Champion Boxer Vitali Klitschko's Next Fight Could Be for President of Ukraine

PHOTO: Ukrainian opposition leader and head of the UDAR (Punch) party Vitaly Klitschko (L) addresses anti-government protesters outside the Ukrainian Parliament building in Kiev, Feb. 22, 2014.
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A world champion boxer who once lived in Los Angeles and whose brother is engaged to "Nashville" actress Hayden Panettiere is expected to make a run for the Ukrainian presidency this spring, following months of turmoil in the country.

Vitali Klitschko led the opposition party in Ukraine during months of protests in 2013 and early this year that culminated last week with the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich.

He helped arrange a deal with parliament to move up elections from 2015 to May of this year and is expected to be a front runner for president.

In politics, Klitschko has come to represent the group of Ukrainians who seek closer ties with the West and a relationship with the European Union. The details of his biography, including his Hollywood-connected glamour, have bolstered his support and visibility.

Klitschko, 42, was a heavyweight boxing world champion before he stopped fighting in 2013, though he retains the title World Boxing Council heavyweight champion emiritus. He held a boxing record of 45-2 professionally, and scored some 40-plus knockouts during his career.

While he pursued professional boxing, Klitschko lived in Ukraine, Germany, and the United States, a fact that could complicate his run for president because of residency requirements.

Before running for and winning a seat in the Ukraine parliament in 2012, the potential future president once lived in a home in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, where he raised three children who are United States citizens, according to the Los Angeles Times. He and his brother, Olympic gold medal boxer Vladimir Klitschko, have doctorate degrees in sports science.

Vladimir, his younger brother by eight years, now lives in the United States with fiance Panettiere, and together the high-profile Hollywood couple have outspokenly supported the opposition in Ukraine and Vitali's leadership there. In January, the couple appeared at a rally in Independence Square, where Panettiere spoke to cheering Ukrainian crowds about change and peace as her fiance translated for her.

Vitali Klitschko said on Sunday that his main priority right now is to ensure that Ukraine has a "functioning government" after Yanukovich fled Kiev after last week's deal that limited his powers.

Though speculation is mounting over whether Klitschko has a clear path to the presidency, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko may prove a tough opponent if she, too, decides to run in May.

Tymoshenko, who served as prime minister from 2007 to 2010 before losing the presidential election to Yanukovich, was freed from prison on Saturday after serving three years for corruption charges.

When she appeared in Kiev after her release, Tymoshenko said she did not want to resume her position as prime minister, which would allow her to make a bid for president in the May elections.

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