By Jake Donovan
Billy Joe Saunders’ year has gone from bad to worse in a hurry.
BoxingInsider.com has learned that the unbeaten but troubled British middleweight was denied a license by the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission (MSAC) during the board’s monthly meeting on Tuesday. The ruling greatly affects a planned October 20 show at TD Garden in Boston, where Saunders was due to defend his title versus Demetrius Andrade.
Saunders was asked to appear before the board to review his application status on Tuesday, which he did via speakerphone from England. His specific purpose for appearing was to detail the events that led to his testing positive for banned substance Oxilofrine on August 31 through testing conducted by Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA).
Trace amounts of the drug were evident in his system, to which he attributed to having ingested nasal decongestant spray upon learning of the results in late September and again at Tuesday’s hearing.
Saunders made a similar—and successful argument—back home, where he was cleared by the British Boxing Board of Control. His clearance stemmed from his status being classified as “out of competition”, per United Kingdom Anti-Doping (UKAD) which follows the code set forth by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Simply put, any test conducted prior to fight night is deemed out-of-competition, a point which Saunders and his representatives argued with MSAC.
While the excuse wasn’t necessarily dismissed by the commission, it also wasn’t found sufficient enough to sway the board who unanimously voted to deny his license, according to BI source Cory Blamire, a local freelance writer who was in attendance.
The incident drew comparisons to that of Major League Baseball pitcher Michael Kopech, who was handed a 50-game ban for testing positive for the very same substance as a 19-year old in the Boston Red Sox minor-league system. Kopech, now with the Chicago White Sox, denied that he willingly took the substance but nevertheless apologized for the outcome and was forced to accept his punishment.
Appearing before a state athletic commission residing in Red Sox country—with at least two board members boasting baseball roots—proved to be a detriment for Saunders’ cause. The British Traveller didn’t take too kindly to the ruling, at first confused as to his license status before reportedly telling the board to “suck my p***k.”
The show will still go on, but without Saunders who not only is off the show but now sees his days as a middleweight titlist come to an end. Francisco ‘Paco’ Valcárcel declared prior to the hearing that any such ruling that would result in Saunders not being able to compete on October 20 would result in his being stripped of the title.
As Saunders is granted an appeals process, Andrade (25-0, 16KOs) will remain eligible to fight for the organization’s interim title, as the unbeaten middleweight from Providence remains as the mandatory challenger. As earlier reported by BoxingInsider.com, the 2008 U.S. Olympian and former 154-pound titlist will now face the next highest-rated contender in the WBO middleweight rankings, Namibia’s Walter Kautondokwa.
Should Saunders’ appeal be denied, Valcárcel confirmed to BoxingInsider.com that the October 20 winner would then be elevated to full titlist.
Promoter Eddie Hearn—who will present the October 20 show through his Matchroom USA promotional outfit live on streaming app DAZN—was wise enough to secure a contingency plan in the event Saunders would not be able to compete. Kautondokwa (17-0, 16KOs) signed a contract on September 28 provisionally agreeing to face Andrade should the title become vacant.
The bout will mark a massive leap in competition for Kautondokwa, a former member of Namibia’s national amateur boxing team before turning pro in 2013. The unbeaten knockout artist—who turns 34 in November—will also be making his stateside debut, taking on a vastly more experienced boxer in Andrade, who will be fighting less than an hour from his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island.
Andrade hasn’t fought since a 12-round win over Alantez Fox last October, with the upcoming show marking 52 weeks to the day of that very ring appearance.
Meanwhile, Saunders will have to turn elsewhere for his next payday.
The 29-year old was due make the fourth defense of the title he won in a 12-round decision over Andy Lee in Dec. ’15. His title reign has been plagued by injuries and more infamously known for the fights that didn’t happen than the few defenses he’s managed in nearly three years.
For this event, Saunders (26-0, 12KOs) to earn a career-high purse for this event, which in part would help subsidize a £100,000 fine handed down by the BBBoC for his role in a social media video where offered a local woman (and apparent drug addict) £150 worth of drugs to perform a sex act.
It was hoped by Saunders and his team that he would at least be cleared to fight on October 20, which would’ve at least provided a high note to an otherwise miserable year. He came into 2018 on the heels of a 12-round whitewash of former middleweight titlist David Lemieux last December, but has now seen three scheduled bouts this year fall by the wayside.
Saunders was due to face countryman Martin Murray this past March, a bout that was postponed to June but ultimately canceled altogether when the reigning titlist claimed a training camp injury. It was widely speculated—by Murray, among others—that Saunders withdrew to instead make himself available in the event that Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin were unable to reach terms for their rematch.
It became moot when Alvarez and Golovkin fought again on September 15, four months pushed back from their original May 5 date. The postponement was due to Alvarez receiving a six-month suspension for having tested positive for Clenbuterol earlier in the year. The wildly popular boxer from Mexico attributed it to contaminated meat, an ongoing epidemic in his home country.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission accepted his response and documented proof that came with it, but still held him responsible for any substance that enters his body, regardless of means of consumption. Saunders was among Alvarez’ most vocal critics, his comments having since coming back to haunt him in light of recent developments.