- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Heavyweight titlist Vitali Klitschko has a right hand injury and will not fight for the remainder of the year, angering mandatory challenger Bermane Stiverne, who has been awaiting a title shot after winning two elimination bouts.
The Klitschko and Stiverne camps have been negotiating the fight for months, but, unable to make a deal, the WBC, which sanctions the title Klitschko holds, ordered a purse bid. However, three different times it has allowed the purse bid to be postponed. Now it is off indefinitely.
Further, the WBC has no plans to rule on the situation until at least the first quarter of 2014, leaving Stiverne extremely frustrated.
"I would hate to think the WBC treats some fighters more highly than others," Stiverne said. "I don't understand. [Timothy] Bradley was stripped when he was injured, but I've read that the WBC would never strip Vitali. Do they have favorites? All fighters should be treated the same. We haven't heard anything directly from the WBC. The WBC isn't respecting us or its own rules.
"I remember when [then-heavyweight titleholder Oleg] Maskaev was hurt before his fight with [Sam] Peter, and Peter was named the WBC interim champion. This isn't fair or respectful, and it's bad for boxing."
The uncertainty of when Klitschko will fight again -- or even whether he will fight again -- and the lengthy delay in a mandatory defense that is due has Camille Estephan of Eye of the Tiger Management, which manages Stiverne, pushing for Klitschko to be stripped of the title. Stiverne then potentially could fight the highest available contender for the vacant title or be named interim titleholder, which would mean Klitschko would be obligated to face him in his first fight back.
The WBC has a lengthy history of stripping injured fighters who are unable to make mandatory defenses, including super middleweight champion Andre Ward just a few months ago. But, contrary to its usual operating procedure, it has not considered stripping Klitschko.
"[Klitschko] hasn't defended his title in almost a year, and now it'll be much longer if we have to wait for the WBC to even make a decision about the status of its heavyweight title," Estephan said. "This is totally unacceptable. The credibility of the sport is at stake.
"Bermane has done everything required and more to get his world title shot. Two winning title eliminators, three postponed purse bids, and now this. Why should he continue to be penalized for Vitali not defending his belt? I expect the WBC board of governors to do the right thing, now, and immediately. We've waited long enough."
Estephan pointed out that it has been nearly two years since Klitschko has made a mandatory defense -- in September 2011 against Tomasz Adamek -- when they are due annually.
"Klitschko has been a great champion and ambassador of boxing, but a true world champion has to defend his title in the ring, not keep it because of politics," Estephan said. "He won't fight until 2014 but he should be stripped for not defending his title, or step aside to allow Bermane to fight for the interim belt. The heavyweight division is the flagship of boxing but, we haven't had one world heavyweight champion because the Klitschko brothers [Wladimir and Vitali] won't fight each other, of course, but Vitali not defending his title adds insult to the heavyweight division."
On April 27, Stiverne (23-1, 20 KOs) dropped Cristobal Arreola in the third round, badly broke his nose and cruised to a lopsided unanimous decision in a final eliminator designed to produce Klitschko's mandatory challenger. In 2011, Stiverne knocked out Ray Austin in the 10th round of a semifinal eliminator. Klitschko (45-2, 41 KOs), who turned 42 on July 19, has made nine title defenses but has not fought since scoring a fourth-round knockout of Manuel Charr last September and won't fight again until at least the first part of next year.
He was in Mexico recently to meet with the WBC about the mandatory situation and explained that he had injured his right hand training and would be unable to make a defense this year. According to the WBC, Klitschko said he hopes he won't need surgery but that his hand was "swollen and puffy below the wrist with a mouselike lump."
The Klitschko camp declined comment.
Klitschko, deeply involved in politics in his native Ukraine as the leader of a political party there, is considering running for president of the country in 2015 and has talked for the past year about retiring from boxing.