El Paso, TX – A few weeks ago, fear of rival drug cartels showing up to Saturday’s World Boxing Council’s Middleweight Championship at the Sun Bowl at the University of Texas-El Paso almost changed the location of the venue.
The University of Texas system’s chancellor Francisco Cigarroa saw some red flags in an assessment of the event done by federal investigators.
“This specific event could not be viewed as a normal event because of certain risk indicators,” said Cigarroa.
For a couple of days, Cigarroa determined the match between Andy Lee, from Limerick, Ireland and last year’s middleweight world champion Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. was not going to happen in El Paso.
Rage and anger started brewing in the community.
City leaders associated the decision with their close proximity to the cartel-driven Mexican border city, Ciudad Juarez, just a highway’s length away from the University of Texas-El Paso divided by a tall steel fence.
The report by federal investigators was not made public.
However, on April 27, after Cigarroa had discussions with many officials from different law enforcement agencies, he decided to reverse his decision and allow administrators at the university to continue talks with event organizers.
“I was assured by all law enforcement agencies that my specific concerns about safety (could) be mitigated. Since that, this boxing match can be brought back to a normal risk level,” said Cigarroa in a video conference.
The event would be treated as any other – except that alcohol would not be sold. Ironically, beer maker Tecate is a sponsor of the fight.
Rumors surfaced that Chavez’s girlfriend had ties to Mexican drug cartels. After a press conference on Wednesday, Chavez told Fox News Latino that neither his girlfriend or himself, are associated with drug gangs.
“She lives with me. I don’t see that she has connections with anyone. If she did in the past, then it’s in the past,” said Chavez.
“I am a clean person. I am an example to the kids, an example to all the people. (The accusations) really bothers me and surprises me,” he added.
Last May, the El Paso Convention & Visitors Bureau estimated the match would bring $4.5 million into the local economy. The association with violent drug cartels and Ciudad Juarez has not been easy, as discussed Wednesday by Bill Blaziek, manager of the El Paso Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“El Paso is proud to be one of the most peaceful, loving, embracing communities in America,” said Blaziek.
The small number of murders each year in El Paso has resulted in the city repeatedly being named of one of the safest in the nation by CQ Press – but the tall tales of being dangerous like its sister city Juarez hurts when trying to recruit large events to the city, Blaziek said.
He said since the summer of 2008, during a peak of the drug war in Mexico, it has been an uphill battle dealing with the misconceptions that outsiders have of El Paso.
Both Lee and Chavez said they are happy to be back in El Paso. They are grateful for the fight outside of the ring that went on to allow them keep the championship scheduled in the Sun Bowl.
“I think people of El Paso are going to show the world that they can have a really good fight here and this is a good place to host any sporting event,” said Lee.
Chavez, who is confident in winning another WBC middleweight title, values El Paso’s support of the game. “I don’t know how to pay back El Paso for all of the love that I’ve received. The only way I can repay them is to give a sensational fight and a great victory,” he said.
The organizers, Top Rank, expect to sell over 20,000 tickets for Saturday’s match. Event organizers at the University of Texas-El Paso say university police have set a security plan.