Skip to main content
Select Source:

Ali, Laila

Laila Ali

1977—

Boxer

From the shadow of her famous father, Muhammad Ali, Laila "She Bee Stingin'" Ali emerged as a pioneer in boxing in her own rite. Ali refused to rely on name-recognition alone; she took the boxing world by storm, using grace, athleticism, and determination to pave the way not only for herself, but for female fighters worldwide. From her first world title in 2002, Ali added two more by 2004, and became the first woman to win a World Boxing Council super middleweight title in 2005.

Troubled Youth

Born on December 30, 1977, in Miami Beach, California, Laila Ali was one of two daughters her former heavyweight champion father had with Veronica Anderson, the third of his four different wives. Her parents divorced when she was eight years old. She grew up in Los Angeles' Hancock Park area with her mother and sister, Hana.

It was Ali's sister, Hana, who was the aggressor, typically roughhousing with her little sister. Ali was described as quiet, usually keeping to herself and playing with dolls. During her teenage years, Ali became restless and rebellious. She disliked high school and was caught stealing her mother's car on more than one occasion. In 1995, she was arrested for shoplifting and spent three months in juvenile hall. Prior to that, Ali was spending considerable time in the seedy areas of Los Angeles. "Everyone else was trying to get out of the ghetto," Laila told writers Alex Tresniowski and Kelly Carter of People.com. "I was trying to get in."

Captivated by Women's Boxing

Ali started working at a beauty salon in Marina Del Ray. By 1996, she had her own nail salon. It was at that time when Ali saw women's boxing champ Christy Martin on television. Ali recalled to Aldore Collier of Ebony that the women's bout took her by surprise. "I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Women are about to fight.’ I had the popcorn and was getting ready to watch Mike Tyson. I was looking around like, ‘What's going on? Women fighting?’ I was so excited I couldn't wait to see it. I was like, ‘I can do that.’" Inspired, Ali began a rigorous training regimen, including daily two-mile runs and two-hour gym workouts. That summer, she spent a couple months at her father's 81-acre spread in Berrien Springs, Michigan, training and getting tips from the former champ.

After two years of working with her father, Ali would be ready to break into the ranks of female boxing. She had her debut match on October 15, 1999 against April Fowler in the casino ballroom of an upstate New York Indian reservation. Ali needed only 31 seconds to dispose of her opponent. "After a left-right to the jaw knocked April clear back to last February, the 21-year-old Ali cocked her fists and glowered over her opponent, screaming ‘Get up! Get up!’ just as her old man hollered over Sonny Liston 34 years ago," Sports Illustrated's Franz Lidz wrote.

Lidz observed that in the ring, Laila Ali has the similar characteristics of her father, while incorporating her own personality. Under the nickname "Madame Butterfly," Ali impressed many with her boxing debut. "Madame Butterfly is brash, brazen and almost as pretty as her pop," Lidz wrote. "At 5'10" and 168 pounds, she can mimic the Greatest's routines—biting her lips as if seething in anger, feigning outrage with widened unblinking eyes—and she certainly shares his playfulness. Asked if she feared being punched on the nose, Laila said ‘I have a cute nose already. If it's moved a little to the left or a little to the right, it will still be cute.’"

Ali made her transition to mainstream women's boxing shortly thereafter. She won her second bout on November 10, 1999 at the Mountaineer Race Track in Chester, West Virginia, scoring a technical knockout against Shadina Pennybaker with just three seconds left in the fight.

Exactly one month later, at Cobo Riverfront Ballroom in Detroit, more than 2,200 people watched as Ali ran her record to 3-0. Ali knocked Nicolyn Armstrong down late in the first round with a jab, and followed up with three hard rights. In the second round, according to geocities.com, "Ali battered Armstrong in a corner then knocked her flat on her back." The referee stopped the fight at that point and Ali walked away with the winner's purse of $25,000.

On March 7, 2000, Ali went to a record of 4-0 at the Casino Windsor in Windsor, Ontario. She knocked out countrywoman Crystal Arcand after one minute and ten seconds in the first round. Her opponent started the bout swinging wildly while Ali circled and landed an uppercut combination that sent Arcand to the mat. Ali continued the attack and sent her to the canvas again, this time with a straight right to the head. "I underestimated her," Arcand told geocities.com. "She's got the power and she can back it up. I've never experienced a woman with the amount of power she has."

Emerged as a Powerhouse

With four professional wins and all of them knockouts, Ali appeared unstoppable. But when she stepped in the ring at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena on April 8, 2000 against Karen Bill, Ali was brought down to the earth. Bill knocked Ali down in the second round with an uppercut. Even thought she quickly got up and began fighting again, Bill kept tagging Ali with sharp jabs to end the second round. Ali opened a cut above Bill's eye in the third before the referee ended the fight in Ali's favor.

Two weeks later, Ali would defend her unbeaten record against 166-pound Kristina King on April 22nd at Tian He Stadium in Guangzhou, People's Republic of China. Ali battered King in the second round and bloodied her in the third, a round where a booming right from Ali knocked out King's mouthpiece. King came out for the fourth round, but the fight was stopped. Jet magazine highlighted the fight, which was Ali's hometown boxing debut: "Ali needed just 68 seconds to put down the 48-year-old Jones as Ali's famous father Muhammad Ali and his former heavyweight rivals sat ringside. The 22-year-old Ali knocked down Jones three times, the last time with a right to the head. The referee didn't bother to count."

