I conducted a phone interview Thursday with “The Blueprint” Matt Morgan, who will wrestle in his first pay-per-view main event this Sunday at TNA’s Hard Justice. In a TNA world title match, he will go against champion Kurt Angle and Sting in a three-way.
Do you feel any added pressure being in the main event Sunday?
When I first started when I was on Smackdown, we closed out Smackdown shows when I was part of the Team Lesnar entourage. Originally, we were supposed to be in the main event of Survivor Series that year , but for whatever the reason, the powers that be switched things up, and the Raw match [Triple H versus Goldberg] ending up main-eventing instead of us. But going into it, we were supposed to main event that. That was some serious pressure. This being a singles-style match is different. This is directly on me. I can’t hide behind Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle and John Cena and all the other big names that were in that match when I was on Smackdown. This is directly on me, Sting and Kurt, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. This is my seventh year now in the business, and I’ve gotten the preparation for it. So to directly answer your question, I don’t feel pressure. I’ve been begging and dying for this for the last three to four years. Through opportunities with New Japan, I got to work a semi-main event at Tokyo Dome versus Yuii Nagata, and that match also helped get me ready. There were a lot of people there, and again, I couldn’t hide behind anybody else. It was just me versus that other guy. And that’s the pressure that you should want as a wrestler. If you don’t want it, no offense, but you really shouldn’t be doing this.
When you started with TNA, you didn’t get pushed to the moon right away. It was a slow build. In fact, you weren’t even in the ring at first; you were in the back with Jim Cornette. Was taking it slow something that you preferred?
At first, maybe not. I’m an athlete first and foremost, before I’m a wrestler or entertainer or anything else. The athlete in Matt Morgan wanted to get out there and show everybody what I’ve improved on – watch me talk, watch some of the moves I came up with in Japan. The athlete in me was dying to get out there and wrestle. But the problem I’ve always had with wrestling in my past was patience and just relaxing and letting things come to me when the door is finally open. You can’t necessarily force those doors open if you’re not ready. I can’t thank TNA enough, to be honest. I know it sounds corny but it’s a real emotion. I can’t thank them enough for really bringing me along nice and slow. And they stuck to their word with me from Day One. Jeff [Jarrett] and Vince [Russo] and anybody who had any creative power at the time told me, “You’re going to get your opportunity, but first we have to bring you along nice and slow and make the people want to see you wrestle.” They couldn’t have done the simmer any slower or more methodical than they did. It was really good. It was to the point where I think it was my third or fourth month in before I finally threw my first punch. Even just that alone really popped our crowd. They hadn’t seen me do anything but pie-face Kurt Angle to the ground at that point in my career with TNA, and even that they reacted a ridiculous amount for. It’s just some old school booking that really works well for a big guy, I think.
Wrestling bookers now, I think it’s like Big Man 101, where they bum-rush the big guy and strap a jet up his butt and skyrocket him to the top way too quick before he’s ready. And the problem with that is, where do they go after six months of doing that? Once they’ve worked the top guy and they did the job in the main event to another top guy, where do they go from there? They don’t have any other credibility at that point other than squashing no-names. And I can’t thank TNA enough for giving me the opportunity to work my way up, from bodyguard, to running the show a couple times, and then getting opportunities to work a couple squash matches as a babyface, and then putting me in there with Team Cage and ultimately turning me full-fledged babyface and putting me in the semifinal main event for that match at Lockdown. It was just a slow, steady build. And then finally when I turned on Abyss, that really started clicking for me because my persona is heel. I won’t even pretend that I’m a babyface in real life, because I’m not. I am a [jerk]. I admit it wholeheartedly. I’m as cocky as they come. I really do think I’m a good athlete, and it shows out there. It’s not really a work.
So do you subscribe to the theory that the best persona for a wrestler is just being himself with the volume turned up rather than having a character created for them? With the latter, it’s more about trying to be an actor because you’re playing someone that you may not identify with, right?
