El Paso officials seek answers

Updated: April 25, 2012, 4:16 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

EL PASO, Texas -- Officials demanded more details Wednesday about the security threat that prompted the University of Texas System to block a boxing match in El Paso.

City leaders were stunned to learn a June 16 fight between WBC world middleweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., of Mexico and Andy Lee of Ireland, could not go on as planned at the 51,500-seat Sun Bowl stadium, which also hosts the UTEP Miners football team and the annual Sun Bowl game.

The UT system said chancellor Francisco Cigarroa made the decision on Tuesday based on a "higher than normal" risk assessment but released no details.

The move prompted a wave of anger from officials who say they constantly fight assumptions their city has fallen victim to spillover violence from Mexico. Despite ranking among the safest cities in the nation in terms of violent crime, El Paso officials have long complained their town gets falsely portrayed as a war zone because of drug violence rampaging just across the border.

"It stems from this general climate of fear being created by some ... that the border is unsafe. This is the latest example of the kind of decisions that are going to do incalculable harm to border communities," said state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, an El Paso Democrat.

El Paso City Manager Joyce Wilson and El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen insisted Cigarroa give them the risk assessment used to make the decision, and any others conducted for major events that have been held on system property for the last five years.

Last weekend, UTEP's Don Haskins Center basketball arena hosted a Showtime boxing card, and the Frank Erwin Center at the University of Texas in Austin is hosting ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" this week.

The UT system said "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."

A UT system spokesman said he could not discuss the El Paso fight risk assessment and that Cigarroa was not immediately available for comment.

Ramiro Cordero, a spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol, said the agency has received no specific threats or intelligence indicating violence in El Paso related to the fight.

All of the state lawmakers who represent El Paso sent a letter to Cigarroa calling the decision "ill-informed, baseless and destructive" and urging him to reconsider.

Rodriguez said he spoke with Cigarroa on Tuesday and pressed him for details on the risk assessment, including whether law enforcement intelligence suggested the fight would be a dangerous event for the university and the city. Rodriguez said Cigarroa told him he had nothing specific.

"It is very difficult for me to accept," Rodriguez said, noting that former President Bill Clinton visited El Paso on Tuesday without incident. "You just don't make decisions based on 'higher than normal' risk without details."

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.

Cigarroa informed UTEP officials of his decision one hour before a news conference to promote the fight. Bob Arum, president of Top Rank, said he's ready to move the fight to San Antonio or Houston but promised El Paso officials to wait another day to see if they can't get Cigarroa to change his mind.

"It's a hot boxing town," Arum said. "I'm totally befuddled. If there is a high security problem, tell us what it is."

Arum said fights in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand and Mandalay casino resorts require spectators to go through metal detectors.

Sending 50,000 people at the Sun Bowl through metal detectors would be inconvenient and expensive, but "it's doable," Arum said.

Information from ESPN.com's Dan Rafael and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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