Former middleweight world titlist Billy Joe Saunders’ six-month suspension for a failed drug tested was lifted by the WBO and the sanctioning organization named him its 160-pound mandatory title challenger in a ruling issued Tuesday.
Saunders was due to make a mandatory defense against Demetrius Andrade on Oct. 20 in Boston, but Saunders failed a random Voluntary Anti-Doping Association urine test conducted Aug. 30. He tested positive for the powerful banned stimulant oxilofrine in results that came back Sept. 26. On Oct. 9, the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission denied Saunders’ application for a boxing license because of the positive test.
Knowing he would be stripped of the title by the WBO, Saunders, who claimed the positive test was the result of using “a common decongestant nasal spray,” relinquished the belt and the fight with Andrade, for which he would have earned a career-high $2.3 million.
Andrade wound up facing late replacement Walter Kautondokwa instead, knocking him down four times and winning a near-shutout decision to take the vacant title.
The WBO suspended Saunders for six months on Oct. 11, and he petitioned for reinstatement on Jan. 14 and asked that the organization rank him No. 1 in the middleweight division, arguing that he had done what he was asked to do, which is submit numerous clean random drug tests since the failed tests and that he had actively engaged in charity and community work with disadvantaged children.
Now it is Saunders who will be Andrade’s mandatory challenger instead of the other way around, as it would have been had they squared off in October.
Because the WBO was satisfied with Saunders fulfilling the conditions it set forth when he was suspended, it wrote in the ruling “we hereby terminate immediately his suspension from any WBO sanctioned contest and consequently recommend the WBO world ratings committee official reinstatement of Mr. Saunders within the WBO middleweight division ratings and be positioned as the number one contender accordingly.”
In addition to the resolution, the WBO officially ordered the fight between Andrade and Saunders.
In a letter sent to Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, Andrade’s promoter, and Frank Warren of Queensberry Promotions, Saunders’ promoter, the WBO gave the camps 30 days to negotiate a deal for the bout. If they cannot come to an agreement by then, a purse bid will be held. The minimum bid was set at $200,000, though the promotional rights to the fight would likely go for millions if a purse bid takes place.
After being suspended by the WBO, Saunders (27-0, 13 KOs), 29, of England, took part in a non-WBO bout in Manchester, England, on Dec. 22, where he fought well above the middleweight division — he was 178 pounds, technically a cruiserweight — for a fourth-round knockout of journeyman Charles Adamu. Saunders faced no penalty for the positive drug test at home because the substance he tested positive for is not banned in the United Kingdom except on fight night.
Andrade (27-0, 17 KOs), 30, of Providence, Rhode Island, made his first defense on Saturday night, stopping Artur Akavov in the 12th round at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York.