Right. And unfortunately when that happens in pro wrestling, all of us, I don’t care who they are, if the best wrestler in the world is put in a predicament where he’s not comfortable on camera with the character they’re having him portray, we all look like C-rated actors. The good ones – like The Rock and Kurt Angle – you believe every word they say when they speak, because we’ve seen enough of them in that role to the point where you’re not second-guessing them being in that role anymore. You think that is Dwayne Johnson 24/7 after a while. You think that’s Kurt Angle – that intense Olympic gold medalist athlete that he is, who’ll stab you in the back in a heartbeat – after a while of being conditioned by seeing that character. With The Blueprint, people now come up to me and say, “I like you as a heel so much better; things are just clicking so much better for you.” I’m like, “You know what it is? You’re just becoming conditioned to seeing me more regularly in this role.” And I shouldn’t even call it a role. It is a play on my life. I mean, I’m not that big of a [jerk] in real life, obviously, but I really do think I’m God’s gift to athletics. I really do think I’m a hell of an athlete and I’ve got no problem telling anybody that.
You were considered a can’t-miss prospect in WWE. Why do you think things ultimately didn’t work out there, and how surprised were you when you were released?
I’m not going to lie; I was surprised. I wasn’t crying about it, but I was definitely shocked. I had just worked Big Show in Japan literally four days prior. The reason I think it didn’t work was that analogy I used before about being C-rated actors like sometimes they make us become, because they’re trying to ram that square through that circle hole. The stuttering character was a great example of that. It was a good idea. The stuttering character could have worked, and maybe it would have if I had more time at it, and maybe who I wrestled against actually would have changed people’s perception of that character. If I was wrestling Triple H and those other guys, people I think would have eventually given it time to set in. Look at Festus. People probably looked at him like, “What the hell is this? This isn’t going to work.” But when he was wrestling Undertaker and guys like that, after a while, people started accepting it more and more. With me, unfortunately, I don’t think I had that same time frame to prove myself. I’m glad I didn’t, to be quite honest, because I would not want to be pigeon-holed as that character. I would not be proud of that.
What led you to giving pro wrestling a try when your goal of making it in the NBA didn’t work out?
A little-known fact is that I was actually in Hawaii doing a big-man camp, where a bunch of NBA scouts come in and they see you. All these stud D-I centers are at this camp at the University of Hawaii, and it was a really good opportunity for me to be seen. I got scouted by a lot of NBA teams that didn’t know who I was at the time because I was all the way out in Hawaii [playing for Chaminade University]. They had only seen me on ESPN like three times a year, getting spanked by Duke or Syracuse [laughs]. So this is my opportunity to shine and show them what I got. The problem was, at that same exact moment – this is before I was even doing NBA tryouts – I was going to a place called Pro Wrestling Hawaii, and this trainer called The Bonecrusher was attempting to show me how to lock up and how to wrestle. I had to pay this guy $500 that I really didn’t have – I had to borrow it – and learn how to train to be a wrestler. The guy gave me like one session and then turned his cell phone off and moved out of his apartment. Now obviously he didn’t do that for just $500; he ripped off a bunch of other trainees, which I found out a few years later. He did it to like 20 of us and he was never to be heard from or seen again.
So I was trying to get into wrestling even back then while these NBA tryouts were going on. I was just turning to basketball and football because that’s all I knew, and I knew I could make some money doing either the NFL or riding the pine for the NBA. So I’m going to the Indiana Pacers camp and the Toronto Raptors camp, and it was cool to be invited, but it wasn’t like I was an 8-year-old kid going, “Sweet, I’m going to be an NBA player.” I just kept thinking about wrestling and wondering, “How do I get in this? How do I get started? I got ripped off by this one guy who was an indy promoter out in Hawaii, now what do I do?” Luckily, I graduated college in ’01, and from there I moved back to Connecticut. I met a buddy of mine who wrote for WWE Magazine. He told me, “Why don’t you come up to the Stamford headquarters and work out at the gym. I know you’re dying to be a wrestler. Maybe Vince McMahon or Tom Pritchard or Jim Ross will bump into you and maybe I can introduce you to them.” Sure enough, my first time there I ran into Stephanie McMahon and Jim Ross’ wife and talked to them really briefly. They told me to keep showing up in the gym on Friday nights when Vince would come in there. So Vince came in the following Friday and I went right up to him and told him that I was a huge fan and that I’m trying to get in the business, and that’s how we started from there.
You ended up getting a spot on the second season of “Tough Enough.” Was that a result of your conversation with Vince or did you have to go through the whole tryout process?
