Middleweight Billy Joe Saunders' world title belt and a scheduled defense against mandatory challenger Demetrius Andrade are in jeopardy after Saunders failed a drug test for the banned substance oxilofrine, a stimulant.
Saunders-Andrade is scheduled to headline a Matchroom Boxing card on streaming service DAZN at TD Garden in Boston on Oct. 20, but that is up in the air now that he failed an Aug. 30 test in Sheffield, England, conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, which was contracted to oversee drug testing for the bout.
The test results were returned Wednesday, and VADA president Dr. Margaret Goodman notified the parties involved in a letter obtained by ESPN:
"The results of the analysis are as follows: Adverse. Urine specimen number 4248408: oxilofrine detected. Note the following is also contained on the laboratory report: 'Opinions: oxilofrine may have resulted from the administration of ephedrine which was also detected but below the decision limit of 11ug/ml. The estimated concentration of ephedrine is 4.6 ug/ml.'"
Saunders has the option to have his B sample tested at his expense.
Whether the fight is canceled will ultimately be up to the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission, which would have to license Saunders for the bout to take place. There is an Oct. 8 commission meeting scheduled to decide the matter.
Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, who promotes Andrade and is promoting the fight after making a deal with Saunders promoter Frank Warren to bring England's Saunders to Boston, not too far from Andrade's hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, said whatever happens with Saunders and the Massachusetts commission the show will go on.
"Billy Joe will apply for a license in Massachusetts and they will make the decision if he is allowed to box," Hearn told ESPN. "The most important thing is that Demetrius Andrade fights for the world title on Oct. 20. If Billy Joe Saunders is ruled out and stripped of the title, we will be looking to make a fight for the vacant world title."
Hearn said Andrade will fight in the main event be it against Saunders, another opponent for the vacant title or a nontitle fight if a vacant title bout can't be arranged on such short notice.
"If Saunders is stripped, we will do whatever we can to make sure Andrade is fighting for the vacant title on Oct. 20," Hearn said.
Saunders said in a statement that the positive test was the result of using "a common decongestant nasal spray."\
Paco Valcarcel, president of the WBO, whose belt Saunders holds, told ESPN that the sanctioning organization has received the drug test results but would not make any decisions regarding the belt until Massachusetts decides whether it will license Saunders.
"If he doesn't get licensed, we will strip him," Valcarcel said. "If he gets licensed, we will still investigate the doping and at that time determine if we will sanction the fight."
Though Saunders failed a VADA test, he will not face any punishment from the British Boxing Board of Control, which regulates boxing in the United Kingdom because oxilofrine is only banned in the U.K. "in competition," which the British Boxing Board of Control defines as being the day of a fight.
"Mr. Saunders is not in breach of British Boxing Board of Control/United Kingdom Anti-Doping regulations," Robert Smith, the British Boxing Board of Control general secretary, wrote in a letter to VADA and the promoters, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN. "Please note, in Great Britain in-competition testing is the evening of the contest, anything prior to that is out of competition.
"In addition, Mr. Saunders has been tested a number of times in 2018, all negative, his last out of competition test by UKAD was on 24th September 2018 and I will advise of the result when it is made available."
However, Saunders could still face punishment from Massachusetts because oxilofrine is banned under VADA rules in and out of competition.
The failed drug test is Saunders' second outside of the ring issue this week. The British Boxing Board of Control fined him £100,000 for bringing boxing into disrepute after he posted a video on social media in which he appeared to offer a woman drugs in exchange for a sexual act. He was also heard asking the woman to punch a passer-by before driving off when the pedestrian was attacked.
Saunders (26-0, 12 KOs), 29, a 2008 Olympian who would be making his fourth title defense, won his 160-pound belt by majority decision against Andy Lee in December 2015. He made his third defense a stunningly one-sided unanimous decision victory over former world titlist David Lemieux in Lemieux's home region in Laval, Quebec on Dec. 16.
Lemieux lashed out on Saunders on social media after hearing about his positive test result.
"U dirty cheating scumbag, ur not only a miserable human being but ur also a dirty cheap cheating rotten p---k #billyjoesaunders u should be banned from boxing," he wrote.
Andrade (25-0, 16 KOs), 30, a 2008 U.S. Olympian and a former two-time junior middleweight word titlist, who will be having his first fight since signing with Hearn, has not boxed since he moved up to middleweight and easily outboxed Alantez Fox in a one-sided decision last October.