Saturday, April 01, 2023  |


Khurtsidze eyeing title shot against Billy Joe Saunders

Photo courtesy of Showtime
Fighters Network

When middleweight titleholder Billy Joe Saunders acknowledged he needed a couple of tune-ups in the form of WBO mandatories before he could face the likes of Gennady Golovkin, Keith Connolly nearly did a double take.

An advisor for the bruising middleweight Avtandil Khurtsidze, Connolly has been lobbying, along with promoter Lou DiBella, to get the 5-4 sparkplug from Kutaisi, Georgia a meaningful bout after his upset-victory against Antoine Douglas in March. It ends up that Saunders did a pretty good of lobbying the WBO for them.

Now that Saunders publicly backed the WBO’s recent decision to have him fight back-to-back mandatories, Connolly is hoping that Khurtsidze, currently the WBO’s No. 1 ranked middleweight, gets his shot. “I’ll need one if not two (more bouts) before a big, big fight,” Saunders told IFL TV after his unanimous decision win Saturday against Artur Akavov. “A couple of defenses. I’ve been ordered to make two mandatories, so I’ll get my two mandatories out of the way.”

Connolly, who also advises secondary middleweight titleholder Danny Jacobs, couldn’t agree more. “We’re interested in the fight and we expect the WBO to do the right thing and mandate the fight since Khurtsidze has been No. 1 now for about the last seven months,” Connolly said in a phone interview. “We’re anticipating talking to the WBO in the next couple of days and asking them to mandate the fight. We think Khurtsidze deserves the fight and we’ve been waiting on an answer for the WBO as far as what fight they’re going to mandate — if he’s going to get a title shot or if he will fight the next guy in line after him to get the title shot.”

Added Connolly, “But Saunders is saying he wants to fight his mandatories before he fights a big fight, so we expect them to step up and do something about it here. We’re No. 1 in line so we expect to be named his mandatory. We’re just waiting for the WBO to do the right thing.” Connolly had some parting shots for Saunders, who admitted a long layoff affected his performance against Akavov. “He better come in a lot better shape than he did for his fight last Saturday if he wants to have a chance of beating Khurtsidze,” Connolly said. “We’ll go anywhere for the fight. We’ll see if he chickens out or follows through on what he said.”