Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Two Nights in Philly

By Frank Bartolini

Philadelphia will be hosting two straight nights of fight action starting this Friday. Both shows are scheduled on North Broad street, showing their commitment to bringing world class boxing to Philadelphia. Bob Arum’s Top Rank is staging a Light Heavyweight Unification bout  between Oleksander Gvozdyk and Artur Beterbiev at The Liacouras Center to kick things off Friday night. This matchup between the WBC Champion Gvozdyk and IBF King Beterbiev could have headlined in any city, and the fact Arum chose Philly shows his dedication to the vibrant fight scene. 

The fight itself pairs boxers from dueling countries. There is no love lost between Gvozdyk of Ukraine and the Russian Beterbiev. All the ingredients are in place for this to be a fight of the year candidate when the final bell chimes. A wild card for the winner is a possible mega pay day versus whoever comes out on top between Canelo vs. Kovalev. 

A couple blocks down North Broad Street, Hard Hitting Promotions brings boxing back to The Metropolitan Opera for their third engagement this year. A card full of tumblers will be facing popular local ticket sellers. Not one matchup appears to be a fair fight. 

Headlining the night, heavyweight Darmani Rock faces Maurenzo Smith, slated for eight stanzas. Since turning professional three years ago, Rock has not dedicated himself to the preparations needed to be a successful pro boxer. Gaining forty three pounds since his pro debut, Rock tipped the scales at 289 pounds his last outing. There are also three fighters trying to bounce back from losses verses non-descript opposition on the card. Super middleweight Derrick Webster will fight in a scheduled eight rounder, while, attempting to get back on the winning track after suffering the first losses of their careers, super lightweight Jeremy Cuevas and super featherweight Gadwin Rosa engage in six rounders.

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Monday, October 14, 2019


While Russia Battles Ukraine on the World Stage, Two Boxers Fight Not for Country, But for Legacy Oct. 18 in Philadelphia.

By Emily Pandelakis

PHILADELPHIA -- As Russia and Ukraine dominate the news, both countries have become inextricably linked to the current impeachment inquiry in Washington DC.  Up the road in Philadelphia, two world champion boxers--one Russian, one Ukrainian--are preparing to meet in a light-heavyweight unification bout.

As their home countries wage war against each other, their thoughts are 5,000 miles away, focused not on the opponent’s country, but on the man he will meet in the center of the ring at Temple University’s Liacouras Center on Oct. 18.  The winner will leave the ring as WBC/ IBF Light-Heavyweight Champion of the world.

Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KOs) is the current WBC Light- Heavyweight Champion, having defeated Adonis Stevenson via knockout in the 11th round of their Dec., 2018, bout in Quebec, Canada. The knockout would end Stevenson’s boxing career.

IBF Light-Heavyweight Champion Artur Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KOs) defeated Gvozdyk when the two met as amateurs--Beterbiev representing Russia, Gvozdyk representing Ukraine.

Ukraine Arrives on the American Stage

In recent weeks, calls for President Donald Trump’s impeachment became deafening after Ukraine released the transcript of a phone call between its President, former comedian Volodymir Zelensky, and Trump, which included an exchange about former Vice President and Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter.  Trump urged the newly elected leader to investigate the younger Biden.

The impeachment inquiry will examine whether Trump held up $400M in aid to Ukraine with the intention of releasing it when the country began an investigation of Hunter Biden, and one into Ukraine’s role in the 2016 US Presidential election--a conspiracy theory, which Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, have repeatedly pushed publicly.  The premise is that Crowdstrike, a California-based company that was brought in to investigate the Russian hack of the Democratic party’s servers that election year, is owned by a Ukrainian.

Zelensky, who played the President of Ukraine in a television show called Servant of the People for four years, was elected in a landslide victory in April and began his term as Ukraine’s sixth president in May. He’s an unwitting participant in American politics, which was made clear during a 10-hour, informal question-and-answer session last week with reporters in Ukraine.   He spoke dismissively about the potential that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election, saying he would have to be shown a reason to proceed with any joint “theoretical” investigation.

Like the boxers training in Philadelphia, who are focused on their fight and not on war and politics, his mind is elsewhere - working to end the conflict with Russia on Ukraine’s Eastern border.

