Vitali Klitschko has gotten himself into the fight of the year.
Granted, this seems to be a slow year for boxing, but Klitschko’s role in the current bloodbath that is Ukrainian politics is greatly expanding the Klitschko brothers’ ultimate standing in boxing history, more than whatever transpires in boxing rings this calendar year will enhance anyone else.
Vitali is a leader of the Democratic Alliance for Reform, a westward-leaning progressive faction that wants Ukraine to join the European Union, where most of the continent’s economic clout emanates, and generally cop a more European image at home and abroad.
The current leaders are in cahoots with Russia and Vladimir Putin, who aim to be the kingpins of a Eurasian version of the E.U., which to progressives sounds about as appealing as driving a Trabant to a Miss Iron Curtain beauty contest, circa 1974.
The Klitschko brothers, with their twin heavyweight titles and PhDs, epitomize a quest to identify Ukraine as a first-world country instead of a drab second-world locale.
Dislodging the incumbents is somewhat akin to supplanting Big Oil with renewable energy in the United States. In fact, Putin is helping the incumbents soothe their populace with cheap oil and with propaganda that wins over the proletariat much the same way low taxes sway America’s right wing.
But Klitschko’s side has made significant popular inroads, as the government proved by enacting restrictions on free speech and freedom of assembly that have triggered this week’s disturbances and caused dozens of deaths.
Klitschko, 42, still held the WBC heavyweight title as of December 2013, when he relinquished it to concentrate on his current preoccupation. Brother Wladimir holds the other three titles and is recognized as THE champion. The brothers were a two-headed heavyweight champion for more than five years, from 2008-2013, longer than the U.S. was involved in World War II.
Obviously, Vitali is an attractive candidate for president in 2015 if Ukrainian residency rules don’t K.O. his candidacy. But even if they do, this week’s events have made him as important to his country as its president.
He was safer in the squared circle with Lennox Lewis. Others have become martyrs in less auspicious circumstances than his current ones.
Whether it comes to that or not, the Klitschkos have been underappreciated all these years in boxing, but as they round out their careers and continue to distinguish themselves, their legacies are becoming undeniable.