LAS VEGAS - Vitali Klitschko won a big heavyweight title fight by giving Danny Williams such a savage beating that his hand hurt badly from hitting Williams so much. That accomplished, he headed Sunday for Ukraine, where an even bigger fight awaits outside the ring.
Klitschko established himself as the heavyweight to beat among the various champions by knocking Williams down four times Saturday night before finally stopping him in the eighth round of a fight that left the loser beaten, bloodied and battered.
He did it while wearing an orange flag on his trunks signifying his support for Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko. The gesture was seen by millions of Ukrainians who stayed up late or got up early to watch the fight on national television at 6 a.m. Sunday.
Right after leaving a hospital where x-rays on his left hand proved negative, Klitschko turned his attention to the crisis gripping his nation and his desire for democracy in Ukraine.
"This win was very important for the people. It was a gift of good nature," Klitschko told The Associated Press early Sunday morning. "It was not enough to show a good fight but to show that we're together as a people."
Klitschko, who briefly considered pulling out of the Williams fight because of the turmoil in his native land, instead used the fight as both a showcase for his skills and his desire to see Yuschenko elected in the Dec. 26 revote in Ukraine.
He was successful in both, giving Williams the beating that Mike Tyson couldn't administer and then sending a message to his countrymen who watched the fight.
"I hope this fight supports people who fight themselves for democracy," Klitschko said. "To win the fight was very important in the fight for freedom in our country."
Klitschko now lives in Los Angeles but travels often to his homeland, where he and his brother, Wladimir, grew up as the sons of a helicopter pilot in the Soviet Union's armed forces.
Both brothers have been vocal in their support of Yuschenko, and Wladimir joined tens of thousands of protesters last month in Freedom Square in Kiev, where he spoke to the crowd and relayed the support of his brother.
"I'm really proud of the people in Ukraine," Klitschko said. "This game they are playing is very dangerous."
So is heavyweight boxing, of course, though Klitschko was never in any danger when he administered a beating to Williams in the first defense of the WBC heavyweight title he won in April against Corrie Sanders.
Klitschko dominated from the start, knocking Williams down in the first round and landed 52 punches to the challenger's four. Klitschko knock him down three more times before the fight was finally stopped at 1:26 of the eighth round.
Klitschko is only one of four champions recognized by the various boxing organizations, but the win helped him stake his claim to being the best of the bunch. Williams, who came back to knock Tyson out in his last fight, was beaten to a pulp and his face was bloody and swollen.
Still, he never gave up, even getting up after the final knockdown and seemingly wanting more. He was later taken to a hospital for precautionary tests.
"He didn't hit as hard as Mike Tyson, but he was more consistent with his punches," Williams said.
As doctors examined Klitschko's hand, he said it would be up to boxing fans to determine who is the best heavyweight.
"It's not the belt that matters, it's the audience who determines the champion," Klitschko said. "But I believe I'm the best in the world."
Klitschko might get a chance to determine that sometime next year, if talks to match some of the top heavyweights together are successful. HBO wants him to fight former champion Hasim Rahman on a card that would also feature IBF champion Chris Byrd and WBA champion John Ruiz in a unification fight.
For now, though, Klitschko's mind is on problems at home. His cell phone was ringing at the hospital with calls from Ukraine, where there was finally some cause for celebration.
"People are very happy with my performance," he said. "Everyone in Ukraine was watching."