His constituents, the people of Ukraine, are not focused on American politics and elections.  “The Trump phone call is being covered right now in Ukraine,” said Petro Shugurov, former Ring Magazine Ukraine Writer and Contributing Editor who lives in the country.  “Mostly just that Zelensky was involved. The Ukrainian people have enough to worry about with our own politics.”

The American and the Canadian

While the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has a complicated and lengthy history, the roads that led Beterbiev and Gvozdyk to Philadelphia are well-traveled.

“The Boxing Federations of Russia and Ukraine are very similar,” said Shugurov.  “They still operate like they did during the days of the USSR. The Russian Federation is like God Almighty to boxers in Russia--there are a lot of programs to support them and they receive stipends.”

Both boxers were decorated amateurs.  Beterbiev had over 300 amateur fights and won gold and silver in world-level contests in Milan and Chicago.  Gvozdyk had over 250 amateur bouts and won a bronze medal for Ukraine in the 2012 Olympics in London.

Gvozdyk is followed closely by those in his home country of Ukraine and Ukrainians stateside, despite moving to California five years ago to focus on his career:  “One month ago, we went to the Ukrainian Festival. There were a lot of Ukrainian people there and I was surprised that a lot of them knew me. We spent a couple hours there, signing autographs and taking photos.”

Gvozdyk, whose father had a brief career as an amateur boxer in Ukraine, is living out his dream in California. “When I asked my wife to come to California with me, to leave her home, she said the most important thing is that I’m going to go with you,” Gvozdyk said of his wife, Daria.  He acknowledges that it can sometimes be difficult to be away from family as the two raise a family, but the kids--two boys and one girl, ages 3-10--have traveled the world with their parents. “Our kids are the most quiet kids on the plane when they travel. They don’t cry. They know it’s pointless.”  Gvozdyk lost his mother in 2014.

Politics is not a topic that Gvozdyk is anxious to discuss, going so far as to say he doesn’t know what’s happening.  “It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I’m just an athlete. I don’t want to make any parallels to the fight. I am living in California, he is living in Montreal. I just don’t know anything about it.”

“Teddy Atlas, Gvozdyk’s trainer, runs a tight ship,” said J Russell Peltz, who is co-promoting the championship fight with Top Rank. “It doesn’t surprise me that he’s not focused on what’s happening on the other side of the world.”

His opponent, Beterbiev, shared the sentiment. “Any war is bad for people, but I really don’t want to talk about it,” said the Russian, who relocated to Montreal six years ago to further his career.  “It’s far from me in Canada.”

Shugurov hints at other motives at why the boxers don’t want to talk about life in the former Soviet bloc:  “They are high-profile athletes and they don’t want to upset anyone. They don’t want to have problems like those that have happened with other boxers.

“Ukrainians and Russians are everywhere and they are like a network.  Fighters as a whole don’t want to get involved. They want to make money and not have problems.  Beterbiev, he’s Canadian now. Gvozdyk is American.”

Beterbiev’s family life nearly mirrors that of his opponent.  Married with four children ages 2-8, Beterbiev lost his father to an accident when he was only sixteen. His father was just starting to enjoy his son’s career.  “A couple days before he died, I won a bronze medal in a tournament. He said to me: ‘You won this fight. Now go go go. I believe in you.’”

Raising a family away from home hasn’t been easy for Beterbiev and his wife, Medena, though Beterbiev’s mother has traveled to Canada to help.

Much Can Change in Ten Years

Ten years ago, Ukraine was led by Viktor Yushchenko, who had survived an assassination attempt by poison five years prior.  There was political chaos and a gas dispute with Russia. Putin was not yet President of Russia, but it was understood that he was in charge of the country. There was tension between the two countries, but nothing that matched the war and hostility they are facing today.

“We had beat Germany together,” said Shugurov. “We fought Nazis together. A whole lot of people believed we should be one country.  While Ukraine had a Western-friendly leader, there was a brotherhood between the people of the countries.”

The US had a different president, one not embroiled in an impeachment inquiry permeated by Russian and Ukrainian ties.

