Middleweight world titleholder Billy Joe Saunders and former titlist David Lemieux have been ordered to meet in a mandatory bout, and talks between the two camps have begun.
The WBO sent a letter on Monday to Saunders promoter Frank Warren and Lemieux promoter Eric Gomez of Golden Boy Promotions, ordering them to begin negotiations.
The sanctioning organization said Warren and Golden Boy have 30 days to make a deal. If they can't make one by then, a purse bid will be ordered, although if either side is not happy with how the negotiating process is going it can call for an immediate purse bid. The minimum offer at a purse bid would be $200,000.
Whether the fight goes to a purse bid or the camps make a deal, the fight likely will be worth far more than the minimum purse bid amount. Saunders, as the titleholder, is entitled to 70 percent of a winning bid and Lemieux getting the remaining 30 percent.
"We got the letter from the WBO and Frank Warren reached out to me in an email and I responded back to him, so we've started dialogue and it will continue. We're going to start negotiating," Gomez told ESPN.
Lemieux had hoped to land a fight with junior middleweight titleholder Miguel Cotto, who is preparing for what he has announced will be his final fight on Dec. 2 (HBO) at Madison Square Garden in New York. However, Cotto did not want to move all the way up to 160 pounds and his trainer, Hall of Famer Freddie Roach, also did not like the fight for Cotto. Furthermore, Lemieux, who already struggles to make 160 pounds, said he cannot go lower than 160 pounds.
At that point, Gomez said there was some discussion about Lemieux boxing on Cotto's undercard. But the fight with Saunders would be too costly to place there, Gomez said.
"You can't do it on that undercard. It's a little too expensive," Gomez said. "Frank's got the champion, so he'll make us an offer. Most likely he'll want to do the fight in the U.K. Depending on the offer, we'll react. We'll discuss it with David, but it's a good fight for HBO. I notified [HBO Sports executive vice president] Peter Nelson and he has interest in it."
There's a chance HBO could create another date on Dec. 16 for Lemieux to fight on, but it will take time to put together a deal with Saunders, and if it goes to a purse bid that will also take time to play out. But the fight makes a lot of sense for HBO because it is deeply involved in the middleweight division as the U.S. television home for unified champion Gennady Golovkin, Canelo Alvarez and Lemieux, as well as former titlist Daniel Jacobs, who recently signed an exclusive contract with the network.
"We have 30 days to negotiate a deal, and then if they call for a purse bid it would be within two weeks after the 30 days," Gomez said. "Then from the date of the purse bid it's 90 days to put on the fight, so you're looking at maybe February or March. But David is ready to fight in December, so that will be part of our conversation with Frank. It's all open to discussion and negotiation."
Saunders (25-0, 12 KOs), a 28-year-old southpaw from England, won a 160-pound belt by majority decision against Andy Lee in December 2015 and has made two defenses, lackluster decision wins against Artur Akavov in December and Willie Monroe Jr. on Sept. 16.
Lemieux (38-3, 33 KOs), 28, of Montreal, is one of boxing's biggest punchers. He has won four fights in a row since being stopped by Golovkin in the eighth round of their world title unification fight in October 2015. In March, Lemieux scored a massive third-round knockout of Curtis Stevens for a knockout of the year contender, and then followed he won a lopsided 10-round decision win against Marcos Reyes on May 6 on the Canelo Alvarez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. undercard.