Former middleweight world titleholder Billy Joe Saunders' move up to super middleweight was postponed on Thursday, promoter Frank Warren announced.
Saunders was due to fight Shefat Isufi on April 13 at the SSE Wembley Arena in London. Warren originally announced the fight as being for the vacant WBO 168-pound world title. One problem: The title was not vacant, as Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez still owns it even though his next fight on April 12 will be at light heavyweight.
Warren said in his announcement that Saunders (27-0, 13 KOs), 29, of England, would still face Isufi (27-3-2, 20 KOs), 29, a Serbia native fighting out of Germany at super middleweight in May on a date and at a venue to be determined. But he made no reference to the fight being for a world title.
"With the widely reported changes in Billy Joe Saunders' training situation and the current status of the WBO world super middleweight title, this fight will not take place on April 13th at the SSE Arena, Wembley as was previously announced," Warren said.
It is possible that Ramirez will relinquish the title following his light heavyweight fight next month, in which case Saunders-Isufi could be the vacant belt.
While there has been no formal announcement, Saunders is changing trainers, having fired longtime trainer Dominic Ingle to begin training with Ben Davison, who is also the trainer for Saunders' good friend Tyson Fury, the lineal heavyweight champion.
Saunders, who fought his last bout on Dec. 22 at 178 pounds, is leaving the 160-pound division, where he won a title in 2015 and made three defenses.
Warren has also been discussing a deal with Top Rank similar to the one he recently made with the company to come on as Fury's co-promoter. It would call for Warren fighters such as Saunders and former junior featherweight and featherweight world titleholder Carl Frampton to also be co-promoted by Top Rank, a source with direct knowledge of those discussions told ESPN this week.
Saunders has had other issues as well. He was due to defend his middleweight belt against Demetrius Andrade, then his mandatory challenger, on Oct. 20 in Boston but the fight was canceled when Saunders failed a random Voluntary Anti-Doping Association urine test conducted on Aug. 30. He tested positive for the powerful banned stimulant oxilofrine in results that came back on 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 said the positive test was the result of using "a common decongestant nasal spray," relinquished the belt, and the fight with Andrade -- for which Saunders would have earned a career-high $2.3 million -- was canceled.
Andrade wound up facing late replacement Walter Kautondokwa instead, knocking him down four times and winning a near-shutout decision to win the vacant title.