Ten years ago, two fighters, one from Ukraine, one from Russia, met in a boxing ring with the Russian besting the Ukrainian.  The two fighters, now husbands and fathers, undefeated world champion professionals, living away from home and seeking the glory that comes with unifying world titles, will meet in the most pivotal fight of their respective careers.  It’s a fight that transcends politics and war, whose winner, at least in the boxing world, will be declared Unified Champion of the World.


Promoted by Top Rank, in association with Peltz Boxing, tickets priced at $150, $90, $75 and $50 (not including applicable fees) can be purchased at the Liacouras Center Box Office, www.liacourascenter.com or charge by phone at 800-298-4200.

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Friday, October 11, 2019

Dmitry Bivol Needs Victory to Stay Relevant in 175-Pound Landscape

By Luis A. Cortes III

When WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol (16-0) (11 KO’s) takes the ring tonight in Chicago to defend his title for the fifth time against Dominican power puncher Lenin Castillo (20-2-1) (15 KO’s).  He does so fully aware that in order to stay relevant in the mind of boxing fans, not only does he need a victory, but an impressive showing would go a long way to further his future goal of being the undisputed king of his division.  Before that goal can be released though, the landscape of the ultra-talent rich light heavyweight division is about to change with two major blockbuster fights scheduled to take place in the next couple of weeks.
First is the unification fight on ESPN next Friday night from Philadelphia between WBC champion Oleksandr Gvozdk and the IBF champion Artur Beterbiev.  That fight is being viewed as a possible fight of the year candidate without a single punch having been thrown.  It’s truly a fight fan's dream matchup that should deliver pure action.  After that is the November 2nd historical showdown between current middleweight king Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev.  With these two huge fights taking place within weeks of each other, it must be hard pressed for the other champion Bivol to have to wait his turn at taking a crack at the other elite fighters.  Notice that his title defense tonight wasn’t mentioned in terms of mega fights that could alter the landscape of the division.

It wasn’t long ago, back in 2017, when Bivol first captured the title on HBO.  He was clearly being nurtured by the network and his handlers to be a future box office attraction.  At the time, Bivol’s promoters (World of Boxing) had a partnership with U.S. based promoter Main Events that afforded him the ability to have his fights broadcasted on HBO.  Main Events handled all things Bivol in the United States, which included him being featured in the main event fight in November of last year in Atlantic City.  With HBO getting out of the business of distributing fights just a month later, Bivol and his handlers at World of Boxing decided to move on and join Matchroom Boxing USA.  Since that time, Bivol has been featured once on DAZN, a title defense against blue collar contender Joe Smith Jr. 

It’s a far cry from the type of profile that Bivol was expecting to have at this point.  And it also didn’t help when a potential unification and mega fight with fellow Russian Sergey Kovalev never came to fruition after Kovalev was surprisingly stopped by Elider Alvarez in August of last year.  It’s the type of situation that would make any champion in his physical prime frustrated not to get the type of major fights that could cement his own legacy in the sport.  This is not lost on Bivol, who so far has remained level headed about the entire situation.

“I want to make my mark in boxing history and to do this you have to fight the best,” stated Bivol.  “Of course, I want to fight against the other champions but sometimes you cannot do it because they are busy, but we have good fights and I am happy with that.  The fight next weekend is a great one and I would love to face the winner, we will know more about my future after that fight.”  

Patience is a virtue right now for Bivol.  However, it’s clear through his words that the sand in that hour glass may be running out.  It also is clear that he wants his handlers to put him in line to face the other elite fighters since he is planning on being in attendance both next week and in Vegas on November 2nd.  During all the pre-fight interviews and conversations leading up to his title defense tonight.  Not much time was spent discussing his opponent.  Sometimes this is looked at as a bad thing, that a fighter is suffering from a lack of focus with the task at hand.  So far in his career, Bivol has been a consummate professional and nothing suggests that he isn’t aware that for him to have these opportunities it starts with being impressive in victory tonight.  After all, if he does come out victorious as expected tonight, and doesn’t automatically get a unification fight with the winner of next weekends mega unification fight, he has a plethora of worthy challengers to fight.  The light heavyweight division is one of the deepest in the sport, if not the deepest.  With elite fighters not only as champions, but also on the contender level.  

