Top Rank must move Sun Bowl fight

Updated: April 24, 2012, 7:08 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Top Rank and the University of Texas at El Paso were all set for a news conference on Tuesday afternoon at the 50-yard-line of the Sun Bowl to formally announce Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.'s middleweight title defense there against Andy Lee on June 16.

The news conference went ahead as scheduled and the fight was announced but, in a bizarre scene, Top Rank also told the assembled media and fans they needed to find a new venue for the fight.

The change was necessary because an hour before the news conference began, school officials informed Top Rank the university had to cancel the event "in response to a determination by University of Texas system officials (in Austin) that the Sun Bowl on the UTEP campus is not the appropriate venue for this event," according to a statement from UTEP spokeswoman Veronique Masterson.

"We were told that there were heightened security issues. I don't know what that means," Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti told ESPN.com.

Top Rank chief Bob Arum said the fight, a major HBO main event, would still take place on June 16 but that they are looking for a new venue, be it in El Paso or elsewhere in Texas.

"We have not given up on El Paso," Arum said. "However, we are looking at other venues in Texas. We expect to make an announcement by the end of this week."

Moretti said Top Rank will check on availability at venues in Houston and San Antonio.

Chavez (45-0-1, 31 KOs), the son of Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., defended the title for the second time against Marco Antonio Rubio in February at the Alamodome in San Antonio. He made his first title defense against Peter Manfredo Jr. at Reliant Arena in Houston in January 2011.

Lee (28-1, 20 KOs), a 2004 Irish Olympian who is trained by Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward, is considered a far sterner test than either of them.

With Chavez's growing popularity, especially among Mexican and Mexican-American fans, Top Rank selected the Sun Bowl in El Paso, which is on the Mexican border, hoping to replicate the success it had there with Oscar De La Hoya's welterweight title defense against Patrick Charpentier in 1998. That fight drew more than 40,000 to the Sun Bowl, which holds over 50,000.

The timing of the announcement was unusual because Chavez-Lee had been scheduled to take place at the Sun Bowl for more than a month. Tuesday's news conference was meant to kick off the promotion and ignite ticket sales. A ticket presale was scheduled to begin Wednesday with tickets scheduled to go on sale to the general public Friday.

"We had both fighters here, our staff here, folks from UTEP," Moretti said. "We flew everyone in (Monday) night. The guys did interviews and we were ready to go. Then this happens at the last minute.

"UTEP was as shocked to hear this as we were. They set the press conference up for us, but they got the order from Austin. I've never seen anything like this in my life. I was with Bob at the hotel when we got the call from (event coordinator) Lester Bedford. We were shocked. So Bob gets up at the press conference and he says, 'Well, I've got some good news and I've got some bad news.' "

Moretti said Top Rank expected at least a crowd of 30,000 for the fight, but now will have to find a new venue and plan and finance a second news conference.

"I thought 30,000 to 35,000 was a very safe number," Moretti said. "And then with the media turnout (to the press conference) and the cheers for Chavez from the fans, I think 40,000 or more was very realistic."

Masterson said she could not comment beyond what was in the university release.

"It was a decision that we just received earlier (Tuesday)," she said. "We received our information from the University of Texas system officials. They told us that the Sun Bowl is not the appropriate venue for the event and that was all the information we were given."

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