Vitali Klitschko, the 42-year-old former world heavyweight boxing champion, was never knocked down in his 47 professional fights, of which he lost only two. But he suffered three defeats at the polls before finally winning the election as Mayor of Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev on Sunday.
Klitschko had originally planned to run for the Ukraine presidency in the country’s first election since massive anti-government protests earlier this year ousted President Viktor Yuschenko amid charges of corruption and his use of brutal, often deadly tactics to counter the protests.
When Yuschenko first ran for president in 2004, Vitali Klitschko supported him. But the former boxing king soon became disillusioned with the president he had backed, and last November he quit boxing while still holding a portion of the heavyweight championship to return to Ukraine and become a leader of the anti-Yuschenko uprising.
After the Russian-backed Yuschenko left the country in February and the elections previously scheduled for 2015 were moved to May of this year, Klitschko withdrew his presidential candidacy to support billionaire chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko, the favorite and eventual winner.
Instead, Vitali Klitschko ran for Mayor of Kiev, an office he had unsuccessfully sought in 2006, 2008, and 2012. But Klitschko was elected to the Kiev City Council as well as to the Ukraine parliament.
Klitschko ran on a platform of political reform, pledging to end corruption.
“All change will begin in Kiev,” the 6’7″, 250-pound former boxer declared, claiming victory Sunday once exit polls showed him with a solid 57 percent of the city’s vote. These elections are very important for Klitschko,” Kiev political expert Volodymyr Fesenko told AFP News Service. “His success on this job will determine his political future.”
Holding a Ph.D. in sports science, Vitali Klitschko was known by the nickname “Dr. Ironfist” in his boxing career, during which his only two losses came due to injuries.
He quit on his stool due to a shoulder injury in a 2000 bout against American Chris Byrd. Then, in his most memorable bout — a 2003 championship fight against then-reigning heavyweight king Lennox Lewis — Klitschko was declared a technical knockout loser when doctors ruled that a gruesome cut above his eye was too dangerous for him to continue.
Though Vitali Klitschko lost that fight, many boxing observers believed he was on his way to defeating Lewis, and Klitschko’s angry protests when doctors would not let him continue — despite an eyelid that was almost detached from his face — established his credentials as a tough guy in the eyes of the boxing public.
As Kiev mayor, Vitali Klitschko now assumes one of the most influential positions in Ukraine politics.