Despite threats, El Paso residents attend match

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Associated Press

Posted on June 16, 2012 at 10:00 PM

Updated Sunday, Jun 17 at 7:30 AM

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A logo inside the ring at the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.-Andy Lee boxing match declared El Paso "America's safest city."

Yet the Sun Bowl was teeming with law enforcement officers Saturday, there to provide beefed-up security, including bag checks and pat-downs at the entrance. Helicopters circled the venue on the University of Texas at El Paso campus.

Chavez stopped Lee at 2:21 of the seventh round to retain the WBC middleweight title.

El Paso put forth its best effort to show the boxing community — and the nation — that the city was well-equipped to host the fight, which had been briefly canceled due to an intelligence report that hinted Mexican drug cartel leaders would show up.

"I haven't seen something like this, and I've worked for 35 years at UTEP," said Armando Losoya, who was trying to obtain black-market tickets for the cheaper seats.

"We're not worried at all," said Alberto Hernandez brought his family to watch the fight. "Maybe on the other side of the border, but El Paso is safe," he said, pointing to rundown houses perched on the side of a mountain next to the southern bank of the Rio Grande.

The fight was canceled for less than a week in April when a Homeland Security Investigations intelligence report, given to the University of Texas System, said leaders from both the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels might be in attendance. The cartels have waged a bloody war across the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, for control of drug smuggling routes and other criminal enterprises.

UTEP President Diana Natalicio said the system's chancellor Francisco Cigarroa told her in April that one reason he canceled the fight was that a federal security report mentioned a link between Chavez and Sinaloa drug cartel boss Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman.

Federal and local law enforcement agencies based out of El Paso were tight-lipped as to what they provided UTEP in order to keep the fight safe.

"We know of no known threat of any sort," said Veronique Masterson, a university spokeswoman. She said Saturday that the visible security would be similar to other sporting events at the Sun Bowl.

Masterson said of the snipers and helicopters: "we always coordinate with local and other law enforcement agencies. It's normal for a special event like this."

Before every fight on Saturday's card, the announcer made sure to remind the audience that El Paso is the safest city in America.

The former director of the El Paso Intelligence Center said its best not to provoke the cartels.

"One thing you never want to do is tell them (the cartels): go ahead make my day! There are enough psychos in those criminal organizations, they are just like the terrorists; they don't care if they get killed," Phil Jordan said.

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