By Keith Idec
OMAHA, Nebraska – Billy Joe Saunders voluntarily gave up his WBO middleweight title, rather than proceeding with that sanctioning organization’s appeals process.
Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel, the WBO’s president, told BoxingScene.com of Saunders’ decision Thursday and confirmed that the WBO’s 160-pound title is now vacant. Top-ranked Demetrius Andrade (25-0, 16 KOs), of Providence, Rhode Island, and Namibia’s Walter Kautondokwa (17-0, 16 KOs), the WBO’s No. 2 contender, will fight for that unclaimed championship October 20 at TD Garden in Boston (DAZN).
England’s Saunders (26-0, 12 KOs) was supposed to make a mandatory defense of the WBO middleweight title against Andrade that night. The Massachusetts State Athletic Commission denied his license application on Tuesday, however, because Saunders tested positive for oxilofrine, a banned stimulant, in a test administered August 30 by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association.
“He already relinquished [the title],” said Valcarcel, who’s in Omaha for the WBO welterweight title bout Saturday night between champion Terence Crawford and challenger Jose Benavidez Jr.
“He voluntarily did it. We were ready to start the process, our internal procedure, to strip him.”
When asked why Saunders didn’t proceed with an appeal, Valcarcel said, “I don’t want to make any comments or give any opinions. But it’s a vacant title because he relinquished the title.”
Valcarcel added that Saunders “probably will be suspended for six months.” That suspension would prohibit him from appearing in the WBO’s rankings and earning a shot at the title he vacated during that time.
Frank Warren, Saunders’ promoter, revealed earlier Thursday that Saunders will appeal the Massachusetts commission’s decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. Warren contends Saunders should’ve been allowed to box against Andrade because Massachusetts is legally obligated to adhere to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s standards.
Oxilofrine is on VADA’s list of banned substances 365 days per year, yet only against WADA and UK Anti-Doping regulations on the day of a fight. Saunders, 29, won’t be disciplined by UK Anti-Doping, which subjects all British boxers to drug testing 365 days per year for the British Boxing Board of Control, and will be free to fight in the United Kingdom as soon as Warren can arrange another fight for him.
The Massachusetts commission denied Saunders’ license application because the former champion signed a contract to adhere to VADA’s stricter testing standards, as did Andrade.
Regardless, failing VADA’s test will cost Saunders’ side a package of $2.3 million for facing Andrade.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.