By Keith Idec
The WBO has paved the way for Canelo Alvarez to finally make his debut as a full-fledged middleweight in his next fight.
According to a report posted by espn.com’s Dan Rafael on Wednesday night, the Puerto Rico-based sanctioning organization has installed Alvarez as the mandatory middleweight challenger for its 160-pound champion, Billy Joe Saunders. The Mexican superstar still is considering facing countryman Julio Cesar Jr. at a catch weight in his next bout, but could choose to fight for Saunders’ WBO middleweight title.
Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs), who fractured his right thumb during his September 17 knockout of Liam Smith, is expected to return to the ring May 6. The 26-year-old Alvarez owns the WBO super welterweight title he won from England’s Smith, but Avtandil Khurtsidze has been the WBO’s No. 1 middleweight contender for much of 2016.
The WBO’s championship committee ruled, according to espn.com, that Alvarez was better suited to become its mandatory middleweight challenger over Khurtsidze because it’s “in the the best interest of boxing.” Khurtsidze’s handlers had petitioned the WBO earlier this month for him to be installed as its mandatory middleweight contender, but the WBO’s championship committee favored the request submitted by Alvarez’s handlers.
Brooklyn’s Khurtsidze (32-2-2, 21 KOs) has 10 days, in accordance with WBO rules, to appeal the WBO’s decision.
Khurtsidze has been waiting patiently for his title shot. The Republic of Georgia native hasn’t boxed since he stopped then-undefeated Antoine Douglas (19-1-1, 13 KOs) in the 10th round March 5.
Alvarez, meanwhile, might not fight England’s Saunders, despite the WBO’s ruling. A fight against Chavez (50-2-1, 32 KOs, 1 NC) would do better business at the gate and on pay-per-view than a Saunders bout, but if Alvarez defeated Saunders for the WBO championship he could help make a long-awaited showdown with Gennady Golovkin a full middleweight title unification fight.
Kazakhstan’s Golovkin (36-0, 33 KOs) also would have to beat Brooklyn’s Daniel Jacobs (32-1, 29 KOs) in their March 18 bout at Madison Square Garden to keep a fight against Alvarez in play. Golovkin owns the IBF, WBA and WBC middleweight titles.
As for Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs), his mandatory defense is overdue. The southpaw successfully defended his title against Russia’s Artur Akavov (16-2, 7 KOs), then the WBO’s 10th-ranked contender, by winning a unanimous decision December 3 in Paisley, Scotland.
Before his subpar performance during that optional title defense, Saunders hadn’t fought since winning the title from Irishman Andy Lee (34-3-1, 24 KOs) by majority decision nearly a year earlier in Manchester, England.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.