Heavyweight champion puts his hat in political ring


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The Independent Online

As Ukraine's political arena becomes ever more fractious and ill-tempered, a man who is better known for knocking his opponents to the ground is hoping to rise above the fray and unite his country. Vitali Klitschko, the WBC world heavyweight boxing champion, is building his own political party, and perhaps fancies himself as a future President.

The 40-year-old Mr Klitschko, pictured, who is still a professional boxer, heads Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, with the handy acronym Udar, or punch in Russian and Ukrainian. Nicknamed Dr Ironfist for his record in the ring, the boxer has never been knocked out.

He has been less successful in the political arena, losing mayoral elections in Kiev in 2006. But in recent months, the fortunes of Udar seem to be in the ascendancy, helped by the vaccuum left when former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a leader of the Orange Revolution and leading rival of President Viktor Yanukovych, was jailed last week.

"The main value of our party is to put people first, to give people a real choice," Mr Klitschko told i. "Most politicians in Ukraine seem to value money first, and put people second."

Mr Klitschko talks about honest politics. But in a country with extreme cynicism towards politicians, honesty is not a bad core message. Polls put his party in fourth place in the run-up to parliamentary elections next year.

Unlike most Ukrainian politicians, who travel with security, the 6ft 8in Mr Klitschko has no such plans. "If I had bodyguards it would be me protecting them, not the other way round," he says, with his only grin of the interview.

Klitschko fights twice a year, taking a month off from politics each time to train. The rest of the year he is devoted to politics, and limits the gym to an hour each morning.