Saul Canelo Alvarez was given the WBO’s mandatory position today for a title shot against WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders, and you can imagine that #1 WBO Avtandil Khurtsidze is not happy about it. The WBO bypassed Khurtsidze in giving the 26-year-old Canelo the mandatory spot to challenger unbeaten Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs) for his title in early 2017.
Canelo’s promoters at Golden Boy haven’t yet set a date for him to face Saunders for his WBO title, but the fight is expected to take place in February. Golden Boy are reportedly saving Cinco de Mayo holiday to match Canelo against Mexican star Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. for a fight that could take place in Texas or Mexico City.
Today’s decision by the World Boxing Council in making Canelo the mandatory challenger for Saunders has upset a lot of fans, who see it as grossly unfair to Khurtsidze. He’s an action packed fighter with exciting fan-friendly style of fighting. The only knock that Khurtsideze has going against him is he’s not well-known in the U.S, and he’s not super popular like Canelo.
The WBO’s rationale for picking Canelo over Khurtsidze reads like the decision made based on popularity rather than on merit. Canelo has never fought at the full weight at middleweight, and he gave up his catchweight WBC title earlier this year rather than defend it against his mandatory challenger at the time in Golovkin.
WBO said this about their reasons for picking Canelo to fight Saunders rather than Khurtsidze:
“He is the top pay-per-view fighter on HBO, [and] his presence has given that category a renewed interest in boxing. At this moment, [he] will give boxing the maximum required exposure.”
You can argue that Khurtsidze’s fighting style is just a fan friendly as Canelo’s. Khurtsidze clearly doesn’t have a large fan base in the U.S, but that shouldn’t factor into the WBO’s reasoning for selecting a mandatory to challenge Saunders. The WBO’s ranking should be based on a number of factors starting with a requirement that the fighter at least should be fighting in the division they’re ranked in. Canelo is a junior middleweight, and he currently holds the WBO 154lb title.
“In view of the facts presented above, in accordance with the WBO regulations, and weighing the merits to be considered, the championship committee has decided that, in the best interest of boxing, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez should be the mandatory challenger.”
The results of the WBO’s ruling today didn’t sit well with Khurtsidze’s promoter Lou Dibella. He plans on appealing it with the WBO. Golden Boy is in negotiations to match Canelo against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in May. If that happens, Dibella wants Khurtsidze to be made the WBO mandatory.
Dibella has 10 days for his appeal to be issued with the WBO. The chances of the WBO reversing their decision in making Canelo the No.1 mandatory for Saunders is unlikely. The WBO has basically admitted in their statement that Canelo was selected as the mandatory based off his popularity.
Canelo vacated his WBC middleweight title earlier this year when the World Boxing Council ordered him to fight Gennady Golovkin, who was his mandatory challenger at the time.