Faced with the likelihood of being stripped of his middleweight world title for testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug, Billy Joe Saunders on Thursday vacated the 160-pound belt.
On Tuesday, the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission rejected Saunders' application for a boxing license because of the positive test for the powerful banned stimulant oxilofrine. Saunders, who attended the commission meeting via telephone and cursed at the commissioners following the ruling, was scheduled to make his fourth defense against mandatory challenger Demetrius Andrade on Oct. 20 at TD Garden in Boston.
England's Saunders not only no longer has a world title, but the situation cost him the $2.3 million purse he was due to earn against former two-time junior middleweight titlist Andrade.
Andrade instead will face Walter Kautondokwa of Namibia for the vacant title. As soon as Saunders' failed Voluntary Anti-Doping Association urine test from Aug. 30 came to light on Sept. 26, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, who represents Andrade, made a deal with Kautondokwa to be on standby if Saunders couldn't fight.
"B.J. Saunders has voluntarily vacated the WBO middleweight title and publicly apologized for his violation of the Massachusetts Athletic Commission's anti-doping regulations," WBO president Francisco "Paco" Valcarcel said. "Therefore, the clash between Demetrius Andrade and Walter Kautondonkwa scheduled for Oct. 20 will now be for the vacant world crown.
"Also, I will recommend to the WBO executive committee that Saunders receives a six-month suspension for his transgression. But he has to do more. He has to work with the kids there [in England] at the boys' club, do community service, and then he has to be tested randomly and be negative all of the time. He needs a recommendation from the British Boxing Board of Control [to have the suspension lifted], and if he does all that, we are willing to put him back in the rankings after his suspension."
Valcarcel said Saunders sent the WBO a letter to vacate the title and said that "he doesn't have time to appeal and for that reason he relinquished the title." Saunders could have gone through the WBO's appeals process, but based on the sanctioning body's typical response to similar incidents, he likely would have been stripped.
"He had the right to present all the evidence, but at the end he had to face the positive test," Valcarcel said.
Although Saunders has vacated the belt, he plans legal action against the Massachusetts commission.
"The MSAC, in their decision to deny a license to Billy Joe, have willfully refused to properly apply the code of [the World Anti-Doping Association] to their ruling," Frank Warren, Saunders' promoter, said in a statement. "Further, the MSAC refused to properly consider submissions from Billy Joe's representative despite him being present at the hearing.
"Unlike the British Boxing Board of Control, the MSAC is a state appointed governing body and therefore the decision will be appealed and challenged in the superior court at the earliest opportunity. Because of the mental anguish brought about by this case and out of respect for the WBO, Billy Joe will with a heavy heart relinquish his world title, whilst this issue is in the process of being resolved."
Saunders and Andrade contracted with VADA to oversee a testing program for their fight. After the sample from Saunders (26-0, 12 KOs), 29, a 2008 Olympian, came back positive, he said it was because he used "a common decongestant nasal spray."
Rhode Island's Andrade (25-0, 16 KOs), a 30-year-old southpaw and 2008 U.S. Olympian, will go from facing Saunders, a slick left-handed fighter not known for his power, to facing 33-year-old unknown Kautondokwa (17-0, 16 KOs), who has had 16 of his fights in Namibia and one in Ghana, and has never faced a notable opponent.