Interview: Laila Ali
I saw womenâ€™s boxing on television for the first time when I was 18, and thatâ€™s when I wanted to do it. So, it didnâ€™t come from me watching my father.
The Greatest's Daughter
Laila Ali was born in Miami Beach on
December 30th, 1977 to Muhammad Ali and his third wife, Veronica
Porche. The most famous of The Greatestâ€™s nine children, Lailaâ€™s the
only one to follow in his footsteps into the boxing ring, On her way to
the top, the statuesque, 5â€™10â€?, 175 lb. cruiserweight whupped Jackie
Frazier, daughter of Joe, in the first Pay-Per-View fight featuring
females in the main event.
She hoped to have a showdown with
George Foremanâ€™s undefeated daughter Freeda who retired suddenly after
taking a pounding from another pugilist in the first loss of her
career. Laila currently reigns as the womenâ€™s world title holder,
having compiled an impressive 24-0 record, including 21 knockouts. With
no credible challengers left, she opted to try something
completely different type, ABC-TVâ€™s Dancing with the Stars. She and her
partner, Maklim Chmerkovskiy received
a perfect score for their rumba, and came in third overall in the
popular seriesâ€™ competition. All the national attention led to
recognition of Lailaâ€™s feminine side, and she was recently named to
People Magazineâ€™s 100 Most Beautiful List for 2007.
The accomplished 29 year-old, now
completely out of her fatherâ€™s shadow, is also the author of a
motivational book entitled â€œReach!â€? She often makes public appearances
as an inspirational speaker before young women in need of a role model.
Laila is currently engaged to former NFL star Curtis Conway, and the
loving couple has plans to marry in Los Angeles next month. She is
the subject of the documentary,
Daddyâ€™s Girl, a documentary about her life which will air on TV One on
Fatherâ€™s Day, June 17th, at 8PM.
BSN: Hi, Laila. The first thing I have to ask you is, did you know that your dad was here in Princeton a few days ago?
LA: No, I had no idea. Iâ€™m just so busy.
BSN: Theyâ€™re calling him Dr. Ali, now, because he was awarded an honorary degree from the University at graduation.
LA: Oh wow, thatâ€™s cool!
BSN: I met him twice before.
The first time was way before you were born, back in 1967. He was
training in Manhattan for the Zora Folley fight. A teacher who knew I
was a fan took me to see him work out. Muhammadâ€™s sparring partner at
the time was future champ Jimmy Ellis, and we watched them go a couple
of rounds. And while I was there, another future champ, Joe Frazier,
who was up and coming but not very well known at the time, came in,
loudly demanding a title fight. Ali talked some trash, leaned over the
ropes and snapped Smokinâ€™ Joeâ€™s suspenders, asking him what made him
think he could put up a good fight, which made everybody there laugh.
The other time was in the early '80s in Beverly Hills when he was
driving a Rolls Royce convertible down Rodeo Drive. All the pedestrians
on the street started chanting Ali, Bomaye! This was the phrase that
the people of Zaire chanted while he was training for and again during
the George Foreman fight, meaning "Ali, kill him!"
LA: Oh, I just loved that car.
BSN: Why did you decide to make the bio-pic Daddyâ€™s Girl?
LA: Well, it wasnâ€™t my idea.
Reggie Bythewood was the producer. It was his baby. He pitched the idea
to me. I didnâ€™t really know what was going to come of it, as far as how
it was going to turn out. He started doing the footage and following me
around, and Iâ€™m happy with the way it came out.
BSN: This is pretty honest
documentary. In fact it opens up with you saying, â€œMy father may have
been the greatest boxer, but he definitely wasnâ€™t the greatest father.â€?
LA: Well, I donâ€™t think that I necessarily would have chosen to start it out that way.
BSN: Oh, thatâ€™s the way it was edited.
LA: Exactly, but people have to understand that, to me, thatâ€™s not a
negative statement. Obviously, it sounds like it is, but there are a
lot of parents out there who wish they would have done things
differently. And, like I said, my dad would probably be one of the
first ones to say that.
BSN: Yet, you still followed in his career footsteps. Did you think that you were going to be a boxer while you were growing up?
