After Avtandil Khurtsidze won a vacant interim middleweight belt on April 22 in Leicester, England, he and Billy Joe Saunders, the full titleholder for whom he had become the mandatory challenger, got into a heated exchange filled with foul-mouthed trash talk and had to be separated.
They won't have to be separated for long, because they will meet inside the ring on July 8 at Copper Box Arena in London, promoter Frank Warren announced on Saturday. The fighters and their teams are scheduled to meet at a news conference on Monday in London to begin what will undoubtedly be a heated buildup.
Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs), 27, of England, will be making his second title defense. He won the 160-pound belt by majority decision against Andy Lee in December 2015, and then did not fight again for one year before struggling to a unanimous decision against Artur Akavov this past December.
There had been a tentative plan for Saunders to face Gennady Golovkin in June in Golovkin's native Kazakhstan to unify the four major middleweight belts, which was the reason why Khurtsidze was allowed to face Tommy Langford for the interim belt on April 22.
Khurtsidze, 37, a native of the Republic of Georgia fighting out of Brooklyn, New York, knocked Langford out in the fifth round for the interim belt, but when Golovkin elected to bypass a June fight, it set up Saunders and Khurtsidze (33-2-2, 22 KOs) to meet in a battle of the boxer (Saunders) versus the aggressive puncher (Khurtsidze).
Saunders, a 5-foot-11 southpaw, holds a tremendous height advantage over the 5-4 Khurtsidze and derisively refers to him as "Danny DeVito," a reference to the short Hollywood actor.
"No disrespect to him, but I will show you what he is when I fight him," Saunders said. "All he is to me is a puffed-up Danny DeVito coming forward throwing wild punches. It takes more than just power if you want to get anywhere near me.
"He will never beat me, and I will make him look stupid on July 8th. He does possess knockout power, but I'm going to make sure I'm in the shape of my life and give him the toughest night he has ever had."
Khurtsidze will be fighting in England for the second fight in a row and said he has no problem fighting on the road again, as he has done for most of his career. He has fought in six different countries: England, the United States, Ukraine, France, Georgia and Belarus.
"I'm coming to the U.K. for another knockout," Khurtsidze said. "I took Tommy Langford's unbeaten record and I'm coming for Billy Joe's -- and his belt. I have waited patiently for my world title shot, and I won't waste it. Billy Joe didn't want to fight me last year, and he would be wise to avoid me again. I love to fight."
Warren, Saunders' promoter, and Khurtsidze promoter Lou DiBella were able to make a deal in recent days to avoid a purse bid.
"Khurtsidze showed against Tommy Langford that he presents a clear and present threat to anyone in the middleweight division," Warren said. "He charges forward like a bull and holds lethal power in both hands.
"I believe that a clever and slippery customer like Bill is far too stealthy to get himself cornered against Khurtsidze. He has one of the best chins in the middleweight business, and it will take something spectacular to beat him. This will be an intriguing fight."