The Massachusetts State Athletic Commission on Tuesday denied middleweight world titleholder Billy Joe Saunders a boxing license because of his recent failed drug test for the banned performance-enhancing stimulant oxilofrine, meaning his upcoming fight is canceled and that the WBO will likely strip him of its 160-pound belt.
Saunders, who will lose out on a $2.3 million payday, had been scheduled to make his fourth title defense against former two-time junior middleweight titlist and mandatory challenger Demetrius Andrade in the main event of a Matchroom Boxing card on Oct. 20 (DAZN) at TD Garden in Boston.
Although Saunders is off the card, the show will go on and Andrade will face Walter Kautondokwa for the vacant interim title.
As soon as Saunders' positive Voluntary Anti-Doping Association urine test came to light on Sept. 26, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn made a deal with Kautondokwa for him to be on standby because it was uncertain if Saunders would be issued a license. So Kautondokwa, who is from Namibia, has been in the gym training since, and Hearn told ESPN that his visa has been secured.
"I felt like it was 50-50 that he'd be licensed. Billy had his case but unfortunately he failed a VADA test which he signed up for, which the commission ruled on," Hearn said. "We have to move on. Our focus is on Demetrius Andrade becoming middleweight champion of the world and mixing with Canelo (Alvarez), Gennady Golovkin and Danny Jacobs, all of those guys. It's disappointing but the focus is on Andrade becoming a champion on Oct. 20."
Saunders and Andrade contracted with VADA to oversee a testing program for their fight and Saunders (26-0, 12 KOs), 29, a 2008 Olympian for Great Britain, gave a sample to a collector on Aug. 30 in Sheffield, England. It came back positive for the powerful stimulant oxilofrine. When the failed test was disclosed, Saunders issued a statement in which he said the positive result was because he used "a common decongestant nasal spray."
Saunders and Frank Warren, his promoter, attended the Massachusetts commission meeting by telephone and after the panel voted to deny Saunders a license, he responded by making a lewd comment to the commissioners.
WBO president Francisco "Paco" Valcarcel told ESPN that the sanctioning body will send Saunders a letter asking him to show cause why he should not be stripped of the world title.
"Once you sign a contract to fight you have to comply with the contract. He didn't comply with the rules and regulations and so he wasn't licensed," Valcarcel said. "It's something he created, something he did. It wasn't because of something that happened. But we have to give him due process."
Saunders will have 10 days to respond to the letter and then it will go through the WBO grievance committee, which will submit its findings in a resolution to the sanctioning body's executive committee. That committee will then vote on whether to strip him of the title. If the WBO follows what it typically does in these situations, Saunders will lose the title.
If he is stripped, Valcarcel said, the Andrade-Kautondokwa winner will become the full titleholder.
Even though Andrade will still fight for high stakes, Ed Farris, his manager, said Andrade is upset by the turn of events.
"Demetrius is devastated," Farris told ESPN. "He wanted Saunders under any circumstances because he felt beating him would give him the credibility of beating the world champion. He wanted Saunders. He's been training for him. He said that is who he wanted. He said that's who's going to make me better. At the end of the day, the commission did the only thing they could do. Demetrius is crushed. Down the road I guess we'll find out if there's ever going to be a Saunders fight, but he wanted to fight Saunders regardless of the positive test."
Now Providence, Rhode Island's Andrade (25-0, 16 KOs), a 30-year-old southpaw and 2008 U.S. Olympian who will be having his first fight since signing with Hearn this past spring, will face the 33-year-old Kautondokwa (17-0, 16 KOs). The fight will be Andrade's first since moving up to middleweight and easily outboxing Alantez Fox in a one-sided decision last October.
Kautondokwa, who last fought in March, is an unknown fighter. He has had 16 of his fights in Namibia and one in Ghana, and never faced a notable opponent.
"He's a handful and a bit crude," Hearn said of Kautondokwa's style. "It's a very difficult situation. It's a nightmare for Demetrius. He's been getting ready for a slick southpaw in Saunders and now he has to go in with an orthodox puncher. The only thing we know about Kautondokwa is he's a huge puncher."
Hearn said he wasn't concerned that the card would suffer with Saunders being dropped.
"Saunders isn't a huge name for Boston," he said. "Demetrius is the local fighter. It's not as attractive of a fight, being honest, but the card is still very strong."
The event also includes two other world title bouts: Katie Taylor (10-0, 5 KOs), 32, of Ireland, defending her unified women's lightweight belts against Cindy Serrano (27-5-3, 10 KOs), 36, of Brooklyn, New York, and junior lightweight titleholder Tevin Farmer (26-4-1, 5 KOs), a 28-year-old southpaw from Philadelphia, making his first defense against James Tennyson (22-2, 18 KOs), 25, of Northern Ireland.
In addition, Kid Galahad (24-0, 15 KOs), 28, of England, will face Providence's Toka Kahn Clary (25-1, 17 KOs), 26, in a featherweight world title eliminator and former junior featherweight world titleholder Scott Quigg (34-2-2, 25 KOs), 30, of England, will take on Mario Briones (29-7-2, 21 KOs), 32, of Mexico, in an eight-round bout. The fight will be Quigg's first since a hard-fought decision loss to featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez in March in a fight of the year candidate.