Billy Joe Saunders
Billy Joe Saunders will not defend his WBO title against Max Bursak at the Copper Box Arena Getty

Billy Joe Saunders has been forced to withdraw from the first defence of his WBO middleweight belt due to injury. The 26-year-old, who won his inaugural world title with an impressive majority decision victory over Andy Lee in December 2015, was due to fight "Mad" Max Bursak at London's Copper Box Arena on Saturday 30 April, but has now pulled out with a hand problem.

This means that the card will now be headlined by the unbeaten Hughie Fury, cousin of WBA, WBO and IBO heavyweight champion Tyson, who will look to extend his run of 19 consecutive professional victories and claim the vacant WBO intercontinental heavyweight strap against New Orleans-based Cameroonian fighter Fred Kassi.


"I'm bitterly disappointed but this is boxing and these things happen," Saunders, who could be set for a future unification showdown with Gennady Golovkin if the latter comes through unscathed from his bout with Dominic Wade next week, was quoted as saying by BBC Sport. "Now it's all about recovering properly and looking forward to a big 2016."

Fury, whose fight comes 10 weeks before hus cousin is due to face deposed heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko in a rematch at the Manchester Arena, is widely considered as an exciting prospect. Promoter Frank Warren believes his rapid development will see him demand a world title shot sooner rather than later.

"You've got to take your hat off to him," he said at a press conference. "This is a big moment for him on the 30th. If he gets out there and does what I believe he'll do, it then takes him forward. Within the next 12 months, I'll be very surprised if he's not fighting for a version of the world title."