Vitali Klitschko is leaving boxing to concentrate on Ukrainian politics and his role as an opposition leader, and that should give Canadian Bermane Stiverne a shot at becoming a world heavyweight champion.
Klitschko vacated his WBC heavyweight title on Monday and said he doesn't expect to fight again as he pursues a presidential bid in his home country, where citizens have been protesting for weeks in Kyiv over President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to shun closer ties with the European Union and push his country toward Russia.
The World Boxing Council proclaimed Klitschko a "Champion Emeritus," a move that would allow him to challenge the new champion directly should he wish to resume his career.
"This offer makes it theoretically possible to return to the ring, which I cannot imagine at all happening as things stand now," Klitschko said in a statement. "I am now concentrating on the politics in Ukraine, I feel people need me there."
Stiverne (23-1-1), a Haitian-born Montrealer based in Las Vegas, is the WBC's top-ranked contender and has been waiting for Klitschko to make a decision on his future.
It is expected that Stiverne will face No. 2-ranked American Chris Arreola for the title. On April 27, Stiverne scored a convincing unanimous decision over Arreola in Ontario, Calif. to win the WBC Silver belt, an unofficial interim title.
Stiverne's Montreal-based manager Camille Estaphan hopes to meet with WBC officials Tuesday in Los Angeles to confirm a title bout between his fighter and Arreola, which he hopes will take place in March or April.
Estaphan said Klitschko's retirement may also help Stiverne financially.
"If we had fought Klitschko, the champion would get 70 per cent of the purse, while now, that will be in our favour," said Estaphan. "We're hoping there's a little present under the tree for us just before Christmas."
Klitschko is a lawmaker and chairman of the opposition party Udar (Punch) and intends to run for president in 2015.
Klitschko has taken an active part in the rallies, urging his countrymen to continue their fight to turn the ex-Soviet republic into a genuine Western democracy.
"This is not a revolution. It is a peaceful protest that demands justice," Klitschko told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this month. "The people are not defending political interests. They are defending the idea of living in a civilized country."
The 42-year-old Klitschko has a 45-2 record, with 41 KOs. His younger brother Wladimir holds the other significant heavyweight belts.
"My brother Wladimir will be responsible for further sporting successes," the older Klitschko said Monday.
Vitali has not fought since September 2012, when he made the 10th defence of his belt with a fourth-round stoppage of previously unbeaten Manuel Charr.
"With the current extreme and delicate political situation in Ukraine, Vitali has answered his country's call to fight for human rights and equality. Accordingly, Vitali will not be able to provide the WBC with a predictable time-frame to return to the ring," the WBC said. "In other words, under his new distinction [Champion Emeritus], Klitschko will, in essence, retire with the option of being able to return to the ring at any time and be eligible to fight for the title against the reigning belt holder."
The WBC said it will soon determine the top two fighters to participate in an eliminator bout that will yield the successor to Klitschko's vacant title.