WBO middleweight world champion Billy Joe Saunders will no longer feature on the Saturday July 8 show at the Copper Box Arena after his mandatory challenger Avtandil Khurtsidze was arrested in New York.
Khurtsidze’s promoter Lou DiBella has confirmed that the Georgian will be unable to travel following his indictment under The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). As a result, Saunders’ promoter Frank Warren has been left with no choice but to cancel the bout.
Due to Saunders’ obligation to make a mandatory defence in his next contest, a voluntary defence on the July 8th card will not be possible.
The WBO World Championship Committee has notified Khurtsidze that he needs to inform them why his WBO Interim World Middleweight title should not be stripped from him immediately after “criminal allegations of organised crime”.
Undefeated Hatfield star Saunders is bitterly disappointed that he won’t be able to defend his crown against Khurtsidze next month and commented on the bizarre circumstances surrounding his opponent’s arrest: “I don’t know him personally but these serious allegations have got in the way of his big chance and I suppose if he did this stuff, he only has himself to blame; it’s down to him.
“I’ll be in the gym training hard and ticking over. Frank is waiting to hear from the WBO to find out who I have to fight next as I am overdue a mandatory defence. Until then, I’ll have to stay focused and show a bit of patience.
“Hopefully, Frank will get news on that soon and then we can look at the options. I know the fans will want me to still fight but it’s not that simple. I have to get my mandatory defence out the way if I want the winner of Canelo v Golovkin and that is still my number one priority.
“Everything happens for a reason. I’m gutted but this is boxing and anything can happen. I feel sorry for the fans but you can’t plan for something like this to happen.”
Promoter Frank Warren said: “Obviously we are all very disappointed and frustrated but this is a situation that is completely out of our hands. I’m currently speaking with the WBO to see what the next step is for Bill.
“The WBO have ordered that Billy must have a mandatory defence next. At the moment, that is could still be against Khurtsidze but we will not know for sure until the WBO give their ruling. Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as going out and finding someone to step in for Khurtsidze.
“We should have some news next week and it’s a case then of regrouping and doing what is best for Billy’s career. He and I want the winner of Canelo v Golovkin after his Mandatory. That’s still the plan and I will do everything I can to make that happen.”
Refunds for the show on Saturday 8th July are available from the original point of purchase until 5.00pm on Friday 16th June.