By Keith Idec
The WBO informed promoters for its middleweight champion, Billy Joe Saunders, and No. 1 contender Avtandil Khurtsidze on Thursday to begin negotiations for a title fight.
If Frank Warren, Saunders’ promoter, and Lou DiBella, Khurtsidze’s promoter, can’t come to an agreement within 10 days a purse bid will be ordered. The minimum bid for the Saunders-Khurtsidze fight would be $200,000, as per WBO rules for the middleweight division.
England’s Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs) reportedly is interested in fighting Japan’s Ryota Murata (12-0, 9 KOs), the WBO’s No. 2-ranked contender at 160 pounds. A fight against Murata would be more lucrative for Saunders, particularly in Japan, but Khurtsidze would have to be compensated before agreeing to step aside and allow that fight to happen.
Khurtsidze has been adamant, though, that he wants to be Saunders’ next opponent.
Brooklyn’s Khurtsidze (32-2-2, 21 KOs) has been the No. 1 contender for Saunders’ championship for nearly 11 months, since he stopped previously undefeated Antoine Douglas (19-1-1, 13 KOs), of Burke, Virginia, in the 10th round March 5 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The 37-year-old Khurtsidze’s No. 1 ranking didn’t stop the WBO from skipping him last month and installing its 154-pound champion, Canelo Alvarez, as the mandatory challenger for Saunders.
An Alvarez-Saunders fight would’ve been much more lucrative for Saunders – and the WBO – but Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) ultimately agreed to face fellow Mexican Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (50-2-1, 32 KOs, 1 NC) on May 6 at an undetermined site. Khurtsidze’s representatives didn’t file an appeal of Alvarez’s installation as Saunders’ mandatory challenger because they were told the WBO would grant Khurtsidze a shot at Saunders if Alvarez decided to fight Chavez.
The 27-year-old Saunders has fought just once since he won the WBO 160-pound title from Ireland’s Andy Lee (34-3-1, 24 KOs), whom Saunders defeated by majority decision 13 months ago. The British southpaw beat Russia’s Artur Akavov (16-2, 7 KOs) by unanimous decision December 3 in Paisley, Scotland, but admitted after their 12-round fight that he performed poorly during his first fight in nearly a year.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.