AT the end of 2017, Billy Joe Saunders produced a dazzling performance in unanimously outpointing the dangerous David Lemieux to retain his WBO middleweight crown. This impressive victory capped off a productive year for the skilful southpaw, during which he also made a successful title defence against the tricky Willie Monroe Jnr – once again via unanimous decision. Unfortunately for Saunders, 2018 was to turn out to be his annus horribilis.
Just over three weeks before a lucrative scheduled October clash with fellow unbeaten Demetrius Andrade in Boston, it emerged that Saunders had failed a voluntary drug test, with the stimulant oxilofrine being detected in his system. Though the substance – which Saunders’ team said came from a “common decongestant nasal spray” – is permitted for use outside of competition by the British Boxing Board of Control, the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission – the body that was governing the Andrade fight – refused to license Saunders due to the “adverse analytical finding”. This led to the cancellation of the bout, as well as Saunders relinquishing his WBO belt.
Additionally, just days before news of the positive test surfaced, Saunders was fined £100,000 by the BBBofC for “bringing the sport into disrepute”. This was in response to an unsavoury video involving Saunders that appeared online – something which he later described as “banter [that] went wrong”.