By Jake Donovan
Once again, Demetrius Andrade finds himself out of the Billy Joe Saunders business. For the second time in as many tries, though, an immediate contingency plan remains in place to fill the sudden void.
The previously-ordered World Boxing Organization (WBO) middleweight title fight is now dead in the water with news of England’s Saunders, a former titlist moving up in weight in pursuit of the sanctioning body’s super middleweight title.
Saunders will face Germany’s Shefat Isufi for the WBO 168-pound title recently relinquished by Mexico’s Gilberto Ramirez, who will now compete in the light heavyweight division.
It marks the second time in just four months where Andrade (27-0, 17KOs) has seen an ordered fight with Saunders fall by the wayside.
The unbeaten southpaw from Providence, Rhode Island was the mandatory challenger whom the WBO ordered Saunders to face last October in Boston, Mass. That fight fell apart less than two weeks prior to fight night when the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission denied Saunders a boxing license after a Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) random pre-fight drug showed traces of the banned substance Oxilofrine.
Saunders was stripped of the WBO title, which Andrade inherited in his 12-round win over late replacement Walter Kautondokwa. He’s since registered a successful 1st defense, scoring a 12-round knockout over Artur Akavov in January—mere days before the WBO lifted Saunders’ suspension and reinstated him as the mandatory challenger to his old title.
From the moment their fight was once again ordered, the expectation was for the matter to head to a purse bid. Saunders is promoted by Frank Warren, the longtime contentious promotional rival to Eddie Hearn, with whom Andrade signed last summer.
While the latest plot twist leaves Andrade without a dance partner, the back-up plan could prove to be an even bigger opportunity.
“We have to decide before (February 21) if an elimination bout needs to be ordered,” Francisco ‘Paco’ Valcarcel, president of WBO informed BoxingScene.com on Monday.
Two options are in play, both potentially involving “GGG” Golovkin depending on his own future plans. The former unified middleweight titlist hasn’t fought since a heartbreaking 12-round points loss to Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in their rematch last September. The loss was Golovkin’s first, also ending a record-tying title reign over which time he racked up at 20 successful defenses of at least one belt.
The 2004 Olympic Silver medalist from Kazakhstan has since kept the boxing world waiting on his next move, as he remains the highest-profile network free agent following the demise of longtime industry leader HBO, who bowed out of the boxing business late last year.
All indications are that Golovkin will sign a lucrative two-fight deal with DAZN, which makes sense given the platform’s ties to top middleweights Alvarez, Andrade and Daniel Jacobs (whom Golovkin defeated in 2017). However, the former champ—who turns 37 in April—has remained silent on his next steps despite the promise for most of the young year of a forthcoming announcement.
Whether or not his next fight out the gate would come versus Andrade remains to be seen. It’s a risky proposition, but one that would be immediately available as Golovkin is currently the number-two ranked middleweight according to the WBO and would advance to the top slot now that Saunders is officially moving up to super middleweight.
Ranked just one spot below is former titlist David Lemieux, whom Golovkin already defeated in 2015. The knockout artist from Canada is contemplating a move to super middleweight himself after recent struggles to make the 160-pound limit.
Behind him is Germany’s Jack Culcay, who is contractually bound to an International Boxing Federation (IBF) middleweight title eliminator versus Sergiy Derevyanchenko which will take place on April 13 in the U.S.—mere hours after Saunders’ super middleweight adventure.
Moving deeper down the list is Canada’s Steve Butler. The once-beaten contender—who, like Lemieux, is represented by Camille Estephan’s Eye of the Tiger Management—has managed eight straight wins since a knockout loss to Brandon Cook in Jan. ’17, including his last three at 160-pounds since moving up for good from the super welterweight division.
Of course, given the status of a boxer such as Golovkin, it’s entirely possible that the final eliminator process is bypassed altogether.
“(Either) an elimination bout will be ordered or we will designate GGG as the mandatory challenger for Andrade,” notes Valcarcel.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox