By Sean Crose
Perhaps you’ve seen the pictures. There he is, Vitali “Dr. Ironfist” Klitschko, standing amidst an angry throng in Kiev this past weekend; battling protestors, being attacked with a fire extinguisher, looking ready to die for his beliefs. Thing is, Klitschko may indeed die if he continues putting himself in the way of danger like he has recently.
Not so long ago, Klitschko stood accused of being boring. No one can call the former heavyweight champion boring now. Whatever one may think of the man or his politics, it’s impossible not to respect his courage and willingness to literally risk his own neck for what he believes is the good of his country.
For those unaware of the elder Klitschko’s saga, the 42 year old recently abandoned the WBC heavyweight title in order to be a major player in the politics of his native Ukraine. Needless to say, the Ukraine is now in a state of serious flux. The current president, Viktor Yanukovych, wants his homeland to be closer, both politically and ideologically, to Russia. This is a major turn off to many Ukrainians, and particularly to Klitschko, who has clearly seen how much greener the grass is in the world of capitalist democracies.
Yet president Yanukovych is not one for dissent, and he obviously aims to quell the voices of opposition. Hence the unrest which is now being reported in international news outlets, unrest that Klitschko himself is trying to quell. The man is right to oppose the violence, of course. For violence in these moments should be avoided, if at all possible. The last thing the Ukraine or any other country on earth needs is chaos in its streets.
Yet Klitschko is a big man, and potentially a big target for those who would wish to remove him from the Ukrainian political scene. Seeing those pictures of Klitschko in the heat of this past weekend’s riot, it’s hard not to get a sinking feeling.
Still, the guy knows what he’s getting himself into. Besides, if there weren’t people with Klitschko’s courage throughout history, the world as we know it would be a very, very dark place. By turning away from boxing, the Ukrainian has turned himself into a larger than life figure.
In this sense, he’s got something in common with Muhammad Ali. This has been stated before, of course, but it’s worth noting that even Ali – brave though he was was – didn’t expose himself to the kind of danger Klitschko has. Running down the line of former heavyweight titlists, perhaps only Jack Johnson was ever in as much risk of dying for his principals. Johnson survived the tumult of his time. Will Vitali?
The odds are likely that he will. One never knows, however. A man who steps out into the streets to challenge an angry mob of one hundred thousand greatly ups the chances of having grave physical harm inflicted upon him. Besides, Klitschko doesn’t just try to calm down the crowds, he physically battles them – with his own two hands.
Strength and aggressiveness leads to victory in the ring. Out in the street it can get you killed. The protestors Klitschko is battling can use more than just fire extinguishers, after all. If things turn truly violent, all the boxing skill in the world won’t save Dr. Ironfist from victimhood. Again, though, this is something that the man is clearly aware of.
It’s worth noting that the WBC will allow Klitschko to fight to regain his heavyweight title if and whenever he wants to. The way things are going right now, a heavyweight title fight might seem like a luxury to the man.