By Jake Donovan
The search continues for some to face Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam, as Billy Joe Saunders has declined an opportunity to fight for the vacant IBF middleweight title, his team announced Thursday afternoon.
Saunders is the second opponent within the past week to pass on the title fight, with Felix Sturm removing himself from the mix earlier this week. Both fighters cited other avenues they plan to explore in lieu of a far less lucrative showdown with IBF mandatory challenger N'Dam, even with a title at stake.
Sturm declared that he is done with the middleweight division, and is pursuing a long-awaited showdown with super middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham. Such a fight would do huge business in Germany.
While Saunders plans to remain at middleweight, the unbeaten Brit has his sights set on another title. Already the mandatory challenger to the WBO belt, Saunders plans to wait out the forthcoming April 11 title fight between Andy Lee and unbeaten former champ Peter Quillin, with every intention of facing the winner.
“I was honoured to be asked to fight for the IBF World title, which has been held by some of the greatest fighters in the sports history, and it was not an easy decision to make," Saunders (21-0, 11KOs) noted in a statement. "But I have a signed contract with the WBO to fight the winner out of Lee and Quillin and I want to go down that route.
"I’m in boxing to prove that I’m a great and bring more world titles back to Britain so I hope that the IBF title is one the I can challenge for in the future in some big unification fights.”
The IBF will continue to go down its list of ranked challengers in efforts to fill its championship void. The next highest rated contender is Canada's David Lemieux. Should he decline, Sam Soliman—who previously held the title—is ranked one spot below.
The title became vacant after Jermain Taylor—who defeated Soliman last October—was officially declared unable to honor his mandatory obligations. The former World middleweight champ and recently recrowned titlist was arrested for criminal acts during a parade on Martin Luther King Day Jr. in his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas, which violated the terms of his bond release from a previous arrest.
Taylor remains locked up, though currently undergoing neuropsycholigical examinations to determine his mental health given the bizarre behavior he has exhibited in recent months.
N'Dam earned a mandatory challenger ranking following a 12-round points win over Curtis Stevens in their final eliminator last October.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox