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BERLIN (AP) — Former heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko announced his immediate retirement from boxing on Thursday.
The decision ends an era when the Klitschko name alone could guarantee one of the biggest fights of the year. At their peak, Klitschko and his brother Vitali held all of the major heavyweight titles between them.
Klitschko, who retired with a 64-5 record, lost his titles to Tyson Fury in 2015 and failed to regain the WBA and IBF belts in April, when Anthony Joshua beat him by an 11th-round technical knockout.
Klitschko had been lined up for a rematch against Joshua, who will now likely face mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev.
"As an amateur and a professional boxer, I have achieved everything I dreamed of, and now I want to start my second career after sports," Klitschko said in a statement released by his management.
He said that he had deliberately taken a few weeks to reach a decision "to make sure I had enough distance from the (first Joshua) fight at Wembley Stadium."
An amateur boxing star in his youth, Klitschko turned pro in 1996 after he won the Olympic gold in Atlanta.
His early professional career passed in a blur, with 16 victories in 13 months. He won his first world title in 2000, beating Chris Byrd on points for the WBO belt six months after Byrd had taken the title from Klitschko's brother Vitali.
Defeats to Corrie Sanders in 2003 and Lamon Brewster in 2004 raised doubts whether Klitschko had the resilience to box at the top level. He answered the doubters with an 11-year unbeaten run from that defeat to Brewster, beating contenders such as Ruslan Chagaev and David Haye along the way with a methodical, tactical style.
He never fought his brother Vitali, saying that would break a promise to their mother.
The brothers' hard-hitting style inside the ring and relaxed, multilingual approach outside it made them famous beyond boxing. Wladimir Klitschko even made a cameo appearance in a 2007 romantic comedy movie in the brothers' adopted home of Germany.
Showing the international approach that helped make him such a marketable athlete, Klitschko released his farewell video Thursday in three languages — English, German and Russian.
He helped out when his older brother went into politics, addressing crowds alongside Wladimir Klitschko's fiancee, the U.S. actress Hayden Panettiere, during anti-government protests in Ukraine in 2013. Vitali Klitschko has since become mayor of the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
Wladimir Klitschko's departure opens up the heavyweight scene, with Joshua now likely to face Bulgarian Pulev in the coming months. Pulev's only loss in 26 fights was against Klitschko in 2014.
"It may not be the fan favorite fight, but it's one we need to get through to get to better things," Joshua said Thursday.
AP Sports Writer Ellingworth reported from Moscow.