Vitali Klitschko uses the punching bag during a light workout and media availability at the La Brea Academy boxing gym in Los Angeles Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2004. Klitschko is preparing to meet Danny Williams for the heavyweight championship in a fight in Las Vegas on Dec. 11. He and his brother Wladimir have also been outspoken in their protest of the disputed presidential election in Ukraine, their homeland.
AP Photo/Reed Saxon
LAS VEGAS Vitali Klitschko begins his day an hour earlier than usual, waking at 6 a.m. so he can have some time before training for his heavyweight title defense against Danny Williams.
That's when he gets on the phone with friends and family in Ukraine, getting the latest news on the country's presidential crisis just as the sun begins to come up in Los Angeles.
One of the biggest fights of his career is less than two weeks away, but Klitschko is just as concerned over the fight for democracy in the country where he was born.
''We're Ukrainian citizens, and what happens is very close to us,'' Klitschko said. ''I'm keeping focus for training and the fight, but it is also important what is happening in my country.''
Klitschko and his brother, Wladimir, have been prominent figures in the protests that have paralyzed Ukraine since pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko was declared the loser in an election many suspect was fraudulent.
They've made videos in support of democracy, and Wladimir spent four days last week in Ukraine among the protesters in the street. All the while, Vitali is getting ready to defend his WBC heavyweight title for the first time, Dec. 11 against Williams.
''It's difficult, but in life nothing is easy,'' Vitali said Wednesday.
The sons of a helicopter pilot in the former Soviet Union's armed forces, Wladimir and Vitali have taken a leading role in recent months speaking out on the need for Ukraine to have democracy and free press.
Last week, Yushchenko called Vitali to thank him for his support, while Wladimir spoke on the streets to urge protesters on.
''Our father was communist, and I grew up with the old Soviet Union ideology,'' Vitali said. ''It was brainwashing all the time. Right now I spend a lot of time in the West and I can see the difference between West and East. I wish my country to go the democratic way.''
Vitali, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two young children but travels frequently to Ukraine, meets Williams in a scheduled 12-round fight at the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino.
The bout is a major test, against the man who knocked out Mike Tyson, and Vitali will spar 10 rounds Thursday in his final big preparation. As always, Wladimir will be in his corner, urging him on.
The Klitschkos hope the world will be watching so they can use the stage to promote new elections in Ukraine.
''I hope this fight will be a very important message for everybody in Ukraine and the world,'' Vitali said. ''I know the result of my fight is very important for Ukraine.''
Both Klitschkos say they are saddened by view the world is getting of Ukraine, which became an independent country following the breakup of the Soviet Union. They think of their country as a place of honest, hardworking people who simply want to be free.
Wladimir went to Ukraine after the vote, and spent four days giving interviews and telling his countrymen of his support for democracy.
''It was very important to be present there,'' Wladimir said. ''I supported people in Independence Square, and sent the message that we support democracy.''
Vitali nearly canceled the fight and went himself, only to be talked out of it by supporters who said the fight would give him a platform.
On Wednesday, Yushchenko signed a deal for his supporters to lift their siege of government buildings and proposed a new run-off vote between him and the declared winner, Viktor Yanukovych.
But he urged backers not to give up mass demonstrations, and the battle might be ongoing when Klitschko fights.
That means Vitali will have two jobs in the upcoming days talking about violence in the ring while urging none in Ukraine.
''I hope the whole situation will be peaceful,'' he said. ''After every fight, I am in Ukraine and we speak about freedom and liberty and free press. People don't want to live like they have the last 10 years.''
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