There now exists a path for Liam Smith to win a major title in a second weight division.
Just not a clear one.
A mandatory title fight has been ordered by the WBO calling for Liverpool’s Smith to enter talks with reigning middleweight titlist Janibek Alimkhanuly. The sanctioning body ordered the fight on Wednesday, with a 20-day negotiation period to work out terms before heading to a purse bid hearing.
“Please be advised that the parties herein are hereby ordered to commence negotiations for the subject matter bout,” WBO Championship Committee chairman Luis Batista-Salas stated to representatives for both boxers. “Failure to reach an agreement within the time provided herein will result in this Committee ordering purse bid proceedings pursuant to WBO Regulations of World Championship Contests.”
The minimum accepted bid is $200,00 for a WBO middleweight title fight.
Kazakhstan’s Alimkhanuly is promoted by Top Rank and managed by Egis Klimas, while Smith is signed to Ben Shalom’s BOXXER. The two sides frequently work together, which would make negotiations relatively smooth under normal circumstances.
However, the announcement comes shortly after Shalom acknowledged that Smith (33-3-1, 20KOs)—a former WBO junior middleweight titlist—is on the hook to honor a rematch clause recently executed by Chris Eubank Jr.
Smith scored a stunning fourth-round knockout in their celebrated middleweight grudge match on January 21 in. Manchester, England. Wasserman Boxing, Eubank’s promoter, recently contacted Boxxer to open dialogue for a second fight which is targeted for later this spring. The contractually bound rematch would functionally kill any plans for Smith to pursue a title shot, even one mandated by a sanctioning body.
That is, of course, if he’s interested in the fight.
Alimkhanuly (13-0, 8KOs) has been down this road before, having spent all of 2022 unsuccessfully pursuing showdowns with fellow unbeaten middleweights Demetrius Andrade and Jaime Munguia.
Andrade twice sidestepped ordered title fights with the undefeated Kazakh boxer during his WBO middleweight title reign. The 2008 U.S. Olympian and two-division titleholder was able to delay a mandatory title defense to instead enter an approved interim WBO super middleweight title fight versus Zach Parker last May 21 in Derby, England. The event was canceled after Andrade suffered a shoulder injury requiring surgery.
The development left him on the hook to revisit a mandatory title defense versus Alimkhanuly. The reordered bout was a title consolidation contest by that point. Alimkhanuly advanced from challenger to interim WBO middleweight titlist following a second-round knockout of unbeaten fringe contender Danny Dignum last May 21 in Las Vegas. The matchup came about after Munguia—through Zanfer Boxing and Golden Boy Promotions—passed on the ordered fight.
Andrade abandoned talks and the title altogether, relinquishing the belt last summer to instead campaign at super middleweight.
Alimkhanuly was upgraded to full title status, having lodged his first defense in a twelve-round, unanimous decision victory over England’s Denzel Bentley last November 12 in Las Vegas. Shortly thereafter, the WBO ordered a mandatory title defense versus Munguia, whose team once again passed on the opportunity.
Smith won the WBO junior middleweight title in October 2015 and made two successful defenses. His reign ended in a September 2016 ninth-round knockout to Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. The belt was later claimed by Tijuana’s Munguia, who successfully outpointed Smith in a July 2018 title defense.
Smith has since won seven of his last eight starts. The lone defeat was a disputed twelve-round, unanimous decision in favor of Magomed Kurbanov in their May 2021 regional title fight in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Four wins have followed, including a tenth-round stoppage of former two-division titlist Jessie Vargas on the Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano DAZN undercard last April 30 in New York City, along with the aforementioned knockout of Eubank.
Interestingly, Munguia (41-0, 33KOs) remains the next highest ranked challenger should Smith have to pass on the opportunity due to his contractually bound rematch with Eubank. In the event that the third time proves unlucky, next in line would be Kazakhstan’s Meiirim Nursultanov (18-0, 10KOs).
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox