FRANKFURT, Germany -- WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko has retired because of a knee injury, a statement on his former promoter's Web site said Wednesday.
The 34-year-old Klitschko pulled out of Saturday's title defense against Hasim Rahman in Las Vegas because he tore ligaments in his right knee last week in training. The WBC said earlier this week that Rahman would be given Klitschko's title should the Ukrainian fail to defend within three months.
The knee injury would require six months to heal. Klitschko's statement said the knee was examined Tuesday, and that he underwent surgery in Inglewood, Calif.
"Unfortunately, I've been fighting injuries recently more than facing rivals in the ring," Klitschko said in a statement released by Universum Promotions. "The decision to end was hard to make, but I would like to end my career on top."
The 6-foot-8 fighter sometimes had an awkward, stiff style, but packed a powerful punch, especially in his right hand.
His retirement means the Klitschko brothers won't realize their ambition to share the heavyweight championship.
Wladimir Klitschko, Vitali's younger brother, got back into contention when he beat Samuel Peter in a unanimous decision in September in an IBF elimination bout. The victory made Wladimir the mandatory challenger to IBF champion Chris Byrd.
Vitali, who hadn't fought since stopping Danny Williams in the first defense of his title last December, was first supposed to
have met Rahman in April.
But the fight was postponed when Klitschko pulled a thigh muscle, and initial attempts to reschedule it were stopped when he sustained a back injury.
WBC president Jose Sulaiman said earlier this week that the latest cancellation was the fourth time Klitschko (35-2, 34 knockouts) has backed out of a fight with Rahman (41-5-1 , 33 KOs),
and hinted that he might be looking for excuses to stay out of the
ring with the American.
Rahman, a former heavyweight champion, grew so tired of waiting to meet the Ukrainian that he fought Monte Barrett in August. He won on a decision to become the WBC interim champion.
Klitschko is the second WBC heavyweight champion in a row to retire while holding the title. Lennox Lewis quit in February 2004 after beating Klitschko in his last fight. Klitschko's other loss, when he also was forced to quit because of an injury, came in April
2000 to Byrd.
Lewis was the first reigning world heavyweight champion to quit since Rocky Marciano in 1956. The only other fighter to do so was Gene Tunney in 1928.
Klitschko stopped Corrie Sanders in the eighth round in April 2004 to win the WBC belt.
Klitschko was involved in a steroid controversy that prevented him from taking part in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Instead,
Wladimir took his place and won the gold medal for Ukraine.
In his biography, released in Germany in 2004, Vitali said he used steroids after aggravating a leg injury sustained during a kick-box bout. He tested positive and was thrown off the Ukrainian team.