UT System Cancels Julio Cesar Chavez Fight at Sun Bowl
For a split second, it appeared that boxing was experiencing a rebirth in El Paso. Last Saturday night, Golden Boy Promotions brought an exciting nationally televised card to the Don Haskins Center. An announced crowd of 5,000 fans attended the matches, and in the main event Abner Mares defeating Eric Morel to win the vacant WBC Super Featherweight title. The Mares win capped off a fun night of boxing that also included local fighter Antonio Escalante. As I wrote in this column last week, Escalante is attempting to return to the top of the super featherweight rankings. His fourth round stoppage of Francisco Camacho Saturday night was his third consecutive win. Prior to his fight against Camacho, the former Coronado High School product signed a three fight deal with Golden Boy Promotions.
Just three days later, a press conference was scheduled on the field at the Sun Bowl to announce that championship boxing would be returning to the stadium for the first time in 14 years. Viva Chavez, promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank, was to feature undefeated Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Ireland’s Andy Lee in the main event. The two were scheduled to square off for the WBC Middleweight Title, and the fight was to be nationally televised on Home Box Office. Many El Pasoans remember Oscar Night in the Sun Bowl, when Oscar De La Hoya knocked out Patrick Charpantier at the Sun Bowl. That fight on June 13th 1998, was also promoted by Top Rank, and attracted more than 40,000 fans to the Sun Bowl. Promoters expected a crowd of between 25,000 and 30,000 fans to watch the fight.
Promoter Lester Bedford, who helped convince Top Rank to bring the Chavez fight to the Sun Bowl, was planning to turn the Sun Bowl fight card into a much larger event. This included a tailgate-like atmosphere, complete with live music, activities for the kids, and a big fireworks show afterward. They were also pricing the tickets in a very affordable fashion, starting as low as $25 and up to $200 for ringside. There was only one problem. Apparently, a red flag went up in Austin and the Texas Board of Regents became involved. Just an hour before the press conference Tuesday at the Sun Bowl, the University of Texas System issued the following statement:
This vague statement does not elaborate on the decision of the UT System to cancel the fight at the Sun Bowl, and instead leads to a number of unanswered questions and assumptions. Why does the UT System believe the Sun Bowl is an unsafe venue for the Chavez Jr. fight? Are they worried about violence from the Juarez cartel spilling over into the Sun Bowl on June 16th? Where was the concern from the UT System about last Saturday night’s boxing card at the Don Haskins Center, that was nationally televised on Showtime? Will the UT System cancel the UTEP home football opener on September 1st against Oklahoma that is sure to sell out? What about other Sun Bowl events like monster truck shows that attract 50,000 fans or past exhibition soccer matches featuring the Mexican National Team?
Arum, was not shy in expressing his dissatisfaction on the decision from the UT System. “The (UT System) are making a statement that they don’t want the people from Juarez to come over here to watch an event,” Arum said. “Of course, it’s discriminatory, and what was done here this morning is an absolute disgrace on the state of Texas and the University System.”
As of the writing of this column, the promoters plan to appeal the UT System ruling. Arum said he will know by the end of the week whether the Chavez Jr. fight will stay at the Sun Bowl or move to San Antonio or Houston. UTEP, however, is powerless and must abide by Austin’s decision. The ramifications from losing the fight could prove costly to El Paso and the university. First, it will cost the city millions of dollars in tourism and national television exposure. There is no doubt competing universities will use this against UTEP for athletic recruiting. They will continue to portray El Paso as a “dangerous” city and tell prospective athletes about the time the UT System stepped in and stopped 50,000 people from entering an unsafe Sun Bowl for a championship boxing fight. It also hurts the city’s chances of attracting professional sports franchises. Unless a quick appeal can reverse this decision, it is another black eye for El Paso.