A victory tonight for Bivol will put him in line to fight all the contenders and unified champions to try and indeed make his mark in the sport.  His style of boxer-puncher also meshes well with any of these other fighters on the elite level, which means pure excitement for fans.  Although a victory in his fight tonight won’t contribute to the rapidly changing landscape of the division.  Bivol indeed needs to be victorious, since the only way the landscape changes tonight is if he truly has looked past his opponent and winds up losing in a major upset.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Big Drama Show as GGG Wins IBF Belt

By Luis A. Cortes III, Ringside

Yes, the old saying that a win in sports is indeed a win rang out more than ever for the newly crowned IBF middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin (40-1-1) (35 KO’s).  Ultimately that is the bottom line and most relevant detail that any prizefighter tends to worry about when a fight has concluded.  However, there is another saying that tends to accompany the previous sports cliché, and that is sometimes it’s not just if you win, but how you look doing it.  And it’s this second saying idiom that caught the attention of most ring side observers on Saturday night.  After twelve brutal rounds of back and forth action, it was indeed Golovkin’s hand raised in victory.  What was surprising is that for the first time in his career it was the effort of the other challenger Sergiy Derevyanchenko (13-2) (10 KO’s) that grasped the hearts and minds of the crowd.

This notion was cemented when Golovkin started to address the crowd for his initial post fight interview moments after his name was announced as the victor.  Boo’s rained down from the capacity crowd inside of the “Mecca” of boxing Madison Square Garden.  Golovkin was clearly caught off guard by the reaction but handled it in stride by finishing his interview before both he and Derevyanchenko were escorted to a local hospital for precautionary measures.  The reaction steamed from the fact that most of the crowd believed that it was Derevyanchenko who had done enough in the close contested battle to earn the victory. 

Entering the fight, most of the narrative surrounding the fight dealt with the fact that Golovkin was frustrated with his inability to secure a third fight with reigning middleweight king Saul Alvarez.  Derevyanchenko was best known for his close decision loss to Danny Jacobs last year inside of the smaller adjacent theater at the Garden.  In the fight, Derevyanchenko pushed Jacobs to his limit and had moments in what turned out to be the first close decision loss in his first attempt to claim the IBF title. 

After Derevyanchenko was dropped by Golovkin in the first round, it looked as if this version of the drama show was set to make it a statement victory.  Derevyanchenko answered the ten count, and as he warmed up physically, started to find a rhythm that included landing powerful right hands that continuously rocked Golovkin’s head back.  As the round started to pass, despite a deep cut over the right eye of Derevyanchenko caused by a huge left hook from Golovkin, it was clear to both fighters that they were involved in serious combat.  With the fight reaching its conclusion, there was no shortage of drama as everyone inside of the arena rose to their feet in the final rounds, clearly aware that a single punch could alter the result. 

With all three judges scoring the fight in favor of Golovkin (scores were 115-112 twice and 114-113), it was Derevyanchenko that became the sentimental victor for his valiant effort.  Two factors could be the cause for the reaction of the crowd.  One is that he indeed looked even better on this night than he did just a year ago in the fight with Jacobs.  He clearly pushed Golovkin to the brink and even had him hurt in the middle rounds when he landed a vicious left hook to the body that caused Golovkin to move away and avoid further exchanges to escape the round. 

The other factor could simply be that while Derevyanchenko did put forth a great performance, Golovkin looked like a shell of the dominate middleweight that fans and observers had become accustomed to watching.  At the age of 37 and with a style of fighting that his former trainer famously dubbed “Mexican Style,”  Golovkin looked a bit sluggish at times during the contest.  During many of the rounds, it was Derevyanchenko that initiated the exchanges to start out the rounds.  Golovkin, at times, seemed to be content with waiting for his turn to take control of the round by making an offensive push.  Ironically, it would be the experience of Golovkin that would play a major role in the victory.

He understood when he was letting rounds slip away from his control.  It was at these moments that he would turn on the offense and willingly exchange with Derevyanchenko, landing the harder punches to either put the round into question or to win them.  What was noticeable was the fact that, unlike in the past with a prime Golovkin, this didn’t happen in every round.  There were rounds when the applied pressure and constant punching, but the pure work-rate of Derevyanchenko was too much for Golovkin to overcome and he simply lost them.  This is a credit to Derevyanchenko’s determination to be victorious just as much as the sands of time dripping towards the bottom of Golovkin’s career hour glass.

