Saunders’ manager Frank Warren has even suggested that Lee could have to vacate the title if the champion and his team opt to fight another opponent.
It had been speculated that Lee was set to abandon his original plans for a homecoming fight in Dublin in March and instead take up a $1 million (€870,000) purse to defend his WBO world middleweight title Stateside against Peter Quillin in April.
However, neither plan will proceed if his mandatory challenger, Saunders, is unwilling to step aside, according to his manager, Frank Warren.
“There won’t be a voluntary defence unless Billy Joe Saunders is sorted out,” said Warren. “The bottom line of it is, as far as Bill’s concerned he wants to go straight to the fight [with Lee].
“We were looking to try and do something so that Andy could fight in Dublin on March 14, we all sort of in principle agreed to [that]. Then the Quillin fight was offered and everybody seems to think that Bill’s just going to step back and let that happen. That’s not going to be the case.”
Saunders was the mandatory challenger for the WBO before Lee claimed the belt but opted to fight Chris Eubank Jr, which allowed Lee to challenge for the vacant title.
While Saunders beat Eubank to retain his mandatory position, Lee claimed the world title last month.
Warren claimed that the fight between Lee and Saunders will now go to purse bids, which are expected to take place next week, with promotional rights for the bout going the highest bidder.
If such a scenario develops, Lee could be forced to travel to defend his title against Saunders in London, should Warren make the highest bid.
However, mandatory defences are often postponed if the mandatory challenger (in this case, Saunders) is financially compensated and/or guaranteed a future title shot.
Speaking yesterday, Warren claimed that he had yet to hear from Lee’s New York promoter Lou DiBella regarding talk of a Lee-Quillin fight date in the US. However, a spokesman for DiBella claimed that negotiations between Warren and DiBella are underway.