- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Even at age 41 and after 16 years as a professional fighter, heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko still enjoys boxing as much as ever and still takes his craft very seriously. But Klitschko also sees the end of his career creeping closer and closer, and he has developed a new passion for his burgeoning political career in his native Ukraine.
Klitschko finds some similarities in boxing and politics, both of which are rough games.
"In politics and sports, you need teamwork," he said. "In sport, my brother [fellow heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko] and I are successful because we built a very good team. If you want to be the best, you have to work with the best. In sport, we have the best trainers, we have the best lawyers. We built a good team. That's why we are very successful, and we spend a lot of time working with a good team.
"Same teamwork in politics. You have to work with the best. I am not the best politician and I don't have as much experience as some politicians, but we are building it. My main task is to build a good professional team in politics and to find very good people to help the people of my country."
Although politics dominates much of Klitschko's time these days, he did find time to train for his upcoming fight, describing the rigors of training camp in the mountains of Austria in a way that is unheard of -- as a vacation.
"Right now, boxing for me is just a vacation," he said. "I enjoy boxing. I enjoy the time in training camp. It's like vacation for me. I make my vacation in training camp, but I will not be fighting so much longer. I like boxing very much. I enjoy every minute of training camp, but I am active in politics.
"I use this time because it's vacation time in politics in the summer and I spent it in training camp. After this, it is time for the election."
Klitschko, who serves on the Kiev city council, is running for a seat in Ukraine's parliament. The elections are scheduled for Oct. 28. He said he expects a tough fight on his hands to win the seat.
On Saturday, Klitschko (44-2, 40 KOs) will have a different kind of fight on his hands when he makes his ninth title defense, stepping into the ring against Germany's little-known and untested Manuel Charr (21-0, 11 KOs) at Olimpiyskiy Arena in Moscow. The fight will be televised in the United States on tape delay on HBO (9:45 p.m.), prior to live coverage of Andre Ward's super middleweight championship defense against light heavyweight champ Chad Dawson and the co-feature of lightweight titlist Antonio DeMarco defending against mandatory challenger John Molina Jr. at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., Ward's hometown.
The Klitschko brothers will also be featured in their documentary, "Klitschko," which has been seen in movie theaters in Europe and in limited release in the United States but makes its television debut earlier Saturday on HBO (5:30 p.m. ET/PT). The two-hour documentary chronicles their lives inside and outside the ring, including a look at Vitali's political career.
Klitschko is far more interested in talking about his political goals than discussing his fight with Charr. He has already accomplished everything he wants to in boxing.
Once he is done in the ring, which could be after the Charr fight -- if Klitschko wins the parliament seat, he might retire -- politics is his future, he said.
He would not go so far as to say that the Charr fight would be his finale, even though there has been much speculation about it.
"Let's see," he said. "First of all, I have to win the parliament election. Step by step by step. After that, I can give you an answer. Right now, there are many discussions about [retirement]. I'm not ready to announce about my retirement. Maybe one fight, maybe two fights more. And after that, I am retired. I am active in politics."
Win or lose the election, Klitschko said he wants to dedicate himself even more than he has in recent years to reforming the government in Ukraine, which he calls "the most corrupt country in the world."
He has been around politics for years, but he became much more interested in it when he and his wife and children left Los Angeles, where they had been living, and returned to Ukraine.
Klitschko immediately became involved in the political arena. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Kiev, the capital of the country, in 2006. That same year, he also was elected to city council.
Two years ago, Klitschko was one of the founders of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms, a political party he said was determined to clean up government corruption and give ordinary people a fair shake that Klitschko said they do not have now.
"We want to build democracy in Ukraine," Klitschko said.
According to the UDAR platform, the party's vision is "to liberate the citizens from excessive state control and to limit government intervention into private life. A citizen, not an official, must be the pinnacle of the state pyramid. The government apparatus must serve the citizens and be fully controlled by them."
Klitschko said the party is growing because there are so many in Ukraine disenchanted by the lack of opportunities and immense government control over many aspects of people's daily lives. He has tried to work on the problems as part of the city council.
"It's tough job, to be honest," he said. "I have learned lessons about Ukrainian politics and I want to make changes in Ukraine. I am not alone. Together, me and many other people, we have a vision. We are fighting for changes in Ukraine and real democracy in Ukraine."
Klitschko made Ukrainian politics sound very similar to how some view the business of boxing.
"In Ukraine, you can buy everyone," he said. "You can buy every position, every judge, you buy every court decision. The biggest enemy to democracy is that there are no clear rules and so much corruption. Ukrainian politics is simple business, and we have to change that. It's painful to say that Ukraine is the most corrupt country in world, and we need to change that. We are for more democracy, freedom of speech.
"We are trying to bring to Ukraine new value to politics. In Ukraine, we see the people in power and it's exactly the same for so many years and nothing changes. Other places have made huge progress -- Poland, Hungary. In Ukraine, a couple of people control all the economy and there's a difference between very rich and very poor. We have a young generation in Ukraine where 70 percent of them have a dream to leave the country. We have to change the future."
Klitschko said that in the three years the UDAR has been in existence it has risen to the No. 3 party in the country and continues to grow.
With his boxing career -- one that obviously will end in his election to the Hall of Fame -- drawing to a close, Klitschko said he will keep up the fight outside of the ring for his people.
"Sports gave me a chance to open the window in life," he said. "I've spent a lot of time in Germany and the United States, and I want to make the same kind of life for people in the Ukraine that I see so many people have in those places. We are far away from the European standards in Ukraine. It is my main task, my mission, to make life better in Ukraine so it can be like what I experienced in the United States and Europe. So my future is in politics.
"I've spent six years in Ukrainian politics and a lot of time and energy. It's not a game. I am very serious. I have long-range plans for this. I want to help my people. I want to help my country."