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Vitali Klitschko quits boxing to run for president of Ukraine

Vitali Klitschko is leaving boxing behind for a nobler calling. (YURIY DYACHYSHYNYURIY DYACHYSHYN/AFP/Getty Images)

Vitali Klitschko vacated his WBC world heavyweight title on Monday in order to pursue something more important than sports.

Klitschko, a 42-year-old opposition leader in his native Ukraine, will quit fighting in order to run for president in 2015. He will be designated a champion emeritus, so that he would automatically get a title shot if he chose to resume his boxing career.

“I want to thank the WBC and its president, Don Jose Sulaiman, for the support in our fight for democracy and freedom in Ukraine,” Klitschko said (via ESPN). “It was and is a great honor to hold the WBC title, and I’ve always done it with pride. The offer of the WBC gives me the theoretical possibility to return to the boxing ring, which I cannot imagine at all to the current state.

“Right now, my full concentration is on politics in Ukraine, and I feel that the people need me there. My brother [and unified heavyweight champion] Wladimir will ensure more sporting success and I will, as always, support him as much as he currently supports me in my political fight.”

Klitschko, 45-2 with 41 knockouts, is a three-time heavyweight titleholder. Leader of the UDAR (which means “punch”) party, the now-former fighter known as Dr. Ironfist has ramped up his involvement in rallies recently in Kiev. Protesters in the capital, according to, “are demanding the government’s ouster after it failed last month to move ahead with an E.U. [European Union] integration deal, and their rallies have made the city’s Independence Square look like the site of medieval siege warfare.” At issue are economic reforms of the type that been so harsh in other countries. From Time:

[H]ow would Klitschko, whose approval ratings have already outpaced the incumbent President, avoid the same fate? Would he really risk his popularity to meet the demands of the IMF and its Western backers? “When a person is sick,” he says, “they are offered several types of treatment. One is surgery – this will be difficult and painful, but the patient will get better and be healthy. Or they can get a bunch of pills, which will address symptoms but do not guarantee recovery.” Turning pensive, he adds, “We are waiting for too long, we need to speed everything up.”

He believes he is the right man at the right time.

“This is not a revolution. It is a peaceful protest that demands justice,” Klitschko said in an Associated Press interview in early December. “The people are not defending political interests. They are defending the idea of living in a civilized country.”