Vitali Klitschko, concerned about the political unrest in his native Ukraine, nearly backed out of tonight's heavyweight title bout with Danny Williams.
However, at the urging of one of the principals in the disputed election, Klitschko will be in Las Vegas, putting his World Boxing Council title on the line against the British fighter.
Klitschko told London's Guardian he received a supportive call from opposition leader Viktor A. Yushchenko, asking him not to put off the bout.
"Wladimir [Klitschko, Vitali's brother and fellow heavyweight] and Fritz Sdunek, the head coach of Vitali, were here [in the United States] with us," said Vitali Klitschko's adviser, Bernd Boente. "After long discussions, they convinced Vitali to stay here and not postpone this fight."
But when he spoke with reporters via teleconference call last month, it was clear how much the situation in Ukraine was weighing on his mind.
"What happens in Ukraine is very close to us because our family and our friends all live in Ukraine," Klitschko said. "We are involved in Ukraine politics, and it touches everyone. It is very painful to read some news and the way they speak about Ukraine like it is a poor country, like a banana republic."
It is not unusual that Klitschko, 33, would be interested in the Ukrainian situation. In his official biography, he lists politics as his hobby. He has been called upon in the past to give public readings from his favorite book, The Master and Margarita, the controversial satire of life in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Bulgakov that was published in 1966.
Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovych was declared the winner over Yushchenko in the Nov. 21 Ukraine presidential election, but allegations of electoral fraud led to constant protests in the capital of Kiev and have resulted in a new election scheduled for Dec. 26.
"I wish for my country, for my people, for my children and the next generation a great future, and I support the democratic way," Klitschko said. "That is why I support Viktor Yushchenko in this presidential election."
Boente said: "Hundreds of thousands of people were in the streets and are still in the streets."
However, Vitali Klitschko will be at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to take on Williams, 31. Klitschko will earn $3.5 million for the fight to Williams' $300,000.
In facing Williams (32-3, 27 knockouts), Klitschko (34-2, 33 knockouts) will make his first title defense against the man who knocked out Mike Tyson this past summer. In doing so, Williams, who weighed 270 pounds for that fight, denied Klitschko, 6 feet 7, 250 pounds, an opportunity he had long dreamed of.
"Danny Williams destroyed my dream of fighting Mike Tyson," Klitschko said. "Now, I am going to destroy his dream of becoming world heavyweight champion."
NOTES: The camp of heavyweight contender Joe Mesi, who was indefinitely suspended from the ring after bleeding on the brain was detected following his March 13 win over Vassiliy Jirov in Las Vegas, have forwarded the fighter's medical records to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, the commission's executive director, Marc Ratner, said. Mesi's camp had refused to supply the records for nine months, Ratner said.
Who: Vitali Klitschko (34-2, 33 KOs) vs. Danny Williams (32-3, 27 KOs) for Klitschko's World Boxing Council heavyweight title
Where: Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas
When: Tonight, card begins at 9