University of Texas system chancellor Francisco Cigarroa become the least popular person in El Paso Tuesday when he put the kibosh on a middleweight championship boxing match between Mexico’s Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Ireland’s Andy Lee that had been scheduled for the Sun Bowl on the University of Texas-El Paso campus June 16.
“An hour ago the esteemed chancellor of the University of Texas System called the president of UTEP and said the fight cannot be held at UTEP – not here in the Sun Bowl – not here or in the Don Haskins Center – because of security reasons,” Top Rank boxing promoter Bob Arum said at a press conference, as Bill Knight of the El Paso Times reported.
According to Bob Velin of USA Today, “The UT System released a statement that said, in part ‘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 press conference, which took place at the Sun Bowl, featured Arum and both fighters, though it was Arum who did not pull any punches.
“We asked, what security concerns, they wouldn’t tell us, but you don’t need to be a genius to know that that’s a code word for people coming over the border to watch the fight,” Arum said in KVIA’s video report. “What was done here this morning is an absolute disgrace on the state of Texas and its university system!”
“I really believe that this move … has terrible racial overtones, and really something should be done about it, whether it’s going to the governor, or going back to the Board of Regents,” Arum also said. “This is absolute patent nonsense.”
During the press conference, Arum referred to Cigarroa as “esteemed” at least twice.
According to KVIA’s Darren Hunt, both Chavez Jr. and his father, Mexican boxing legend Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., agreed with Arum that the decision felt racially motivated.
Hunt also reported that El Paso Mayor John Cook called Cigarroa on the phone and told him he was “ignorant for making this decision.”
“That’s a bunch of BS,” Cook said in another KVIA story. “What, are they going to cancel the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve now?”
As the Times noted, despite the widespread violence across the border in Juárez, El Paso itself “has been named among the top five safest cities of more than 500,000 population in the United States every year since 1997.”
Arum’s announcement came on the same day that former President Bill Clinton visited El Paso, where he appeared with Democratic state representative Congressman Silvestre Reyes.
“I think that’s outrageous,” Reyes said afterwards (as Knight reported). “I think that is more bush-league politics coming out of Austin, more than anything else. I think it speaks very badly, that they don’t support border communities like El Paso. It’s millions of dollars (lost) for El Paso, plus the exposure worldwide.
El Paso senator Jose Rodriguez, a Democratic critic of those who claim the Texas side of the border is unsafe, also took exception to the cancellation in a statement, as Gary Scharrer of the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News reported:
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 … 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.
El Pasoan Paul Foster, who is the vice chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, was more conciliatory, saying he was “personally very disappointed by this cancellation” but “was given detailed reasons UTEP and the Sun Bowl would not be an appropriate venue for this specific event. Those reasons are based solely on security and safety concerns.”
Scott Christ of SB Nation’s Bad Left Hook blog was simply befuddled:
I know nothing of the local politics in Texas, but this seems strange. There are lots of sporting events in El Paso. The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) plays sports there. And there was just a boxing card in El Paso this past weekend, as the Mares vs Morel card on Showtime took place at the Don Haskins Convention Center [sic] in the city.
That card was put on by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy promotion. The Chavez-Lee fight was meant to be a sequel to De La Hoya’s 1998 welterweight championship bout at the Sun Bowl, which drew more than 40,000 boxing fans from both sides of the border.
El Paso city representative Steve Ortega told Knight that the chancellor’s office said that the security assessment would have applied to any University of Texas facility, regardless of the campus or the city. But as Knight also noted, Chavez’s last two fights have been in Houston and San Antonio.
Now, unless Arum and UTEP can change Cigarroa’s mind, this one will be too—Arum said that he already has Houston’s Toyota Center and the Alamodome reserved as back-ups on that same June 16th date.