“Tough Enough” was a brand new concept at the time. It was from talking with Tom Pritchard actually more so than Vince. I said, “Tom, I will move anywhere you need me to. I know you have a minor league – I think that’s what I called i. I didn’t even know what developmental was yet – and I’ll go down to your minors and do whatever you need me to do to learn how to wrestle. I just want to learn the right way. I told him my sob story about getting ripped off, and he was like, “That’s going to continue to happen to you. If you do go to an independent company and they train you, I’m just going to have to un-train all the mistakes anyway. They’re going to screw you up. I’d rather have you not do any of that.” I’m like, “So what do I do, just sit on ice?” He said, “For the time being. We’ll se what we can do.” So probably like three to four months later – I’m calling him every Friday to see if there’s anything new, and you could tell that I’m getting on his nerves – I’m like, “OK, I’m going to leave you alone. If you do hear something eventually, let me know.” He said, “I told you that’s what I would do, Matt.”
Eventually, I get a call that there’s something called “Tough Enough” coming on. They said, “We can’t promise anything. We can’t rig it for you, because MTV has just as much say on the matter as to who gets selected on the show as we do, but we would advise that you do that because it would be the quickest route for you to get to developmental. But you’re going to have to go out there and go through all the procedures to get on that show.” It was a pain in the [butt]. I had to make MTV really fall in love with me, because in my opinion, I thought the MTV people were going to want people like Josh Matthews. They don’t root for Goliath. If I’m the people at MTV, I’m thinking the viewer wants to see David slay Goliath and become champion of Tough Enough and go on to WWE and see what the kid can do. I thought that there was no way that MTV is going to be interested enough in me, but luckily I was humble, I was myself, I was honest, and whatever they asked me I answered truthfully and honestly. Before I knew it I found myself flying out to Las Vegas and auditioning before the judges, and that’s what you guys saw on “Tough Enough II.”
You were forced to leave the show because of a knee injury. I’m sure that was disappointing, but you still ended up with a developmental contract. How quickly did someone from WWE approach you and tell you that you still had an opportunity to make it with the company?
Bob Holly gets a bad rap a lot of time from the younger guys, but I’ll be honest here. When I tore me knee, Al [Snow] told me that I had to go home because I couldn’t just sit there and not train because it’s not fair to the other contestants – and I understood that. I was way overweight. I was legitimately 375 pounds – way overweight for me doing what were doing on that show. That’s how I ended up hurting my knee. So I’m leaving the back parking lot and the camera crew had just turned the camera off, and I saw Bob coming back from just doing his workout at the gym. I walked up to him and I said, “Hey Bob, I just want to thank you very much for the opportunity. What do you recommend I do?” He was the one who told me, “Stay on WWE. This is a door that was opened for you; it doesn’t mean that it’s closed all the way. Just make sure you let them know when your knee is good and that you still really want to do this.” That really did give me encouragement. He rode us pretty hard on the show, but he’s giving me his honest opinion that I should stick with this. I would have stuck with it either way, but I wouldn’t have known how to go about it. So I got home and I e-mailed Tom and let him know what happened on the show. He goes, “Hey don’t worry about it, big man. I heard you did phenomenally well on that show, that you’re more athletic than they expected you to be and that you picked up things pretty quickly. Stay tuned and we’ll get back to you and let you know what’s going on.” I was like, “Wow, that’s awesome.” Then Jim Ross contacted me a little bit after that and asked if my knee was OK. I went down to the Heartland Wrestling Association tryout camp for a WWE developmental contract, and that’s how I got started.
You alluded to the fact that you spent some time wrestling in Japan after you were released from WWE. What did you take from your experience working there?
That was the biggest confidence builder for me, because there was no guarantee of anything. I was being brought over as a big Gaijin [foreigner] as they call it, and expected to be big, strong and intimidating and do whatever I can to entertain the fans, but at the same time, their wrestling is way different. It took me a little while to adjust to not playing to the crowd and never taking my eyes off my opponent. That’s the way the Japanese audience is. They will not pop for me beating on my chest after I do a move. They will pop for weird stuff like me doing a suplex and holding a guy up in the air for 25 seconds. They don’t really pop for the intensity of my “Blueprint” character that I have on TV now. They’ll pop for the actual move and the psychology of what I’m doing, and more importantly, for the little Japanese guy that I’m beating the holy hell out of there and giving him hope spots and showing the fighting spirit in my opponent. That’s really where I learned a lot of psychology and logic of how to work a crowd, because they’re very difficult to work.
