FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Vitali Klitschko is leaving boxing to concentrate on Ukrainian politics and his role as an opposition leader.
Klitschko vacated his WBC world heavyweight title on Monday and said he doesn't expect to fight again as he pursues a presidential bid in his home country. The World Boxing Council proclaimed Klitschko a "Champion Emeritus," a move that would allow him to challenge the new champion directly should he wish to resume his career.
"This offer makes it theoretically possible to return to the ring, which I cannot imagine at all happening as things stand now," Klitschko said in a statement. "I am now concentrating on the politics in Ukraine, I feel people need me there."
Klitschko is a lawmaker and chairman of the opposition party Udar (Punch) and intends to run for president in 2015. Massive crowds have demonstrated for weeks in Kiev to protest President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to shun closer ties with the European Union and push his country toward Russia.
Klitschko has taken an active part in the rallies, urging his countrymen to continue their fight to turn the ex-Soviet republic into a genuine Western democracy. "This is not a revolution. It is a peaceful protest that demands justice," Klitschko told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this month. "The people are not defending political interests. They are defending the idea of living in a civilized country."
The 42-year-old Klitschko has a 45-2 record, with 41 KOs. His younger brother Wladimir holds the other significant heavyweight belts. "My brother Wladimir will be responsible for further sporting successes," the older Klitschko said Monday.
Vitali has fought since September 2012, when he made the 10th defense of his belt with a fourth-round stoppage of previously unbeaten Manuel Charr. "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. Accordingly, Vitali will not be able to provide the WBC with a predictable time-frame to return to the ring," the WBC said. "In other words, under his new distinction (Champion Emeritus), Klitschko will, in essence, retire with the option of being able to return to the ring at any time and be eligible to fight for the title against the reigning belt holder."
The WBC said it will soon determine the top two fighters to participate in an eliminator bout that will yield the successor to Klitschko's vacant title. The WBC's next highest-ranked heavyweights, are, in order from 1-to-3, mandatory challenger Bermane Stiverne, Chris Arreola and Deontay "The Bronze Bomber" Wilder.
AP writer Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this report.