male) - Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay (NJPW G1 Climax 32 Night 20, 8/18)
August (Female) - MIRAI vs. Suzu Suzuki (Stardom 5STAR Grand Prix 2022 Night 5, 8/11)
September (Male) - Kazusada Higuchi vs. Konosuke Takeshita (DDT Who's Gonna Top? 2022, 9/25)
September (Female) - Mayu Iwatani vs. Giulia (Stardom 5STAR Grand Prix 2022 Night 13, 9/11)
January - Stardom Nagoya Supreme Fight (1/29)
February - Stardom Cinderella Journey In Nagaoka (2/23)
March - AEW Revolution (3/6)
April - ROH Supercard of Honor (4/1)
May - Hana Kimura Produce "Bagus" (5/23)
June - AEW/NJPW Forbidden Door (6/26)
July - WWE SummerSlam (7/30)
August - DDT Wrestle Peter Pan (8/20)
September - NJPW Burning Spirit Night 3 (9/5)
January - Stardom
February - All Elite Wrestling
March - New Japan Pro Wrestling
April - Stardom (2nd)
May - New Japan Pro Wrestling (2nd)
June - Pro Wrestling WAVE
July - WWE
August - Stardom (3rd)
September - Stardom (4th)
Every Match of the Year Candidate in 2022 from June (9/10s or higher) (Note: Italics means it was my match of the month)
1) Gunther vs. Sheamus (WWE Clash at the Castle, 9/3)
2) Eddie Kingston vs. Tomohiro Ishii (AEW All Out, 9/4)
3) Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland vs. Anthony Bowens and Max Caster (AEW All Out, 9/4)
4) Syuri vs. Himeka (Stardom 5Star Grand Prix 2022 Night 12, 9/4)
5) Kazusada Higuchi & Naomi Yoshimura vs. HARASHIMA & Toru Owashi (DDT Dramatic Explosion 2022, 9/4)
6) Bryan Danielson vs. Adam Page (AEW Dynamite, 9/7)
7) Konosuke Takeshita vs. Daisuke Sasaki (DDT Konosuke Takeshita 10th Anniversary, 9/10)
8) Mayu Iwatani vs. Giulia (Stardom 5STAR Grand Prix 2022 Night 13, 9/11)
9) Suzu Suzuki vs. Saya Kamitani (Stardom 5STAR Grand Prix 2022 Night 13, 9/11)
10) El Desperado vs. Jun Kasai (JTO TAKA Michinoku Debut 30th Anniversary, 9/12)
11) Maika & MIRAI vs. Aoi & Tomoka Inaba (JTO TAKA Michinoku Debut 30th Anniversary, 9/12)
12) Mei Suruga vs. Yuna Mizumori (Gatoh Move 10th Anniversary, 9/15)
13) MIRAI vs. Saya Kamitani (Stardom 5Star Grand Prix 2022 Night 16, 9/18)
14) Tam Nakano vs. Risa Sera (Stardom 5Star Grand Prix 2022 Night 16, 9/18)
15) Suzu Suzuki vs. Momo Watanabe (Stardom 5Star Grand Prix 2022 Night 16, 9/18)
16) Chris Brookes, Masahiro Takanashi, & Cara Noir vs. MAO, Toi Kojima, & Yuki Ueno (DDT Sterness 30th Anniversary - Jun Akiyama 30th Anniversary Show, 9/18)
17) Jun Akiyama, Tetsuya Endo & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Konosuke Takeshita, Shunma Katsumata & Yuji Nagata (DDT Sterness 30th Anniversary - Jun Akiyama 30th Anniversary Show, 9/18)
18) Yuki Yoshioka vs. Eita (Dragongate Dangerous Gate 2022, 9/19)
19) ASUKA & Makoto vs. Ayame Sasamura & Riko Kaiju (SEAdLINNNG, 9/22)
20) Mina Shirakawa vs. Saya Kamitani (Stardom 5Star Grand Prix 2022 Night 18, 9/23)
21) Mayu Iwatani vs. Hazuki (Stardom 5Star Grand Prix 2022 Night 18, 9/23)
22) Giulia vs. Saya Kamitani (Stardom 5Star Grand Prix 2022 Night 19, 9/24)
23) AZM vs. Hazuki vs. Fukigen Death (Stardom 5Star Grand Prix 2022 Night 19, 9/24)
24) Syuri vs. Tam Nakano (Stardom 5Star Grand Prix 2022 Night 18, 9/23)
25) Kazusada Higuchi vs. Konosuke Takeshita (DDT Who's Gonna Top? 2022, 9/25)
26) Yuki Ueno vs. Cara Noir (DDT Who's Gonna Top? 2022, 9/25)
27) AZM vs. Maika vs. Mayu Iwatani vs. Ram Kaicho (Stardom in Showcase Vol. 2, 9/25)
28) Will Ospreay vs. David Finlay (NJPW Burning Spirit 2022 Night 14, 9/25)
Most Match of the Year Candidates (As of 10/1): 1st. Will Ospreay - 16 2nd. Syuri - 11
T3rd. Konosuke Takeshita - 9 T4th. Jon Moxley, Kazuchika Okada, Saya Kamitani, Tomohiro Ishii - 8 T9th. El Desperado, Giulia, Mayu Iwatani, Shingo Takagi - 7
Special thanks to WhoScored, Transfermarkt, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Fangraphs, Cagematch, and 1.02.JP for helping make me a more well-informed fan. Featured Image Credit - @Knankles on Twitter
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