There are obvious advantages to being a guy with your size [7 feet, 305 pounds] as far as getting opportunities in the business, but how does being a big man work to your disadvantage, specifically when it comes to “smart” fans’ perception of you?
That’s a great question. Jim Cornette once told me that the Internet fans or smart marks make up at best three to five percent of our audience, and that’s probably a high number. I’m not going to be their cup of tea. I get that. I can light myself on fire and do a triple moonsault off the top of the Impact Zone, and someone would sill say, “Morgan looked kind of uncoordinated doing it.” It’s not easy to find a 7-footer that looks more coordinated than to have a 41-inch vertical and does some of the things that I do, but I really don’t care. If I tried to care what they thought, I’d go crazy. … There is a small part of our crowd that really is just there to see Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley and those guys do all their impressive high spots – and they are impressive. I’m a huge fan of Sabin and Shelly. They’re probably my two favorite wrestlers in our company right now. I know our smart marks prefer that style of wrestling as opposed to what I’m doing, and that’s fine. If 75 to 80 percent of our crowd was like that, yes, then I would be worried.
Can you talk about the relationship that you have with Jim Cornette and the influence that he has had on your career? What’s the best advice he has ever given you?
My very first match in OVW, he told me I did an OK job, but that there was a lot of stuff I needed to improve – pretty much the same kind of advice he gives me today. He always thinks you can get better, which I agree with him. So he told me I did good, to go home, let it go, watch the tape back tomorrow and we’ll go from there. So I go home and my wife is there reading the Internet. She told me she was reading a report on my match. She said, “Did you know you can go on the Internet and read reports on how good your matches are?” I didn’t know that. Some people were saying good things, some were saying bad things. So I go back the next day and I’m talking to Jimmy about it, and he went ballistic on me. He goes, “Why the [expletive] are you reading the damn Internet? What the hell do they know about judging your match? You going to listen to them over me?” That was my first lesson in “don’t worry about what the Internet says and don’t bother reading any of it.” It’s always going to be negativity.
Unfortunately, if you read Us Magazine or People Magazine or go on tmz.com, negativity sells. I think, unfortunately, the Internet wrestling community follows suit. … A lot of wrestling sites, from what I’ve heard, just completely bury and bash the product. No matter what happens, they’ll find something negative in it. And they’ll use their BS blanket of, “Well, we’re fans. We’re just doing it because we want to see the product become better.” I really don’t think that’s what it is. I think they follow suit with what’s going on in society – that negativity sells. I don’t necessarily think that works in pro wrestling. I think they’re shooting themselves in the foot. Because if you keep burying the product that you’re reporting on, what do you think is going to happen if you keep doing it? People are going to stop watching because of your negative opinion on the product, and then these people are not going to have anything to write about it. I’m very thankful that Cornette gave me that advice back in the day because I would be going nuts now if I sat down and read all this stuff. A lot of our young guys really pay way too much attention to that, and I was very lucky to have Jimmy sit me down and tell me, “Don’t ever read that BS again.” And to be quite honest, I never have.
What’s it been like working with A.J. Styles in the best-of-three series?
The matches that I’m most proud of in TNA are my two matches with Kurt Angle and these three matches with A.J. Styles. It’s meant a lot for my career with TNA, because A.J. is a mainstay. To me, he’s always going to be Mr. TNA. He’s the predominant babyface of our company and he’s fantastic at what he does. For me to beat him in this series 2-1 is a big step for me and it really puts me on the map and lends credibility to my character rather than just having Matt Morgan showing up in a main event for no reason at all. I had to earn it. The way we told the story with the best-of-three series with A.J. is, you don’t want to go out there and put 10 to 15 minutes in on your first match and then 20 minutes in your second match and then a half hour in your third match, because there’s only so much you can do. So if you go back and watch the tape of our first match, we did not do that much. The craziest we got was A.J.’s 450 splash, which was done on purpose. We knew we were not going to give the fans too many high spots because we still had two more matches to go. So we told a simple story of A.J. keeping me tight in a headlock and keeping me close to him instead of me being on top of him. Finally, my power prevailed and we went from there.
