Mayor of the Ukrainian capital since 2014, the former heavyweight champion has been a longtime vocal critic of Vladimir Putin since the conflict with Russia in 2013.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Vitali, along with his younger brother and Hall of Famer Wladimir, has been one of the faces of the resistance. The Klitschkos took up arms in a territorial defense battalion in Kyiv; star boxers Vasiliy Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk followed suit in other parts of Ukraine.
“It’s a great honor for me to receive this award,” said Klitschko, 50. “I am convinced that this is a recognition of the courage and inviolability of the Ukrainian people, who have courageously resisted the Russian aggressor for more than 3 years. This is an award for all those who defend the independence and freedom of Ukraine.
The Klitschkos, sons of a Soviet major general, developed their boxing skills in the Soviet amateur system. Both are considered great heavyweights of all time. Vitali, known for his granite chin and unwavering toughness, enjoyed two heavyweight title reigns.
But Vitali Klitschko is best known for a fight he lost, an epic 2003 clash with Lennox Lewis for the heavyweight crown. Klitschko, an underdog and late replacement, was top on all three scorecards when the fight was stopped with a horrific cut to his left eye that required 60 stitches.
Negotiations for a rematch with Lewis stalled when the champion chose retirement. Klitschko won the title Lewis dropped out two fights later, in 2004, with an eight-round TKO of Corrie Sanders.
He first ran for mayor in 2006 after announcing his retirement from boxing a year earlier while still heavyweight champion. After 46 months away from the ring, he returned in December 2008 and regained the title in his comeback fight.
During his second title reign, Klitschko made nine defenses of the heavyweight championship. His last fight was in 2012 at the age of 41. Klitschko’s only losses came when he was injured in fights he was winning. He retired with a record of 45 wins (41 KOs) and two losses. His knockout rate of 87% is one of the best in the history of the heavyweight championship.
Perhaps more impressively, he has never been knocked down in his career and has rarely lost a set. Prior to his professional boxing debut in 1996 at age 25, Klitschko was a decorated kickboxer who won four world titles. He also impressed as an amateur boxer with 195 wins and 15 losses. Klitschko was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2018, his first year of eligibility.
Outside of boxing, Klitschko is the longest-serving mayor in Kyiv’s history. A few weeks ago, he spoke at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, imploring the public that it would be a mistake to believe that the impact of the war in Ukraine will not reach its borders.
“Vitali’s poise and strength as his city and country face unfathomable tests far exceeded the incredible determination he displayed as one of boxing’s finest heavyweight champions,” he said. said Rob King, senior vice president and editor of ESPN Content. “His commitment to the people of Ukraine was a global inspiration, and his bravery is a prime example of the resilience of the human spirit. It is our privilege to award him the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.”
Other Ashe Award winners include former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and boxing broadcaster Howard Cosell.