Beyond the Ropes: Vitali Klitschko

By: Heath Harlem
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Ukraine’s Joe Louis’ Moment

 

Often sporting events are seen as something larger than they are, not just a game but something special with a greater impact on society.  While most of the time those feelings are a product of the media looking to sell their product, or fans desperately wanting to be part of something bigger than themselves, that wasn’t the case on June 22, 1938.  In June of 1938 Joe Louis stepped in the ring to avenge his loss against Max Schmeling.  Louis, who didn’t take preparations for his first fight seriously lost badly.  Nazi party officials who were in power at the time took Schmeling’s victory over the African American as of their doctrine of Aryan superiority.  Louis took the weight of the world into the ring that night in June, and in front of a radio audience around the world put Schmeling down 3 times, before Schmeling’s corner through in the towel and the German officials pulled the plug of the radio broadcast.  The win for Louis was much bigger than any championship; it made a huge political statement around the world.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Vitali Klitschko is going to be remembered as one of boxing’s all-time greats, but Klitschko’s goal is the be remembered for something much bigger.  Vitali has made it clear that he wants a legacy much bigger than anything that can be accomplished in the ring.  Next month Vitali Klitschko is on the ballot for parliament in his native Ukraine.  Klitschko has said that his goal is end corruption, political repression, as well as bring the values and quality of life that he has experienced in other parts of Europe and United States to his fellow countrymen.  While it is not unusual throughout the world for athletes to be involved politically helping causes they believe in, Vitali has taken it to a next level many have never seen before.  On July 4th Vitali was on the front lines in his hometown of Kiev protesting a recent bill that was passed that made Russian, not Ukrainian the official language of the Ukraine.  Government officials in an effort to end the protest sprayed tear gas before attacking with batons.  Klitschko who already had this fight with Charr scheduled, needed medical attention to treat a gash on his hand and for injuries suffered from being gassed by the government.

For generations Moscow had been seen as the epicenter of political repression.  In the early 90’s when the Soviet Union fell there was optimism that democracy and a better life for the Russian people would come as a result.  20 years later, the people of Russia have suffered through a long reign of the repressive president Vladimir Putin who used political corruption to maintain power.  Most of the freedoms the Russian people have hoped for 20 years ago don’t exist today under Putin.  This repression was shown to the world on August 3rd when 3 members of the all-female punk rock group were sentenced to 2 years in jail for hooliganism as a result of their performance of an Anti-Putin song.  This sentence sparked outrage throughout the western world.  However, the Russian government has been unaffected by the outside criticisms and has shown no indication that there will be changes anytime soon.

Two months after being injured in the front lines of the Russian language protest, one month after the sentencing of the Pussy Cat Riot singers, and one month before his election day Vitali Klitschko stepped in the ring in Moscow to defend is world championship for potentially the last time.  While nobody will ever confused Manuel Charr with an all-time boxing great, there was no doubt that Klitschko had more pressure on him than he had in any of his previous bouts.  Fighting in Moscow, in the capital city of his real life political opponents there were questions of how Vitali could keep focus.  Knowing his political opponents would like to see nothing more than him fail right in front of their own eyes, Klitschko put on his typical dominating performance.  He kept his opponent at bay with his superior skills, and ultimately winning by a 4th round TKO.

Like Louis in 1938 loosing wasn’t an option, as not only his fans, but his countrymen were looking for inspiration and a political statement with a dominating performance in front of a repressive political regime in Moscow.  Klitschko did not let his people down, and given the opportunity it appears that he may just be the leader that could drive the positive changes needed to improve the life of the 45 million people living in the Ukraine.  What many in America watched on Saturday night and saw as just another Vitali Klitschko dominating performance, may have actually been something much bigger.  This could have been Ukraine’s Joe Louis’ moment.

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