By Jake Donovan
The majority of boxing fans may not be familiar with Walter Kautondokwa, but the outcome of a key item in the Massachusetts Boxing Commission (MBC) on Tuesday could change that in a hurry.
Kautondokwa—an unbeaten middleweight knockout artist from Namibia—will be among the interested observers as Billy Joe Saunders will learn the fate of his license status ahead of a planned October 20 title defense versus Demetrius Andrade. The bout is due to headline at
TD Garden in Boston, but that status is very much up in the air due to the unbeaten Brit showing trace amounts of the banned substance Olixofrine during an August 31 drug test administered by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA).
Photo Credit: Billy Joe Saunders Twitter Account
In the event he is denied a license, Saunders will also be stripped of his World Boxing Organization (WBO) middleweight title. Andrade, Saunders’ unbeaten mandatory challenger will vie for the vacant title versus the next highest-rated contender, which is where Kautondokwa enters the picture.
Test results were first revealed to the public on September 27, via a breaking news entry from ESPN.com senior writer Dan Rafael. The subject has now made its way to the MBC agenda for its next monthly meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at its headquarters in Boston.
It was also cause enough for event promoter Eddie Hearn—whose Matchroom USA outlet promotes Andrade and will present the show on the subscription-based DAZN USA app—to immediately secure a back-up plan to ensure the October 20 card goes uninterrupted.
“We signed an agreement with Matchroom on September 28 to step in and take the fight in the event Saunders is not (licensed),” Nestor Tobias, Kautondokwa’s manager and a former boxer informed BoxingInsider.com. “(Such short notice) is of course never enough to prepare for such a big fight…but we were already in the gym training.”
Kautondokwa (17-0, 16KOs) has not fought since registering a 5th round knockout of Argentina’s Billi Godoy in his hometown of Windhoek, Namibia, where the bulk of his five-year career has taken place. As far back as his knockout win over Obodai Sai last June in Ghana–his one career bout outside of Namibia—he has lobbied for a shot at Saunders.
Now he could wind up taking his place.
For the moment, Saunders (26-0, 12KOs) is sticking to the story that the substance ended up in his system due to his taking an over-the-counter nasal decongestant to clear his sinuses. Whether or not it’s true is less significant than the fact that athletes are held fully accountable—especially in this day and age—for anything they put in their body.
It is why all VADA forms include a section requiring athletes to disclose any medications they are currently taking, or have taken close enough to where a test soon thereafter would return such results. Even if the decongestant was inhaled after such forms were submitted, Saunders and his team are still obligated to inform testing officials of such a development.
No greater lesson was learned than with the postponement of Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez’ planned May 5 rematch with Gennady Golovkin. The bout was pushed back by more than four months after Alvarez was handed a modest six-month suspension for trace amounts of Clenbuterol found in his system during two separate tests in February.
Alvarez’ handlers presented all of the necessary documents and receipts to validate the theory that he consumed the banned substance through contaminated meat, a years-long epidemic in his native Mexico. The Nevada State Athletic Commission seemed sympathetic to his plight, but in the end still held the wildly popular boxer accountable and thus denied him the right to fight for six months dating back to the date of the failed test.
Alvarez, of course, returned in September in claiming a narrow decision to end Golovkin’s eight-year run of holding at least one middleweight title. Still, the preceding suspension sent a message that nobody in the sport is above the rules—a lesson that Saunders could very well learn on Tuesday.
Kautondokwa and his team aren’t necessarily rooting for such an outcome, nor are they accusing Saunders of cheating, intentionally or otherwise. At the same time, they remain very curious to see how the Massachusetts board handles the situation.
“It is never good to hear that a boxer has tested positive for drugs, it is not good for the sports of boxing but these things do happen,” Tobias notes. “We are happy that doping agencies are making a concerted effort to curb down such boxers and athletes around the world because it is not fair on their fellow sportsman and women with who they are to compete against.
“Saunders has been a great champion, whether or not he really used a banned drug will be up to the Commission to decide. All we are saying is that there should be zero tolerance to any athlete found guilty or failing drug test irrespective of how big they are. If the results prove that he is, than it would only be fair to strip him of the title like it would have been with any other (champion).”
Such a scenario is precisely what the World Boxing Organization (WBO)—whose title Saunders has held since a Dec. ’15 points win over Andy Lee—has insisted would be the case should the MBC deny the Brit a boxing license. WBO President Francisco ‘Paco’ Valcárcel has made it abundantly clear that the title would become vacant under such circumstances, leaving Andrade and Kautondokwa to compete for the vacant strap.
Andrade (25-0, 16KOs) would have the advantage of a full training camp in addition to being the far more established pro. The unbeaten 30-year old from Providence, Rhode Island—less than an hour from Boston—was a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Boxing team and is a former 154-pound titlist in the pro ranks.
However, he has also been grossly inactive for the lion’s share of his optimal prime. In fact, the 6’1” southpaw will have been out of the ring for exactly 52 weeks come fight night, having been out of the ring since a 12-round points win over Alantez Fox last October.
Still, he’d remain a heavy betting favorite and for good reason. This much isn’t at all lost on Kautondokwa, who would be making his U.S. debut in addition to the massive step up in competition just ahead of his 34th birthday.
“Andrade is slick, very experienced and unbeaten. He will be fighting at home, had enough time to prepare for the fight, and is clearly the better known name, so everything will be in his favor going into a fight with Kautondokwa,” conceds Tobias. “But that is exactly the position we want to be in.
The pressure will be on Andrade and not on Kautondokwa. We will take full advantage of our underdog status.”
Of course, none of that matters until a final decision is handed down Tuesday afternoon in Boston. But just incase, boxing fans can at least rest assured that Plan B is not only already in place, but game for the cause.