The stakes for Mairis Briedis and Marco Huck are even greater now.
The cruiserweight contenders are scheduled to fight Saturday at Westfalenhalle in Dortmund, Germany, but instead of boxing for a vacant interim world title the real thing will be at stake.
The WBC on Tuesday announced that it has vacated its world title, reclassified titleholder Tony Bellew as a "champion emeritus" and sanctioned Briedis-Huck for its vacant title.
"The WBC hereby confirms that the fight between Mairis Briedis and Marco Huck will be for the WBC cruiserweight championship of the world and the winner will abide by the ruling of the WBC board regarding the mandatory defenses," the sanctioning organization said in a statement.
Bellew (29-2-1, 19 KOs), 34, of England, won the vacant 200-pound title by third-round knockout of Ilunga "Junior" Makabu in May 2016 and defended it in October, scoring a third-round knockout of B.J. Flores. However, Bellew then got the opportunity for a big-money fight at heavyweight against countryman David Haye, a former cruiserweight and heavyweight titleholder, and they met in a bitter grudge match on March 4 in London.
Because Bellew would not be available to defend his cruiserweight title for several months, the WBC agreed to allow Briedis, Bellew's mandatory challenger, and Huck, the next leading available contender, to fight for the interim belt with the stipulation that the winner would have to fight Bellew should he return to the cruiserweight division.
In a huge upset, Bellew stopped Haye, who had ruptured his Achilles tendon, in the 11th round. Coming off such a big victory, Bellew is likely to remain at heavyweight and seek another lucrative fight.
"Tony Bellew has become a major attraction in the heavyweight division and is at this moment uncertain of his next steps following his life-changing victory," the WBC said. "Tony Bellew has expressed his absolute honor and pride to be the WBC cruiserweight champion of the world and has represented the WBC in the best way possible during his reigning as a champion.
"This scenario might keep him from defending his cruiserweight title in some time, reason for which the WBC Board of Governors unanimously voted to designate (Bellew) as emeritus champion of the world, which grants him the right to fight for the cruiserweight championship at any given time with full support from the WBC while maintaining his rights as world champion."
In other words, should Bellew elect to return to cruiserweight he could have a title shot in his first fight back in the division.
The big-punching Briedis (21-0, 18 KOs), 32, of Latvia, is coming off a third-round knockout of Simon Vallily in October in a fight that was on the undercard of Bellew's defense against Flores. Briedis and Bellew agreed to a deal for Briedis to step aside to allow Bellew to face Flores instead of making the mandatory defense.
Huck (40-3-1, 27 KOs), 32, of Germany, was the dominant cruiserweight in the world from 2009 to 2015, making a division-record-tying 13 title defenses before getting knocked out in the 11th round in a major upset by Poland's Krzysztof Glowacki in August 2015. Huck has won both of his fights since, a 10th-round knockout of rival Ola Afolabi in their fourth fight 13 months ago and a unanimous decision against Dmytro Kucher in November.