For the record, The Weigh-In had the fight scored 6 rounds to 6, but due to the knockdown in the first round the score wound up 114-113 in favor of Golovkin.  It was indeed a close fight with the result in question as everyone inside of the arena awaited the scores to be announced.  Once they were announced, it was understandable that many felt Derevyanchenko did enough to win.  What should be focused on as well was the great performance from both fighters regardless of whom you thought was the victor. 

With Golovkin now the winner of the IBF title, one must ask what’s next for the veteran champion?  Well, with the fighter he still clearly wants a third crack at Canelo, who next month will aim to capture a portion of the light heavyweight crown.  Canelo has made it clear that he has grown tired of the Golovkin narrative and has no interest in facing him for a third time soon. 

It became a bit dis-concerning that DAZN released a social media poll for fan interest regarding the next opponent for Golovkin and it didn’t include a Derevyanchenko rematch.  Alvarez’s response to what he witnessed was yet another reassurance from him that a third fight with Golovkin would result in all but a foregone conclusion in his favor.  He even went as far as saying that he would stop Golovkin this time around.  This leads me to believe that a possible third fight with Golovkin will depend on the result of Alvarez’s November attempt at history.  Meanwhile, if there is any rematch that fans deserve before a third fight between Golovkin and Alverez, its for round 13 to take place between Golovkin and Derevyanchenko.

Notes from Ringside at the Garden:

Not much of note took place during the fights on the undercard.  This fight card was a classic case of the promoter believing that everyone was going to get their money's worth from the main event.  That it was a can’t miss fight that would provide all the entertainment that the paying audience could handle.  This frame of thinking was confirmed since the crowd looked to be sparse in comparison to previous Golovkin fights at the Garden until it was time for the main event, and suddenly the arena was packed with a raucous crowd that was engaged from start to finish.  Why shouldn’t they have been, since it was in fact a can’t miss main event.

One notable highlight on the undercard was the first bout on the main television portion on DAZN.  Ivan Baranchyk (20-1) (13 KO’s) scored a mean fourth round stoppage of veteran Brooklyn native Gabriel Bracero (23-4-1) (6 KO’s).  Baranchyk was impressive in his dismantling of the veteran in such lethal fashion that his promoter Lou DiBella walked around ringside telling anyone that would listen that he would be a world champion soon.  When asked what was next for the challenger, DiBella stated “anyone that has the balls to get in the ring with him.  What a war a fight (WBC champion) (Jose) Ramirez and him would be?”

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Monday, October 7, 2019

WWE Hell In A Cell 2019

One of the most significant and eventful weeks that we’ve witnessed in several years in the world of professional wrestling culminated with WWE Hell In A Cell which emanated from Sacramento, CA this evening. First, the RAW season premiere saw the WWE’s flagship show debut a new commentary team and set with the return of a healthy dose of pyrotechnics. Next, Wednesday was the premier of AEW Dynamite on TNT which produced the highest rated show on the network in five years. Lastly, WWE Friday Night Smackdown! debuted on FOX with an electrifying opening featuring The People‘s Champ. Whether WWE wants to admit it or not, they’ve taken notice of AEW and were clearly pulling out all of the stops that their TV-PG rating would allow and Hell In A Cell could provide the perfect setting to continue to push the envelope. The card this evening featured eight bouts with four titles contested.

RAW Women’s Championship Hell In A Cell Match
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Sasha Banks
Winner: Becky Lynch via submission

No time was wasted introducing the brutality this evening as the main card immediately opened with a sadistic Hell In A Cell Match. In a very evenly contested match, Lynch was able to survive chair shots, being assaulted with a kendo stick, and having Sasha drive her through a table to overcome adversity and retain her title. The bout concluded with Lynch executing a top rope Beck-sploder suplex that landed Banks on a plethora of chairs. The Man then followed up with The Disarmer for the submission victory.

