By Jake Donovan
Without so much as getting through the weekend before exploring his next option, Demetrius Andrade could very well have his next fight lined up.
The unbeaten middleweight titlist racked up his first successful defense, effortlessly turning away the challenge of Russia’s Artur Akavov last Friday at Hulu Theatre in New York City. The DAZN-streamed headliner came three months after his vacant title win over Walter Kautondokwa, which came last October in Boston, Mass.
His next fight could come against the belt’s preceding claimant and his originally scheduled opponent for that October show: England’s unbeaten middleweight Billy Joe Saunders.
Andrade became eligible to fight for the vacant title when Saunders was stripped after being denied a boxing license by the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission. The ruling was the result of an August drug test conducted by Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) showing traces of banned substance oxilofrine in the Brit’s system.
Saunders claimed the substance came about due to inhaling a nasal decongestant to treat summer allergies, but the commission remained unsympathetic to his cause. With the license denial came an inability to honor his mandatory title defense, prompting the World Boxing Organization (WBO) to strip him of the title and drop him from the rankings.
However, the review process for said case is due to appear before the Puerto Rico-based sanctioning body, who seems prepared to not only reinstate him in the next rankings update, but high enough to where his next fight will be to challenge for his old title.
“Last week, the (WBO) Committee requested to the Classification Committee to consider Billy Joe Saunders to be included in the January rankings,” Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel, president of the WBO told BoxingScene.com on Sunday. "Saunders was classified as the number one contender.
“Next week, the WBO Championship Committee will consider Saunders’ request.to be named mandatory challenger for Andrade.”
Saunders (27-0, 13KOs) had reigned as WBO titlist for nearly three years from his Dec. ’15 title win over Andy Lee. The brash Brit—who’s endured his share of out-of-ring problems even dating back to his days as a 2008 Olympic Boxer for Great Britain—managed just three defenses in 34 months before being stripped last October, just two weeks ahead of his planned showdown with Andrade.
While the 30-year old was suspended by the WBO, he was free to participate in any bout not requiring the organization’s sanctioning. Saunders did just that, returning last December as a late addition to a December 22 bill in Manchester, England, topped by featherweight titlist Josh Warrington’s t12-round win over former two-division champ Carl Frampton.
For his part on the show, Saunders showed up grossly out of shape but remaining unbeaten following a 4th round stoppage of Charles Adamu. The bout was made very late into the promotion and buried deep on the undercard, but just enough to give Saunders at least one fight in an otherwise largely forgettable 2018 ring campaign.
His hope now is to turn a new page in 2019, which will be taken into consideration upon the WBO’s review later this month.
“The Championship Committee wants to be sure that Billy Joe Saunders has complied with all of the conditions included in the resolution in which the WBO suspended him for six months,” noted Valcarcel.
Because there wasn’t a mandatory challenger already in place following Andrade’s title win, the southpaw boxer—who turns 31 in February—was granted an optional title defense which came on Friday.
Absent his securing his next fight within the next 10 days, he will likely face a future that once again involves Saunders. He could do far worse given what’s left to choose from in the division, given the recent announcement of Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs colliding in a highly anticipated May 4 middleweight title unification clash.