LA: No, though Iâ€™d always been
an aggressive person, and had a competitive spirit. I saw womenâ€™s
boxing on television for the first time when I was 18, and thatâ€™s when
I wanted to do it. So, it didnâ€™t come from me watching my father. I
didnâ€™t know the sport existed; therefore, I wasnâ€™t really interested in
it until I saw it.
BSN: Do you think there might
be something genetic about your interest, since Freeda Foreman and
Jackie Frazier, daughters of George and Joe, became boxers?
LA: You also had Archie Mooreâ€™s
daughter in the sport before I was, Ingemar Johanssonâ€™s daughter, and
Roberto Duranâ€™s granddaughter. So, itâ€™s the same as with anything else.
There are women, and there are men, who are just going to happen to
want to fight, though I think my having some success in my career
definitely forced the issue with some of the other girls. But Iâ€™m the
only one now whoâ€™s still fighting. I guess they tried it, and it didnâ€™t
work, or there was something they didnâ€™t like about it. So, they moved
on, and Iâ€™m the only one that actually has had any staying power and
became a world champion.
KW: Youâ€™re the undefeated world champion, 24 and 0, is it time to move on
and parlay that success into something else?
LA: Well, I definitely reached
my goals, and unfortunately, itâ€™s left a void in how I feel about my
career, because it wasnâ€™t as challenging as I would have liked it to
have been on the way up, as you saw in the documentary. It would be
very difficult to continue to train hard and remain motivated after
some of the situations I ended up in. I never intended to box forever,
and always planned to move on to do other things. So, Iâ€™m pretty much
where I thought Iâ€™d be right now, undefeated and a world champion.
BSN: How about your sister Hana? Think she might enter the ring?
LA: No. None of my siblings have an interest in boxing. Iâ€™m the
BSN: You have also done some
time in jail, which makes me think of Paris Hilton, because usually
people from a prominent family figure out a way to avoid ending up
LA: I definitely wouldnâ€™t compare myself to Paris Hilton.
BSN: Do you want to talk about your case?
LA: When I was 15, I hung out
with some girls who were shoplifters, and I decided to do it myself,
even though I had money in my pocket. And I got in trouble. I spent
time in a juvenile hall. I think a lot of people try that but donâ€™t get
caught. I happened to get caught. You might have just found that out,
but that information is not new. Iâ€™m the one who pretty much put that
out there years ago about myself.
BSN: Why so?
LA: Because, for me, itâ€™s the
only way to talk to other girls, and to try to help them. I actually
wrote a book about my upbringing and what Iâ€™ve been through. It was
just something that I did. I believe everything happens for a reason,
and Iâ€™m going to use it in a positive way.
BSN: How did you enjoy doing Dancing with the Stars?
LA: It was a nice change for me, to do something glamorous, but challenging. I had a lot of fun doing it.
BSN: It must have been a lot different from getting hit in the ring. You must have hated that part of being a boxer?
LA: I think itâ€™s just that
youâ€™re not a boxer. Anyone whoâ€™s not a fighter would say that, whether
youâ€™re a man or a woman. Itâ€™s hard for me try to explain to a non-boxer
that itâ€™s a sport. Itâ€™s part of a game in which you donâ€™t want to get
hit. Obviously, when I get hit, it doesnâ€™t feel the same as it would
for you to get hit. That question continues to be asked over and over
again, and Iâ€™m sorry, but I really donâ€™t have an answer for it.
BSN: Thatâ€™s okay. What was it
like being raised by such successful parents? After all, youâ€™re dad was
The Greatest and your mother was an accomplished equestrian in her own
right. Did you feel pressure to succeed, too?
LA: I donâ€™t feel pressure. I
just grew up around people who had a lot of confidence and drive, and I
have the same. Any pressure on me comes from myself.
BSN: What advice do you have for anybody who wants to follow in your
LA: Donâ€™t do it! No, Iâ€™m
joking. I donâ€™t really try to tell people whether they should fight.
Itâ€™s definitely not for everybody. I think that if you do want to be a
fighter, then you need to work harder than everybody else, and make
sure that you surround yourself with good people, especially if youâ€™re
a woman. Youâ€™ve got to find a team that takes you seriously as a female
fighter, and is not going to rush you into the ring before youâ€™re
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