Billy Joe Saunders’ next defence of his WBO middleweight title has been cancelled after challenger Avtandil Khurtsidze was arrested in New York.
Khurtsidze earned a shot at the title after beating Tommy Langford by TKO in April, winning the interim title in the process. He would have got his shot at Saunders in London on July 8 but now cannot travel following his arrest.
Promoter Frank Warren confirmed the cancellation of the fight in a statement, which read (via The Daily Mail):
“Today (Thursday), Queensberry Promotions were informed that Billy Joe Saunders’ mandatory challenger Avtandil Khurtsidze was yesterday (Wednesday) arrested in New York indicted under the RICO Act.
“As such, his contest with WBO World Middleweight Champion Billy Joe Saunders scheduled for Saturday 8th July at the Copper Box Arena, cannot take place on that date as his promoter Lou DiBella has confirmed he will be unable to travel.
“We are currently planning to postpone the fight to a later date. However, due to the obvious seriousness of this matter, Queensberry Promotions are given no choice but to wait for more details to emerge before anything can be confirmed.”
The RICO act Warren mentions is a US Federal Racketeering Law. He was one of 33 defendants to be arrested.
The acting Manhattan US Attorney released a statement saying (via BBC Sport):
“The dizzying array of criminal schemes committed by this organised crime syndicate allegedly include a murder-for-hire conspiracy, a plot to rob victims by seducing and drugging them with chloroform, the theft of cargo shipments containing over 10,000 pounds of chocolate, and a fraud on casino slot machines using electronic hacking devices.”
Lou DiBella then posted on Twitter to say he feels bad for both Saunders and Warren. He also said he doesn’t have any more information.
— Lou DiBella (@loudibella) June 8, 2017
This is another setback in what has been a frustrating few months for Saunders. He hasn’t fought since beating Artur Akavov in December. A rumoured fight with Gennady Golovkin fell through after the Kazakh star chose a big money clash with Canelo Alvarez. Now, he faces another wait before announcing his next opponent.
However, the unbeaten British boxer remains positive. He posted on Twitter that he believes his management and promoter will come up with the next best fight.
I have a good management @MTK_Marbella and good Promoter @frankwarren_tv i#they will come up with the next best fight ' UK any takers
— billyjoesaunders (@bjsaunders_) June 8, 2017
Peter Reynolds, Pundit Arena