Newly crowned middleweight titleholder Andy Lee was ordered by the WBO to begin negotiating his first defense against mandatory challenger Billy Joe Saunders on Friday.
If the sides do not make a deal before Jan. 12 a purse bid will be ordered. The minimum bid is $200,000. Lee, as the titleholder, would be entitled to 75 percent of the winning bid with Saunders due the remaining 25 percent.
Either fighter can ask for the purse bid to be ordered immediately if they elect not to negotiate.
Promoter Frank Warren, who represents Saunders, has said he is aiming to put the fight on in March in Lee's native Ireland -- either in his hometown of Limerick or in Dublin -- and said he has been talking to Adam Booth, Lee's manager and trainer, about a deal.
Lee (34-2, 24 KOs), 30, who was trailing on all three scorecards, won the vacant 160-pound belt by sixth-round knockout of Matt Korobov on Dec. 13 in Las Vegas. After the fight, Lee, a 2004 Irish Olympian, said that his dream was to make his first title defense in Ireland, and Warren is seemingly prepared to make that happen.
The 25-year-old Saunders (21-0, 11 KOs), a 2008 Olympian for Great Britain, won a rousing split decision against Chris Eubank Jr. on Nov. 29 in a world title eliminator to become the mandatory challenger.