By Jake Donovan

Demetrius Andrade and Billy Joe Saunders are heading back to the negotiating table—only this times with the roles reversed.

A ruling handed down by the World Boxing Organization (WBO) on Tuesday proved to be a double-barrel victory for Saunders. Not only was his previously issued six-month suspension lifted, but the 30-year old Brit has been declared the mandatory challenger to his old middleweight title which now belongs to Andrade.

According to a statement released by the WBO Championship Committee, “Based on the evidence ratifying complete fulfillment of all imposed conditions on behalf of Mr. Saunders presented before this Committee and pursuant to Section 1 subsection (c) of the WBO Regulations of World Championship Contests, we hereby terminate immediately his suspension from any WBO sanctioned contest.

“[Consequently, we] recommend the WBO World Ratings Committee official reinstatement of Mr. Saunders within the WBO Middleweight Division Ratings and be positioned as the number one (1) contender accordingly. Further, if the WBO Ratings Committee adopts this Committees’ recommendation, we hereby designate Mr. Saunders as the official Mandatory Challenger of the aforementioned division pursuant to Section 1 subsection (b) (23) of the referenced regulations.”

The lifted suspension by the WBO stems from an official petition filed by Saunders’ legal team on January 14, some three months after the initial ruling. Saunders was stripped of his title less than two weeks prior to his scheduled mandatory defense versus Andrade (26-0, 16KOs) after a Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA)-conducted pre-fight drug test showed trace amounts of the banned substance Oxilofrine.

Saunders (27-0, 13KOs) argued that the substance was ingested through an over-the-counter nasal decongestant, not to mention that the substance doesn’t appear on the “in-competition” list of banned substances in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), whose code is followed by the United Kingdom Anti-Doping and the British Boxing Board of Control under which England’s Saunders presides.

The alibi didn’t fly with the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission, before whom Saunders was required to appear in order to receive a license for the Andrade fight which was due to take place in Boston. The commission denied the 30-year old Brit a license, which in turn was viewed by the WBO as an inability to honor his mandatory title obligations, thus stripping him of the title.

Andrade (27-0, 17KOs) picked up the vacant title with a 12-round win over late sub Walter Kautondokwa last October in Boston, roughly an hour from his Providence (Rhode Island) hometown. He made his first defense this past Friday, scoring a 12th round stoppage of Russia’s Artur Akavov live on DAZN from Hulu Theatre in New York City.

The bout was preceded by the blockbuster news of a May 4 showdown between World middleweight king Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and recently crowned titlist Daniel Jacobs. Now, Andrade has a middleweight fight of his own lined up for the future, even if somewhat forced upon him.

“[O]n January 14th 2019, the WBO headquarter offices received an official petition on behalf of Mr. Saunders’ legal representative Mr. David House, ratifying and evidencing the fighter’s successful completion of all the imposed conditions set forth by this Committee,” read the WBO’s ruling. “The evidence showed that Mr. Saunders engaged in active charity and community work with underserved and disadvantaged kids, submitted to numerous random anti-doping tests by the correspondent (drug testing) agencies, obtaining thereto negative results, and presently, continuous in good standing conduct in his community.

“[I]n light of Mr. Saunders’ thorough fulfillment of our ruling, his legal representative request reinstatement of said fighter in the WBO World Ratings Middleweight Division, consequently, be rated at the number one (1) position and designated as the Mandatory Challenger in the aforementioned division.”

With the ruling, also came an immediately ordered mandatory title defense versus Saunders to be made by Andrade. The WBO issued a letter to Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren, the respective promoters for Andrade and Saunders who will have 30 days from January 22 to negotiate terms for a title fight.

Should the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the bout will be subject to a purse bid hearing on February 21 at WBO headquarters in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Any registered promoter with the WBO will be eligible to secure the rights to the fight, providing the winning promoter submits a minimum allowed bid of $200,000.