- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Junior featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz and top contender Carl Frampton have expressed interest in fighting each other in what many would expect to be an action-packed fight. While it may have just been talk in recent months, the path is now there for it to happen.
Frampton will face Hugo Cazares in a world title elimination bout on April 4 (BoxNation in the United Kingdom) at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland, with the winner becoming Santa Cruz's mandatory challenger.
"Hugo Cazares is a former two-weight world champion from Mexico who brings a lot of experience and skill with him. I can't wait to get back in front of the amazing Belfast crowd and secure my shot at the WBC world title," Frampton said. "I have progressed so much in the last 12 months, both in the boxing ring and out of it, and I believe that the next 12 months will bring me even more success and, more importantly, the world title.
"It's fantastic to be boxing at home for the fourth consecutive time and to be fighting a former two-weight world champion in a final eliminator for the world title."
The fight was announced at a news conference on Thursday in Belfast, Frampton's hometown.
"April the 4th is my chance to put myself back on the world stage," Cazares said through a translator. "I am a former champion and I have fought all over the world, so going to Belfast is no problem for me. Frampton is a very good fighter but no one can stand in my way on my journey back to a world title."
The 26-year-old Frampton (17-0, 12 KOs) knocked out Kiko Martinez in the ninth round last February to win the European title at 122 pounds and then watched as Martinez got a shot at a one of the world titles -- and won it -- in August. Frampton then knocked out Jeremy Parodi in the sixth round in October in a European title defense.
Frampton, who has relinquished the European title, had hoped for a rematch with Martinez with a world title on the line. But Martinez went in another direction, leading to the prospect of a Santa Cruz fight.
Santa Cruz, who said he wanted to fight Frampton following a Dec. 14 title defense, also has a fight coming up before a match with Frampton can be made. Santa Cruz is scheduled for a title defense against former titlist Cristian Mijares on March 8 (Showtime PPV) in Las Vegas on the Canelo Alvarez-Alfredo Angulo undercard.
"Leo Santa Cruz has said he wants to fight Carl after he defends against Cristian Mijares. We have spoken to [Santa Cruz promoter] Golden Boy and they are very interested in the fight, but [Frampton] must beat Cazares or that opportunity disappears," said Barry McGuigan, the Hall of Fame former featherweight champion, whose Cyclone Promotions promotes Frampton and is putting on the fight with Cazares.
Cazares (40-7-2, 27 KOs), a 35-year-old southpaw from Mexico, stands in Frampton's way. He is a former junior flyweight and junior bantamweight titleholder whose previous four bouts have been in the junior featherweight division.
Cazares has won five fights in a row since losing his junior bantamweight belt by split decision to Tomonobu Shimizu in Japan in August 2011.
"In Hugo Cazares, Carl faces a very experienced man who has been there and done it," McGuigan said. "He has won world titles in two weight divisions, including winning his second away from home in Japan [against Nobuo Nashiro in 2010], so he is no stranger to partisan crowds. Carl will have to be at his best to beat this man and I believe he will, convincingly, and in doing so Carl will become the mandatory challenger to Leo Santa Cruz."
4dMalik Smith, ESPN Stats & Information