Alan Hubbard

The war in Ukraine and the heavyweight championship of the world are unlikely bedfellows. Yet such is the situation where Russia is wreaking havoc in that proud nation which has two former holders of the title, and a current incumbent literally fighting in its blue and yellow corner. Plus another pugilistic protagonist who has been an outstanding world lightweight kingpin.

Three of this courageous quartet are also Olympic gold medallists. Vitali Klitschko, inspirational mayor of the capital, Kyiv and younger brother Wladimir are renowned retirees after dominating all versions of the heavyweight title for over a decade; Oleksandr Usyk, who many believe, myself included, is the finest boxer in the world today, relieved Britain’s own Olympic champion, Anthony Joshua, of the multiple titles he held 18 months ago. Together with double Olympic and world lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko all immediately volunteered to join the Ukrainian armed forces, ready for frontline action to defend their beloved country against Vlad the Invader.

Of course such a remarkable situation has been well chronicled and is a vital part of Ukraine’s propaganda armoury.

However this is certainly no gimmick. All have vowed to fight - and die - for Ukraine’s continued independence. Vitali, now 50, and imposing of six feet seven inches figure known as Dr Ironfist because of his sledgehammer right hand, says soberly that so fierce is the attrition in this savage warfare that "we may not be here in three months."

Kyiv's mayor Vitali Klitschko, centre, is among the boxing superstars now fighting against the Russian invasion ©Getty Images
Kyiv's mayor Vitali Klitschko, centre, is among the boxing superstars now fighting against the Russian invasion ©Getty Images

Such is the stark reality - but Ukraine has a history of producing fine boxers. With his troops currently on the back foot, perhaps Putin should have known better than to pick a fight with this land of great fighters.

Indeed, it is reported that a captured Russian commander apparently declared that he was such a fan of the four fighters that he had doubts about the validity of the war.

Of the three heavies, only Usyk is still active it was thought that his contracted return with Joshua would have to be put on hold. Not so. The Ukrainian Government, spurred on by the Klitschko brothers, says that allowing him to fight would be wonderful publicity for the beleaguered nation, especially if he wins, which most expect him to do in a match reported to be worth £100 million ($131 million/€118 million) to be held as part of Saudi Arabia‘s veneer of sportswashing at the end of June.

So the slick, stylish Usyk has been given leave of absence to train for the contest with his WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO belts at stake.

As it happens this is not the only world heavyweight title fight we shall see shortly.

Oleksandr Usyk, left, thoroughly outclassed fellow Olympic gold medallist Anthony Joshua in their first meeting ©Getty Images
Oleksandr Usyk, left, thoroughly outclassed fellow Olympic gold medallist Anthony Joshua in their first meeting ©Getty Images

Tyson Fury is to face fellow British contender Dillian Whyte at Wembley Stadium on April 22 in defence of the WBC crown he lifted from American Deontay Wilder.

It is interesting to compare the valour and character of those battling for Ukraine with the astonishing attitude of challenger Whyte. Despite being guaranteed a purse of £6 million ($7.9 million/€7.1 million), plus a further £3 million ($3.9 million/€3.5 million) should he beat the "Gypsy King", Whyte is peevishly refusing to promote or help publicise the fight in anyway.

This is unheard of in boxing. Not only does Whyte claim he has been short changed, but he seems furious that the richest fight in Britain fight was won by a joint bid of £30 million ($39 million/€35 million) from Frank Warren and American Bob Arum, a third more than his regular promoter Matchroom.

Whyte is declining to attend the usual pre-fight press conferences, give interviews, pose for photographs or be filmed by BT Sport, which is showing the bout on pay-per-view. He has also insisted that his face be removed from the fight posters, claiming it infringes his image rights. Unbelievable!

Initially Whyte had demanded a private plane to transport himself and his minders from his training base in Portugal to the initial London press conference. When Warren agreed, Whyte suddenly changed his mind and refused to make the journey.

Whyte seems to be behaving outrageously, especially as he is far from being a ring superstar. Although every one of the 85,000 tickets has been sold, from £3,000 ($3,900/€3,500) ringside downwards, he surely has a duty to sell himself to the public.

As it happens, the unbeaten Fury is more than capable of creating all the publicity needed on his own. In the past couple of years, from being a pugilistic pariah he has transformed into probably the most popular and personable sports personality in the land.

One wonders what those intrepid fighting men doing battle for Ukraine think of such boarish, unprofessional behaviour from a fellow fighter?

A heavyweight boxer who refuses to talk to the media or promote a contest? Muhammad Ali must be turning in the proverbial.