The second match, A.J. went to work a little bit on my knee immediately to get me down. Now, that’s not something I’m accustomed to doing. I’ve always been taught to make people earn getting me off my feet, and it usually happens toward the latter part of a match. But with A.J., I thought it really made sense the way he was working my knee and making it very realistic and believable. That was the story of that match, but still we weren’t giving them too many high spots. We turned it up half a notch in that match. The third match, we pulled out a lot more stops. There were more false finishes and a little more high spots at the right times. It was really fun to put together in an old-school way. You know you have three matches in a row with the guy, so you don’t want to tell the same story three matches in a row. And you also don’t want to give away everything you have in that first or second match. You want to give a little-by-little-by-little presentation of what you two can do together as far as chemistry, high spots and false finishes are concerned. I thought we did a pretty good job of that.
What are your thoughts on your stint as The Beast on “American Gladiators?” Do you want to branch out into acting and other forms of entertainment?
Yeah, of course I do. One of the things I’d like to do for TNA is get their brand out there more and show other people that TNA is legit, it is for real and it does have some top-of-the-line athletes as well as entertainers. The more some of our guys get out there, the better. When the opportunity came up to do “American Gladiators,” I was not going to pass that over. Although at one point I did have to choose between the [TNA and the show], and, unfortunately, I had to turn “American Gladiators” down for about a month or so and go back to work with TNA because NBC was not going to let me be a wrestler and do their show, even though they promised me I could in the beginning. So they went back on their word and said I couldn’t wrestle and I’m like, “OK, screw you. I quit.” They called me back two weeks later and said, “OK, we’ll let you do the wrestling thing. Here’s what we’re thinking of your character. Let’s do this.” So I went back and did the show and the rest is history. It was a really good opportunity. It’s opened a lot of doors for me. Once you get out there in the Los Angeles and Hollywood area and you’ve done something of some sort of substance like “American Gladiators” – that was at the time a semi-hot show – your name gets on all these lists for these red carpet events. I was told by my manager that’s kind of how it works out there. So because of that I’m getting to meet producers and directors and actors and actresses.
Chad Johnson [of the Cincinnati Bengals] had this red carpet event for the “Revenge of the Jocks” issue of ESPN The Magazine, and to be invited to that was huge for me. They posted a picture of me in the magazine, and there aren’t many wrestlers put in ESPN The Magazine. … More importantly, when I was at that event, I ran into about 50 different people who watched our show. And I’m talking about people that you would never guess watch our show, like Chris Tucker and Ice Cube. Chad Johnson loves wrestling and watches our show religiously. It was really cool to see that and also make contacts with people to set up possible other situations for me to be involved in. So it has opened the door. I’m doing an MMA movie, which I think I start taping in September and early October. There have been some other opportunities, like “Iron Man 2” came up, as well as “Smallville.” Unfortunately, the thing with “Iron Man 2” is a whole other story. From what I’ve been told, I was pretty much a back-up plan in case Samuel Jackson did not come back to that movie. They were going to have me play the role of Crimson Dynamo or something like that. Unfortunately, that just didn’t work out, but I had a good attitude about it and I didn’t cry about it when they said, “Listen, Samuel is back in the movie.”
You mentioned that you’re going to be doing an MMA movie. Is MMA something that you’ve given any thought to doing?
For seven years, I’ve done jujitsu and still do it to this day religiously. I love the chess match that you’re doing. Let’s be real: If I’ve been in a bar fight, there are not many times that I’ve been on the ground while a guy is on top of my chest punching me in the face. But with jujitsu, that’s exactly what it is. You want that guy to get on top of you so that you can out-maneuver him while he thinks he’s in the driver’s seat. To me, that was the craziest martial art of all, but I like it the most. I’m really super into the jujitsu end of it. But MMA overall, I’m 32 years old now, and I like pro wrestling better, to be quite honest. I like the effect of controlling a crowd and manipulating them to like me, hate me, boo me, laugh at me, just show some sort of emotion. I love the high that we get doing that. You could see Brock [Lesnar] doing it the other night after he cut his promo on Frank Mir. You could see the goose bumps on his arm. He was loving every minute of it. [UFC president] Dana White can say whatever the hell he wants, but Brock Lesnar just earned him that much more money.
