By Ryan Burton
WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs) next opponent has been up in the air since his July 8th mandatory defense against Avtandil Khurtsidze was cancelled.
Last week, Khurtsidze was arrested in New York City and indicted on RICO charges, with allegations that he was part of a criminal organization. The fight was slated to take place in July 8th at the Copper Box Arena.
Saunders had previously been trying to secure a June fight against WBC/WBA/IBF/IBO middleweight champion Gennady "GGG" Golovkin. Saunders was left without a fight when Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez agreed to terms for a September 16th showdown which is the biggest fight that can be made in boxing.
BoxingScene.com caught up with WBO President Paco Valcárcel to get an update on Saunders next mandatory opponent.
"We stripped the guy. We stripped (Khurtsidze) from the interim title," Valcárcel stated.
Valcárcel said that they will allow Saunders to take an interim fight and that after that fight the winner will have to fulfill their mandatory obligation.
According to Valcarcel, Olympic gold medal winner Ryota Murata (12-1, 9 KOs) is right now the likely next opponent for Saunders.
"Billy Joe Saunders is negotiating with Ryota Murata from Japan. Then next in line is (David) Lemieux as the the mandatory challenger but now that they have a show set up, they have requested a voluntary and we are considering that. The winner would have to fight Lemieux next," Valcárcel told BoxingScene.com.
Murata lost a controversial split decision to Hassan N'Dam in May in a bid to win the WBA interim middleweight title. There was a rematch ordered by the WBA, but Murata's co-promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, was very reluctant about the idea of giving N'Dam another payday.
Saunders struggled in his last bout in December when he retained his title with a lackluster decision victory over Artur Akavov.
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