Updated 01:20 PM EST, Mon, Mar 01, 2021

Vitali Klitschko Vacates Boxing Heavyweight Title to Pursue Career in Ukrainian Politics (video)

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World Boxing Council heavyweight champion (WBC) Vitali Klitschko has vacated his championship title to pursue a political career in Ukraine, where the country is embroiled in civil unrest after President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a proposal that would have given the nation closer ties with the European Union (EU).

The WBC has now ranked Klitschko champion emeritus, giving the former heavyweight champion an automatic title shot should he return to the squared circle.

"With the current extreme and delicate political situation in the Ukraine, Vitali has answered his country's call to fight for human rights and equality," said the WBC in a statement. "Accordingly, Vitali will not be able to provide the WBC with a predictable time frame to return to the ring. In light of those considerations, the WBC voted unanimously to name Vitali Klitschko WBC heavyweight champion emeritus. Very few great fighters have received such an honorable distinction, which will entitle Vitali to fight for the WBC heavyweight world championship when he is ready to return to the ring."

Boxing has not been a priority for Klitschko, who has been heavily involved in the protests that have spread across Kiev, uniting with anti-Yanukovych allies to peacefully rally protesters against the government's rejection of the EU deal as well as the rampant corruption that has plagued the country.

Klitschko, a three-time heavyweight champion with a career record of 45-2 with 41 knockouts, last defended his title September 2012, in Moscow, against Manuel Charr and was scheduled to fight Bermane Stiverne but kept postponing setting up the mandatory title defense while focusing on the political issues dividing Ukraine.

Stiverne (23-1-1, 20 KOs) will face Cristobal Arreola (36-3, 31 KOs), the top two contenders in the WBC's heavyweight rankings, to determine who will be the new champion, though Klitschko did say that he hopes his brother, Wladimir - the unified heavyweight champion - goes after the only belt currently not in his sibling's possession.

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

Ukraine has been in political turmoil since Yanukovych's vetoed signing an EU's trade-and-political accord which would have paved the way for the country to cut ties with Russia. Moscow had threatened their former Soviet ally with economic trade sanctions if the signed the EU agreement, including imposing trade restrictions on Ukraine as it appeared they were going to sign the pact.

Yanukovych, who supports the country having stronger political and economic relations with Russia than with the EU, signed a bailout package with Russia on Tuesday, estimated to be worth $20 billion - the richest economic package Moscow has offered to any country. The deal gives Ukraine loans to repair and spur economic growth, with Russia buying $15 million worth in Eurobonds - as well as supplying Ukraine with cheaper natural gas from the state-owned OAO Gazprom at a discount rate.

"Ukraine's trade with Russia makes it impossible for us to act in any other way," said Pres. Yanukovych. "There is no alternative to this."

Klitschko, who won Ukrainian parliament seat on pro-Western, political reform, and anti-corruption platforms under the UDAR (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform and translates to "Punch" in English) political party and will seek to run for the country's presidency, believes that the new deal Yanukovych signed with Moscow will be detrimental for the country and is calling for an early election. Klitschko, who has become a voice for the protesters, is currently ahead in the polls over Yanukovich and has garnered the support of foreign officials such as German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and United States Senator John McCain.

"He has given up Ukraine's national interests, given up independence and prospects for a better life for every Ukrainian," said Klitschko to protestors on Kiev's Independence Square. "He (Yanukovich) is my personal opponent. I am challenging him in the ring."

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