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Avtandil Khurtsidze stripped of title as he awaits trial

Avtandil Khurtsidze, who is incarcerated and could face up to 40 years in prison for his alleged role in a New York-based Russian and Georgian crime syndicate, has been stripped of his interim middleweight world title.

Khurtsidze was arrested on June 7, along with 33 others as part of a federal government roundup of those accused of involvement in the crime ring. They are accused of racketeering, robbery and murder for hire, among other illicit activity.

Khurtsidze, 38, is charged with conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, as well as conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Each felony charge carries up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

On June 8, the WBO sent a letter to Khurtsidze through promoter Lou DiBella, giving the fighter five days to offer a reason that his title should not be vacated.

The WBO said the letter was not answered, so the organization wrote in its resolution that Khurtsidze's "interim middleweight championship is hereby vacated." Khurtsidze has 10 days to file an appeal.

Khurtsidze is from the Republic of Georgia, but he fights out of Brooklyn, New York. He was scheduled to face full titleholder Billy Joe Saunders in a mandatory fight on July 8 at the Copper Box Arena in London, but the bout was canceled when Khurtsidze was arrested upon his return to New York. He was denied bail.

Khurtsidze (33-2-2, 22 KOs) won a vacant interim middleweight belt by knocking out Tommy Langford in the fifth round on April 22 in Leicester, England. That set the stage for the mandatory bout with England's Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs), who was ringside.

Now Saunders is waiting for the WBO to determine the mandatory challenger, leaving him in limbo and not fighting on July 8.

"I don't know [Khurtsidze] personally, but these serious allegations have got in the way of his big chance, and I suppose if he did this stuff, he only has himself to blame. It's down to him," Saunders said. "I'll be in the gym training hard and ticking over. [Promoter] Frank [Warren] is waiting to hear from the WBO to find out who I have to fight next as I am overdue [for] a mandatory defense. Until then, I'll have to stay focused and show a bit of patience.

"Hopefully Frank will get news on that soon and then we can look at the options. I know the fans will want me to still fight, but it's not that simple. I have to get my mandatory defense out the way if I want the winner of Canelo [Alvarez] vs. [Gennady] Golovkin, and that is still my No. 1 priority. Everything happens for a reason. I'm gutted, but this is boxing and anything can happen. I feel sorry for the fans, but you can't plan for something like this to happen."

Warren said the WBO has told him Saunders' next fight must be a mandatory defense.

"Obviously we are all very disappointed and frustrated, but this is a situation that is completely out of our hands. I'm currently speaking with the WBO to see what the next step is for Bill," Warren said. "The WBO have ordered that Billy must have a mandatory defense next. He and I want the winner of Canelo vs. Golovkin after his mandatory. That's still the plan and I will do everything I can to make that happen."