Billy Joe Saunders withdraws from defense vs. Artur Akavov

Middleweight world titleholder Billy Joe Saunders withdrew Thursday from his first defense, which was scheduled against Artur Akavov on Oct. 22 at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff, Wales, promoter Frank Warren announced.

Warren said Saunders pulled out of the fight because of an unspecified muscle injury, although Akavov promoter Lou DiBella was sent a letter from Warren's office saying Saunders had suffered a hand injury.

Saunders-Akavov was initially scheduled to take place Oct. 29 at Manchester Arena in Manchester, England, on the undercard of the heavyweight championship rematch between Tyson Fury and Wladimir Klitschko. However, when that fight was canceled last month, Warren shifted Saunders-Akavov to the Oct. 22 card.

But the entire card was postponed Thursday because not only is Saunders out, but Warren announced that on the same day that Saunders suffered his injury British junior middleweight champion Liam Williams (15-0-1, 10 KOs), 24, who is from Wales and was the draw for the card, also suffered an injury in sparring, which forced him to pull out of his defense against Ahmet Peterson (17-0, 7 KOs), 28, of England.

Warren said the show is rescheduled for Nov. 26, also at Motorpoint Arena.

"We have obviously not had a lot of luck with this event, first of all being let down by Chris Eubank Jr. and now the two main fights on a card falling out on the same day," Warren said. "We have no choice but to postpone the card to a month later so everyone is given time to recover."

Eubank was slated to defend the British middleweight title against Tommy Langford on the card but withdrew a few weeks ago, claiming that he had an elbow injury. Eubank vacated the title and Langford was scheduled to fight Sam Sheedy for the vacant belt on the card.

"I apologize to the fans for any inconvenience this may cause," Warren said. "It is extremely frustrating as the event is already essentially sold out and we were all geared up for a cracking night of boxing on Oct. 22 in Cardiff. I am particularly gutted for Tommy Langford, who has sold around 2,000 tickets for his British middleweight title challenge against Sam Sheedy, but I'm sure his support will no doubt still be out in force on Nov. 26."

Saunders (23-0, 12 KOs), 27, of England, has had a disappointing title reign thus far. He has not fought since winning the 160-pound belt by majority decision from Andy Lee last December. He called out unified titleholder Gennady Golovkin and then turned down a career-high seven-figure payday to face him when offered the fight. He instead signed to defend against Ukraine's Max Bursak on April 30 in London, but pulled out, claiming a left hand injury.

Then Saunders was offered a guaranteed fight with superstar Canelo Alvarez if he would first defeat Gabriel Rosado, Willie Monroe Jr. or Curtis Stevens -- his camp's choice -- in the co-feature of Alvarez's knockout victory against Liam Smith to win a junior middleweight world title on Sept. 17.

Saunders rejected all of those second-tier opponents because the only opponent he wanted to face was Akavov (16-1 7 KOs), an unknown Russian fighter. Golden Boy did not want Akavov as the opponent and rejected making the two-fight deal with Saunders and Warren.