Two Ukrainian former heavyweight champion boxers are answering President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s call to Ukrainian citizens to take up arms and fight back against Russia.
The Klitschko brothers - Vitali (nicknamed “Dr. Ironfist”) and Wladimir, who are both Hall of Fame boxers - have volunteered their services to stand against Russian forces that have invaded their homeland. Both men retired with sterling career records and resumes: Vitali retired with a 45-2 record with 41 KOs (the second-highest KO rate of all time), while Wladimir retired with a 64-5 clip with 53 KOs. At their peak, they held all major titles in heavyweight boxing between themselves, and Wladimir also won Olympic gold in 1996.
But now, instead of defending titles, they will fight to keep their homeland free.
"It's already a bloody war," Vitali, who is also the mayor of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, said Thursday on ITV's "Good Morning Britain." "... I don't have another choice. I have to do that. I would fight."
Wladimir, 45, is already one step ahead of his 50-year-old brother. The younger has been enlisted in Ukraine’s reserve army since early February as the country was bracing for the eventual invasion.
"Now, the Russian president [Vladimir Putin] is using war rhetoric ... he makes it clear that he wants to destroy the Ukrainian state and the sovereignty of its people," Wladimir Klitschko wrote on Linkedin on Thursday. "Words are followed by missiles and tanks. Destruction and death come upon us. ... We will defend ourselves with all our might and fight for freedom and democracy."
The Klitschko brothers are just two of the hundreds of thousands of citizens who will, or have already received, military training to combat Russia. In January, Ukraine had roughly 130,000 volunteers ready to supplement the military’s first line of defense at the border to stave off Russia’s impending invasion.
No matter how this conflict unfolds, it is inspiring to see so many everyday citizens like the former heavyweight champs who are willing to pay the ultimate price for their homeland.