What did you get your college degree in, and what do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t doing something athletic?
I think I need like six different lives to do all the things I’d really like to do. I graduated with a degree in communications and a minor in business. I got my degree in communications because I thought I was going to be a pro ballplayer and I knew I needed to brush up on public speaking and things that I would find useful. Luckily, it really got me ready for pro wrestling and promos and being comfortable on the mic in front of a crowd standing in my underwear [laughs]. If I wasn’t in wrestling, I can tell you one of the jobs that I’m doing right now on the side is I’m a peer counselor for a drug abuse center, where I’m helping other pro athletes get off painkillers, drugs, alcohol, you name it. That’s something that I really take seriously and really enjoy doing. There is a lot of drug abuse out there in pro sports, but a lot of guys are doing the right thing and turning the corner and trying to get clean. It’s really cool to see, and it’s really rewarding to work with these guys.
I also think I’d be involved in some sort of sales. I did sales a little bit before I go into pro wrestling. I was an account executive for Enterprise Car Sales and trained other people how to sell as well, which was really fun for me. The other thing I’d like to do is more public speaking engagements on bringing awareness to not using drugs to combat ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] with these kids nowadays. There’s too many doctors that are force-feeding Ritalin and these other drugs down these kids’ throats instead of really doing the right thing and doing something that’s called behavior modification, which is what my parents and my doctors did for me when I was a kid. They put me in sports and that’s how I combated ADHD. I got my energy out there on the playground. I had an extra gym class a day to get my energies back down so that I could get back to class and be a little more relaxed and pay attention.
I have to ask you about this whole deal with your DNA being launched into outer space. The first time I heard about this I didn’t think it could possibly be for real, but it is, right?
Kevin, that was literally my same reaction. I was in Los Angeles doing an audition for a show, and I got a call on my voice mail from some guy saying, “Hey, this is Richard Garriott. We’re doing this project called ‘Project Immortality,’ and if you give me a call back I’ll explain to you what it is.” So I called the guy back and asked him what this is about, and he said basically they want to get the DNA of different celebrities and athletes of this era and digitize it and send it to outer space and put it up at the International Space Station and store it there it a device. I was like, “OK, good one,” and I hung up. I called my wife and said, “You’re not going to believe this. Some mark out there thinks he’s a funny guy or it’s one of the boys ribbing me, but some guy said he wants to send my DNA into space.” She said, “Matt, my co-worker set that up.” My wife’s co-worker knows this billionaire who owns a video game system, and this was a legitimate opportunity, and I hung up on this billionaire. So I end up talking to the guy about it and he explained it a little bit more in detail, and told me guys like Stephen Colbert, Ryan Seacrest, and some Olympic athletes and rock stars were going to do this. I said, “So what’s the point of this?” And he goes, “Basically it’s going to give awareness to this role-playing video game that we have coming out, and more importantly, how cool would it be for ‘The Beast’ Matt Morgan” – he said he watched me on “American Gladiators” and loved The Beast character and my physique and intensity – “to have his DNA, long after you’ve passed away and your kids and grandkids and great grandkids have passed away, digitized at the International Space Station for the next two million years to come?” Well, that is pretty damn cool. Basically you just cotton swab the inside of your cheeks and you put it in a bag and overnight it back to them. Part of me was thinking, “If I see some 6-foot-2 5-year olds walking around, I’m going to know something was up.” [laughs]
I know you’re a big fan of “Ghost Hunters,” so I have to ask you about this. My wife loves the show, but I’m convinced that it’s a work. You never see any ghosts. It’s a bunch of people running around in the dark going, “Did you hear that? Did you feel that?” It’s all a work, isn’t it?
Of course it is [laughs]. It is a work, but here’s the thing: Every once in a blue moon – and I’ve watched all of them, which is pathetic in its own right – on certain episodes, you will legitimately see, whether it’s a shadow or it looks like somebody’s face in the background, it’s enough to scare you and it’s enough to get you thinking, which is the whole idea. I’m a huge fan of being sold. I want to be sold. When a telemarketer calls me on the phone and he sucks, I hang up on him. But if he’s good, I’ll say, “OK, you have one minute to sell me.” And if it’s something I don’t even need, I’ll at least give him the opportunity to sell me on something.
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