Tornado Tag Team Match
Daniel Bryan & Roman Reigns vs. Erick Rowan & Luke Harper
Winners: Daniel Bryan & Roman Reigns via pinfall

Harper and Rowan laid waste to Reigns and Bryan for the vast majority of this contest. Despite Rowan being driven through a table by Reigns late in the bout, Harper still seemed poised to solidify the victory for his team as he executed back to back Dragon Suplexes on Daniel Bryan. Harper could have easily gone for the pinfall but rather got greedy and attempted a third Dragon Suplex. Bryan was able to land on his feet and as Harper missed a follow-up clothesline, Reigns slipped back into the ring behind him and connected on a Superman Punch. This allowed Daniel Bryan to strike Harper with a running knee and Roman solidified the victory with the spear.

Randy Orton vs. Ali
Winner: Randy Orton via pinfall

This match came to fruition on the pre-show after a brief backstage confrontation and all I need to say is RKO Outta Nowhere - nice try Ali.

WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship
Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross vs. The Kabuki Warriors (Kairi Sane & Asuka)
Winners: The Kabuki Warriors via pinfall

After being relatively forgotten for several months, Asuka and Kairi Sane ensured failure would not be an option. In the closing moments of the match, Asuka sprayed a cloud of green mist into the face of Nikki Cross as the referee was distracted. This allowed her to deliver a brutal kick to her head and score the pinfall victory crowning new champions.

Six-Man Tag Team Match
The OC (AJ Styles, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson) vs. The Viking Raiders and Braun Strowman
Winners: The Viking Raiders and Braun Strowman via DQ

After weeks of feuding between The OC and the Viking Raiders, the men collectively known as War Machine previously, enlisted the assistance of Braun Strowman for this six man encounter. In the closing moments of this bout, The OC took advantage of the numbers game with the Viking Raiders subdued at ringside and proceeded to beat down The Monster Among Men to the point the referee elected to disqualify them.

King Corbin vs. Chad Gable
Winner: Chad Gable

After losing to Corbin in the finals of the King of the Ring tournament just a few weeks ago, he had been subjected to verbal jabs from the newly crowned king ever since setting up this bout tonight. Gable more than held his own in this contest with one of his most impressive moves being a roll through German suplex of the much taller Corbin. In the end, frustration got the better of Corbin as he retrieved his scepter from ringside and attempted to strike Gable. The referee put a stop to this by grabbing the scepter and as they struggled, Gable rolled up King Corbin for the pinfall victory.

Smackdown Women’s Championship
Bayley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair
Winner: Charlotte Flair via submission

After Bayley drove Charlotte’s head into an exposed turnbuckle to defeat Charlotte at last month’s Clash of Champions, the two squared off again this evening once again with the title on the line. Unfortunately the crowd response in this bout was lacking until the closing moments when Charlotte Flair cinched in the Figure Eight for the submission victory marking the start of her record tenth title reign.

Universal Championship Hell In A Cell Match
Seth Rollins (c) vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt
Winner: No contest

After Rollins successfully retained his title at Clash of Champions, he was assaulted by Wyatt on the stage and choked out with a Mandible Claw. Since then, Rollins has found himself terrorized time and time again by The Fiend setting up the main event this evening. An interesting dynamic to this match, aside from being contested in the Hell In A Cell, was the ambience of the arena as it was draped in red lighting for the duration of the match. After a significant level of brutality throughout the bout, Rollins had Wyatt laid out in the center of the ring and covered him with a ladder and a steel chair after several failed pinfall attempts. Rollins then went back under the ring and procured a sledgehammer. Before Rollins used it, the referee implored him not to proceed. Rollins disregarded the referee’s plea and drove the sledgehammer into the ladder leading the referee to call for the bell - in a no DQ match. As the arena was showered with boos from an enraged WWE Universe, the cell was raised and EMTs were called to the ring to tend to Wyatt. As Wyatt was placed on a board, Rollins went to grab him by the shirt only to be welcomed with a Mandible Claw. Wyatt then continued his assault on Rollins which concluded with a Sister Abigail to the exposed arena floor followed by another Mandible Claw that left Rollins bleeding from the mouth. Despite continued boos and chants of  “restart the match,” The Fiend made his exit from the arena as an unsettling and dissatisfied air consumed the arena.

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