Yesterday it was reported that the June 16 fight between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Andy Lee had suddenly been canceled in El Paso by the University of Texas System, as the bout was to take place at UTEP's Sun Bowl stadium.
The official reason for the fight being canceled was security concerns due to the border city's close proximity to the crime-ridden Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, which most in the area we've heard from feel is an over-the-top concern, given that El Paso itself has a very low crime rate.
The press conference for the fight went ahead as scheduled in El Paso, but unfortunately for fans in the West Texas city, that's probably all they're going to see of Chavez and Lee in their area, as RingTV.com reports that the fight is likely headed to either Houston or San Antonio, with California also mentioned as an alternative.
Here's what the officials had to say about the cancellation:
"A specific event risk assessment was performed and the conclusion was that the risk was higher than normal. Based on this assessment, the decision was made that the university and Sun Bowl would not be an appropriate venue for this specific event.
"The decision was not made by the UT System Board of Regents. It was made by University of Texas System Administration officials.
"Furthermore, this decision should not be generalized to other events at UTEP or other UT institution facilities. If there was an elevated risk determination associated with any event hosted by the other 14 UT institutions, the same decision would have been made."
Top Rank's Bob Arum responded:
"The only thing we can figure out is that so many people would be coming over the border to watch the fight. That's not a high security concern, that's just racist."
And events coordinator Lester Bedford also says that Chavez vs Lee was turned down for El Paso's Don Haskins Convention Center, which housed the Abner Mares vs Eric Morel fight all of four days ago:
"I said how can there be any more of a security concern than there was for that fight? That's where the basketball team plays and it holds around 12,000. They just said that it wouldn't be appropriate to do an event there."
And this is going beyond boxing, too, as Texas Senator Jose Rodriguez of El Paso voiced his disapproval of the fight's sudden cancellation:
"I strongly oppose the decision by the UT System to cancel this fight, especially without consulting local officials regarding any potential threat. This is just one more example of what happens when our state leaders disregard the facts by falsely calling border communities ‘war zones’ without any evidence to support their claims.
"Decisions such as these hurt our local economy and tarnish the image of border communities. El Paso is not only one of the safest communities in Texas, it is one of the safest in the nation.
"There have been several events such as this in El Paso — including a boxing match at UTEP last weekend — with no incidents. The decision to cancel this fight due to the fears of border violence only reinforces to the negative perception of El Paso and will have a lasting impact on the community for years to come.
"If decisions are going to be made without solid evidence of actual threats of violence at events such as this, then border communities from El Paso to Brownsville will be irreparably harmed."
And William Blaziek of the El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau added this:
"Implying that border violence is reason for cancellation is inflammatory and damaging to the image and reputation of El Paso and is not based in fact. El Paso has consistently been named the safest city in the United States. Additionally Sun Bowl Stadium is more than just a campus venue – it is a community venue hosting the nationally significant Sun Bowl Football Bowl game and community events such as Monster Jam, the Rolling Stones, and soccer matchups. We call upon the UT System to reconsider its decision."
If the fight stays in Texas, the Toyota Center in Houston and San Antonio's Alamodome are the leading candidates. Bedford says they expected to sell 30-35,000 tickets for the fight at the Sun Bowl, which may be an exaggeration (because it's always an exaggeration), but we'll never know.
All in all this seems like a genuine shame, and a real bummer for fight fans in El Paso and the surrounding area. The fight will go on, but the folks who were told it was coming to their city will have to travel if they want to see it live.