By Ivan G. Goldman
WBC heavyweight titlist Vitali Klitschko was instrumental this weekend in preventing a peaceful protest in his native Ukraine from morphing into a full-fledged riot, a credible observer reported.
Vitali, a member of Parliament and a candidate in next year’s presidential election, broke through attackers heading for a line of police, “raised his arms and shouted at the top of his lungs for both sides to stop fighting,” reported Sergei L. Loiko, a Los Angeles Times correspondent on the scene in Kiev. Loiko’s account was published in Monday’s Times.
Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians came out on the streets after president Viktor Yanukovych walked away from a planned integration pact with the EU under pressure from Russia. “I am telling you, get back,” Klitschko shouted,” according to Loiko. Klitschko believed the government and its cops were looking for excuses to label the crowd members as rioters. Masked youths among the crowd who tried to foment violence may or may not have been employed by the government.
Loiko reported that Vitali, 42, shoved some of these youths back with “force,” and the tense crowd “began to reluctantly back up.” He was easy to spot because the 6-foot 7 fighter stood “two heads taller” than everyone else, Loiko said. Other political leaders who oppose the government then came forward and helped him persuade the crowd to refrain from violence.
Vitali, 45-2 (41 KOs), hasn’t defended his title since Sept. 9, 2012, when he stopped outclassed Manuel Charr in the fourth round. The WBC reportedly has given him until March 2014 to make a mandatory defense of his title against Bermane Stiverne. That would make 18 months without a fight. The WBC apparently cited Vitali’s involvement in Ukrainian politics and a hand injury for his generous treatment. the Times’s Loiko reported nothing about a hand injury as Vitali shoved the crowd back. At the last WBC convention Vitali gave a speech praising ailing WBC president-for-life Jose Sulaiman.
Ukraine’s pact with the European Union had been completed but not signed. Many if not most Ukrainians, especially the young, prefer to cast their lot with democratic Western Europe rather than the Russian dictatorship of Vladimir Putin. But Ukraine gets most of its natural gas from Russia, and shortages loom as a long, cold winter approaches.
Klitschko, leader of the Udar (Punch) Party, on Sunday called on Yanukovych and his government to resign because they had “stolen” Ukraine’s “dream.” Udar runs on a pro-European, anti-corruption platform. Ukrainian politics can be a very rough game. Parliamentary fistfights and free-for-alls are common, but so far Vitali, whose fists are pumpkin-sized, has kept his cool and refrained from using his physical advantages against his opponents.
Yulia Tymoshenko, the jailed former prime minister (the one with blond braids wrapped around her head) head of the Fatherland Party, is serving a seven-year sentence, technically for abuse of power and embezzlement, but perhaps more importantly, for being a thorn in the side of Yanukovych and his pals. The European Court on Human Rights said Tymoshenko’s arrest was politically motivated. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture reported that physical force has been used against her.
If they’ll torture a woman who gets in their way, these guys are not likely to be protective of the WBC champ. On the other hand, “Dr. Ironfist” may not be so easy to arrest.
Klitschko’s last opponent, Charr, a Lebanese fighting out of Germany, is scheduled to face James Toney (Yes, he’s still around) Dec. 20 in Hamburg. Vitali’s “little” brother Wladimir, who owns the other three major titles, won every round against a tremendously durable Alexander Povetkin in October in Moscow. The Klitschkos’ hold on the heavyweight division endures.
Goldman’s boxing novel The Barfighter, set in the boxing world, was nominated as a Notable Book by the American Library Association. Available online & at better bookstores everywhere. Information HERE