Avtandil Khurtsidze has been stripped of his WBO interim middleweight title while he is still jailed for his alleged involvement in an international crime syndicate.
Khurtsidze was arrested and indicted on June 7 in New York as part of a federal government roundup of 33 people accused of involvement in a New York-based Russian and Georgian crime syndicate. He is accused of conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If found guilty, each felony charge carries up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
Luis Batista Salas, chairman of the WBO, wrote a letter announcing the organization's plans to strip Khurtsidze for the title. The full letter can be seen below.
On June 8th, the World Boxing Organization Championship Committee in accordance with Rule 19 of the WBO Regulations of World Championship Contests, sent a ‘show cause letter’ to WBO Interim Middleweight Champion Avtandil Khurtsidze through his Promoter, Lou Dibella, Dibella Entertainment, giving him five (5) days from the date of the notice of why the Committee should not recommend to the WBO Executive Committee that Mr. Khurtsidze’s title be vacated. No answer was received. The Committee having examined all facts concerning the current status of the WBO Interim Middleweight Championship of Avtandil Khurtsidze, having requested that he show cause why his WBO Interim Middleweight Championship should not be vacated, and being fully advised in the Premises, hereby resolves and hereby recommends the following resolution to the WBO Executive Board: The WBO Executive Board having received the Resolution of the WBO World Championship Committee hereby determines and resolves:
Whereas, Avtandil Khurtsidze won the WBO Interim Middleweight Championship on April 22, 2017, and; whereas, under the terms and conditions of the WBO Interim Middleweight Championship Avtandil Khurtsidze was ordered to fight for the WBO Middleweight Championship with WBO Middleweight Champion Billy Joe Saunders in London, England on July 8, 2017, and; whereas, Avtandil Khurtsidze is unavailable to complete his responsibilities as WBO Interim Champion to contest the Championship and that sanctioned and scheduled contest was cancelled for reasons unrelated to Avtandil Khurtsidze's WBO Participation.
Now therefore, it is resolved that Avtandil Khurtsidze's WBO Interim Middleweight Championship is hereby vacated. Avtandil Khurtsidze is notified that this is a final determination of the WBO and under the WBO World Championship Rules that his sole appeal is an appeal to the WBO Complaints and Grievance Committee, which must be commenced by written complaint to the WBO within 10 days of this date, after which it will be final without further recourse.
Khurtsidze was supposed to fight WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders on July 8, but that fight got scrapped as soon as news of Khurtsidze's arrest broke out. Saunders commented on the situation and is hopeful that he will get to fight at some point in 2017.
"I don't know [Khurtsidze] personally, but these serious allegations have got in the way of his big chance, and I suppose if he did this stuff, he only has himself to blame. It's down to him," Saunders said. "I'll be in the gym training hard and ticking over. [Promoter] Frank [Warren] is waiting to hear from the WBO to find out who I have to fight next as I am overdue [for] a mandatory defense. Until then, I'll have to stay focused and show a bit of patience. Hopefully Frank will get news on that soon and then we can look at the options. I know the fans will want me to still fight, but it's not that simple. I have to get my mandatory defense out the way if I want the winner of Canelo [Alvarez] vs. [Gennady] Golovkin, and that is still my No. 1 priority. Everything happens for a reason. I'm gutted, but this is boxing and anything can happen. I feel sorry for the fans, but you can't plan for something like this to happen."
Saunders' next fight must be a mandatory defense. The WBO champion has wanted to fight the winner of the Gennady Golovkin vs. Canelo Alvarez fight later in September and promoter Frank Warren is trying to get Saunders to fight in September. Saunders has not fought since beating Artur Akavov last year.