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Champ Klitschko Leaves Boxing Fate To Ukraine's Voters

World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Vitaliy Klitschko at a press conference in Kyiv in January.
World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Vitaliy Klitschko at a press conference in Kyiv in January.
The reigning WBC heavyweight champion and Ukrainian boxing legend Vitaliy Klitschko has hinted at retirement from the ring after a final defense of his title in September against German Manuel Carr.

Half of the Klitschko Brothers duo that includes younger brother and fellow world champion Wladimir, the 40-year-old Vitaliy has been quoted by the BBC as saying that "holding a political office and being heavyweight champion at the same time are not compatible."

He adds that he will "decide on the future of my sporting career" after Ukraine's parliamentary elections, slated for October 28.

Ukraine's highly personal brand of politics -- prone to the kind of acrimony that compromised the legacy of the Orange Revolution and sparks brawls in the aisles of parliament -- can look a lot like more like the proverbial knife fight than a boxing match.

Witness the hail of eggs, smokebombs, and fists over the fate of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in April 2010:

Ukraine's Parliament Scuffles
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Then more recently there was the fistfight between lawmakers in May 2012 over a language bill:

Fracas In Ukraine Parliament Over Language Law
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I'm sure I'm missing other melees.

But the rough-and-tumble of Ukrainian politics is nothing new to Klitschko, dubbed "Dr. Ironfist" by boxing aficionados thanks to his doctorate. In 2006, he won a seat on the Kyiv city council and took over the leadership of a local political alliance that eventually morphed into his Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (known by the acronym UDAR, which is Ukrainian for "punch"). Two years later, he attracted nearly one in five votes in a mayoral election that he lost to on-again, off-again incumbent Leonid Chernovetskyy.

Pundits suggest UDAR is likely to clear the threshold for parliament and, in fact, could fare well in the voting in nearly four months' time -- even beyond the capital. A late-May poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology indicated strong support for Klitschko's party, placing it third behind the Party of Regions and All-Ukrainian Union–Fatherland.

Vitaliy Klitschko sizes up British opponent Dereck Chisora in a defense of his WBC World Heavyweight Championship title in Munich in February.
Vitaliy Klitschko sizes up British opponent Dereck Chisora in a defense of his WBC World Heavyweight Championship title in Munich in February.

"The Day," an online Ukrainian website, has quoted Ukrainian sociologist Yevhen Holovakha as saying that Klitschko and UDAR stand to gain considerably from voter frustration. He even goes so far as to say that "Klitschko will make or break the next parliament," adding, "It imposes responsibility on him and his team."

Said Holovakha:

He is very popular in Ukraine, he has positioned himself as a European politician. He has not disappointed anyone yet and has not compromised himself being at power. That is why people anchor their hopes in him since he is a politician of a new generation. I think that people believe that Klitschko will not be a corrupt politician, as he is independent, rich, and has experience living in the West. Certainly, being a popular boxer is one thing and being a politician is another. He has to live up to people’s hopes. Some time ago Tihipko’s rating was growing as well and then we all saw what it ended up with. People have been hoping for new politicians for a long time now, it is the main direction of the political life development in Ukraine. People who strive for changes share this opinion. Klitschko has a chance to become an all-national leader as well as Yatsenyuk, they just have to use their chance.

Klitschko's admirers in the West clearly extend beyond ringside, too. His appearance in November in the halls of power in Brussels sent European Union officials scurrying for their cameras and autograph books. The champ even demonstrated a deft diplomatic touch in blowing off Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele's request for a mock photo with both men on their guard, saying he "doesn't fight friends."

Klitschko's potential farewell fight is scheduled for September 8 in Moscow, incidentally, where pro-Western critics of President Viktor Yanukovych complain that too much influence over Ukrainian politics already lies.

Don't be surprised to see many in the West in Klitschko's corner less than two months later, when he goes toe-to-toe with the rest of the Ukrainian political establishment.

-- Andy Heil

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