The promoters for the middleweight title fight between WBC champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and challenger Andy Lee in El Paso, Texas, are certain that any controversy surrounding their choice of venue has been resolved.
They can only hope for the same if the fight goes to the judges.
The bout between Mexico’s favorite son and Ireland’s top contender will take place Saturday night at the University of Texas-El Paso’s Sun Bowl Stadium, just across the border from Ciudad Juarez, where drug and gang violence has made it one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico.
University of Texas system Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa briefly canceled the fight in April, citing a “higher than normal” risk assessment but declining to go into details. That touched off an uproar in what is statistically among the safest cities in the United States.
El Paso has struggled for years to overcome the assumption that the violence happening across the border has spilled over onto its streets.
“This was absolutely ridiculous on the part of the chancellor,” said Bob Arum of promoter Top Rank. “Whatever is happening over the border is happening over the border, but for El Paso to be tarred this way by the chancellor of the University of Texas system is just wrong.”
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press during the controversy that a federal risk assessment had warned that leaders of two warring Mexican drug cartels would attend the bout. Cigarroa eventually caved to pressure from city, county and state officials, allowing the fight to take place — albeit without alcohol sales, even though Tecate is a primary sponsor.
“Aside from being disappointed that our friends and neighbors in Mexico are being subjected to such violence, there’s a misconception about what is happening in El Paso,” said Bill Blaziek, the general manager of the El Paso Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
“That’s what happened several weeks ago when the fight was canceled on the premise there’s too much violence in proximity to El Paso,” Blaziek said, “and I don’t have to tell anybody that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
The truth is that El Paso has a proud history of hosting championship fights
Chavez’s father, the six-time champion of the same name, knocked out Verdell Smith at the Don Haskins Center on the UTEP campus late in his career. Oscar De La Hoya fought at the Sun Bowl in 1998, stopping Patrick Charpentier in the third round before a crowd of nearly 46,000.
“I feel safer here in El Paso than I do in most other cities,” said Arum, who was born and raised in New York City and has lived in Las Vegas for years.
Arum said during a phone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday that he’s also confident in the three judges and referee that have been chosen for the fight. It is the first significant card to be held since last Saturday night, when Timothy Bradley scored a controversial split decision victory over Manny Pacquiao. Most ringside observers believe that Pacquiao clearly won the fight, and Arum has called for an investigation of the scoring.
Unlike in Nevada, where all the judges must reside in state, Texas allows judges from elsewhere to score its fights. So while referee Laurence Cole and judge Jesse Reyes are both from Texas, the other two judges for Chavez-Lee are Britain’s John Keane and Rey Danseco of the Philippines, both of whom are considered among the best judges in the world.
HBO plans to replay the Pacquiao-Bradley pay-per-view fight as the lead-in to the main event from the Sun Bowl, where two of the sport’s top young fighters will take center stage.
Chavez (45-0-1, 31 KOs) will be making the third defense of the WBC trinket he won with a narrow decision over Sebastian Zbik a year ago last week. Chavez’s other two defenses came against Peter Manfredo Jr. in Houston and Marco Antonio Rubio in San Antonio.
“There’s not much to say. I’m coming to pay the love of the people of El Paso, and I’m willing to do everything to take my title with me,” Chavez said. “This is what boxing is all about, to have even fights, young people fighting. People who are hungry.”
Chavez is trained by Freddie Roach, who was in Pacquiao’s corner on Saturday night and will no doubt encourage Chavez to avoid putting the outcome in the hands of the ringside judges.
“This is going to be a great fight. We’ve had a great training camp. Julio is 100 percent ready to fight,” Roach said. “We’re going to be the best we can be.”
Lee (28-1, 20 KOs) represents arguably the stiffest test for the 26-year-old Chavez, who along with Saul Alvarez has replaced his father as the idol of Mexican fight fans.
Trained by Emanuel Steward, Lee is getting his first major title shot after 13 consecutive wins, which includes avenging his only loss with a lopsided decision over Brian Vera last October.
“Everywhere we’ve went, we’ve been greeted by well-wishers,” Lee said Wednesday during a press conference in El Paso. “I’m glad the fight is here after all the controversy. I’m glad El Paso will have the chance to show you can have a big event here.”