The stakes have been raised for the upcoming fight between former junior middleweight world titleholder Liam Smith and Liam Williams.
Due to meet on April 8 at Manchester Arena in Manchester, England, on the undercard of lightweight titlist Terry Flanagan (32-0, 13 KOs) defending against Petr Petrov (38-4-2, 19 KOs), the Smith-Williams bout was upgraded on Thursday to be for the WBO interim junior middleweight title.
Mexican star Canelo Alvarez knocked out Smith in the ninth round in September to take the 154-pound belt from him, but he has not defended the title and likely never will.
Alvarez is scheduled to fight Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at a catch weight of 164.5 pounds on May 6 in Las Vegas. He then plans to campaign in the 160-pound middleweight division as he looks ahead to a showdown with unified champion Gennady Golovkin.
That will leave the Smith-Williams winner to eventually be elevated to a full titleholder once Alvarez formally vacates. If Alvarez elects to return to junior middleweight, he would be obligated to face the Smith-Williams winner.
"I am delighted to have delivered this opportunity for these two outstanding fighters," said promoter Frank Warren, who successfully petitioned the WBO to sanction the bout. "This fight has all the ingredients to be a fight of the year contender, and now, with the added prize of the interim belt, there is more than just pride on the line for both.
"It is well documented that Canelo has plans to step up in weight, and that could well see the winner of this becoming a recognized world champion. It's a great all-domestic clash that I don't think will go the distance. They are going to come out swinging, and it will be exciting while it lasts."
Smith (24-1-1, 13 KOs), 28, of England, defended his world title twice before losing it to Alvarez. Smith rebounded with a victory in a four-round tune-up fight on March 18 in Spain.
"I'm delighted that Frank has delivered this opportunity," Smith said. "I'd like to thank my management team and the WBO president Francisco 'Paco' Valcarcel for keeping faith in me. I said I would be a world champion again in 2017, and this is my opportunity.
"The winner of this is a world champion in waiting. I don't think Canelo has any intention of defending the 154-pound world title. This is a win-win situation for me. If I beat Liam Williams, I'll be in an unbelievable position again. If Canelo decides to defend his belt, I think I could do a million times better against him in a rematch. It was well publicized that I had the worst training camp of my career heading into that fight. He's a world class fighter, and I want to test myself against elite fighters. If not, there are huge fights against the likes of Miguel Cotto out there for me. First and foremost, I have to beat Liam Williams on April 8."
Williams (16-0-1, 11 KOs), 24, of Wales, has yet to face a recognizable opponent and will be taking a big step up in competition against Smith.
"This is a massive opportunity for me," Williams said. "It is a huge fight and a brilliant chance for me to propel my name to the top of the sport. This is going to be a proper fight, and I'm delighted that Frank keeps on delivering these opportunities for me.
"There are some huge fights out there for me if I deliver. ... I was already massively motivated for the Smith fight, but this has given me another big boost. I've been working towards an opportunity like this all of my career, and I'll be bringing that belt back to Wales with me."