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Sports

Heavyweight champ-turned politician, Klitschko hangs up the gloves

World heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko is hanging up his gloves to pursue politics full time. Klitschko has said he intends to be a candidate in Ukraine’s next presidential election.

Vitali Klitschko, who until Monday held the World Boxing Council's (WBC) heavyweight title, said in a statement that he was vacating the crown to concentrate on his role as a leading member of the opposition in his native Ukraine, and an eventual bid to unseat President Viktor Yanukovych.

"It was and is a great honor to hold the WBC title and I've always done it with pride," the former champ said.

"Right now, my full concentration is on politics in Ukraine, and I feel that the people need me there. My brother Wladimir will ensure more sporting success and I will - as always - support him as much as he currently supports me in my political fight," he added, referring to his younger brother, who holds the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO versions of the world heavyweight title.

'Champion emeritus'

The WBC responded by declaring Vitali Klitschko a "champion emeritus," a status that would give him an immediate shot at regaining the title, should he decide to return to the ring.

Klitschko thanked the WBC for the gesture, but at the age of 42 said there was little chance he would lace up the gloves in the future.

"This offer makes it theoretically possible to return to the ring, which I cannot imagine at all happening as things stand now," he said.

Klitschko bows out of the ring with a record of 45 wins, 41 of which came via knockouts, with just two defeats. The three-time heavyweight champion hasn't stepped into the ring since September 2012, when he defeated Manuel Charr.

Klitschko, an opposition lawmaker, has been taking an active role in mass rallies in Kyiv over the past couple of weeks to protest against a decision by President Yanukovych not to sign an association agreement with the European Union.

Many suspect pressure from the Kremlin was behind the decision, but various Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have denied this.

pfd/jr (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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