At a Glance …

Born on December 30, 1977, in Miami Beach, California; daughter of Veronica Anderson and Muhammad Ali; married Johnny "Yahya" McClain (her manager), 2000 (divorced 2005); married Curtis Conway (former NFL wide receiver), 2007. Education: Attended Santa Monica College, business management, AA, late 1990s.

Career : Nail salon, owner, 1990s; professional boxer, 1999-.

Awards: International Boxing Association super middleweight championship, 2002; Women's International Boxing Association and International Women's Boxing Federation championships, 2002; International Women's Boxing Federation light heavyweight title, 2004; World Boxing Council super middleweight title, 2005.

Addresses: Web—www.lailaali.us.

About 3,500 fans where in the audience to see the fight, which was on the Oba Carr-Juan Soberanes undercard (an undercard is a boxing match that takes place before the main event). After the fight, Ali told Jet she was a little disappointed that the bout didn't go into later rounds. "I feel good, but of course, I would have liked it to last longer," Ali said. "I told the referee to let me knock her out."

Ali's winning streak continued on June 15th at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles when she knocked out 173-pound Marjorie Jones. Her trainer, Deb Huntly, told geocities.com that Ali's intense work regimen and focus on the sport is the foundation to her success. Huntly added that Ali's best punch is a right hand into a left hook. Ali is said to train three hours a day, six days a week. She runs three to four miles daily, jumps rope, spars, and works on punching bags in order to keep up with the super-middleweights.

That work paid off again for Ali on October 13th in Auburn Hills, Michigan. On the undercard of the Mike Tyson-Andrew Golota fight, Ali won a decision against Kendra Lenhart, going the distance for six rounds. Detroit Free Press sports writer Steve Crowe wrote that the first three rounds of the fight had Lenhart clearly ahead of Ali. "For the first three rounds of Ali's six-round survival victory by decision, Lenhart, 34, pressed most of the early action and landed the harder shots," Crowe wrote. "But stamina and punching flurries, especially to Lenhart's body, served Ali well in the later stages." The win moved Ali's record to 8-0, with seven knockouts.

Boosted Women's Boxing

In these first years of Ali's boxing career, women's boxing was a fledgling sport. Ali used her famous name to increase the popularity and legitimacy of the sport with the much-hyped bout between her and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, the daughter of Joe Frazier in 2001. Touted as a "grudge match" because of three historic fights between their fathers in the 1970s, the "Ali vs. Frazier IV" bout attracted a crowd of 6,500 to the Turning Stone Casino resort on the Oneida Indian Nation Reservation near Syracuse, New York. While the two put on a good show, slugging each other toe-to-toe with impressive intensity, no one suggested that the daughters fought with the skill or power of their fathers. "The two women proved to have more game and more heart than many might have expected," Washington Post reporter Jennifer Frey wrote, adding that they finished the last round "with a burst of punches that had the crowd on its feet." "We're not the most skilled fighters," Ali admitted to Lynn Snowden Pickett in an interview for Vogue. "I would never disrespect my dad and Joe Frazier by saying this is the same type of fight. Those are two gold-medal winners from the Olympics, great fighters who have proved themselves, and we're just beginners." Both were undefeated, but Ali had only fought nine times and Frazier only seven. After the eight scheduled rounds, Ali was declared the winner by majority decision. Frazier declared after the fight that "we made our contribution to elevate the sport," according to Jet. Indeed, Collier called it "biggest shot in the arm that women's boxing has received to date." Ali acknowledged the benefit of public attention that the bout brought women's boxing, but announced her intention to now go after championship belts.

Ali quickly realized her goal. In September 2002, she won her first world title. She nabbed the International Boxing Association super middleweight championship belt after a second round technical knockout of Suzy Taylor. After the fight, Ali declared her title quest continued: her targets, according to Jet, "the girls that have belts."

By November of that year, Ali added the Women's International Boxing Association and International Women's Boxing Federation championships her title list with a win over Valerie Mahfood in the first women's boxing match to be an ESPN main event. Ali held onto her titles when she defeated Mahfood with a technical knockout in a rematch in July of 2003.

As Ali racked up titles, women's boxing continued to grow in popularity. For Ali's bout to defend her IBA super middleweight championship against former Sports Illustrated model Christy Martin in August of 2003 a crowd of more than 9,000 filled the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi and was available on pay-per-view. The two were the most popular women boxers at the time, and their fight garnered the most media attention for women's boxing since the Ali-Frazier bout in 2001. Ali, who had predicted that the fight would not last more than four rounds in her taunts before the match, proved her dominance in the sport after flattening Martin with a knockout within the first minute of the fourth round.

Her famous name, good looks, and successful defense of her titles kept Ali in the limelight. "From the standpoint of public image and anything that might be described as public appeal, Laila Ali is women's boxing," boxing commentator Jim Lampley told Jake Schaller of the Washington Post. Businesses took notice. Adidas signed Ali to a multi-year endorsement deal in 2003. "Laila is an inspiration to women and all athletes that aspire to break new ground," said Erich Stamminger, Adidas-Salomon executive board member responsible for global marketing, according to Sporting Goods Business. Ali agreed, saying, according to Schaller, "My presence in the game has made so much of a difference that people probably don't even recognize. The growth takes a long time, but since I've been boxing, I've seen women boxing on music videos, in ads for anti-perspirant. It's not so much thought of to be for gay women or rough women or ugly women, it's more of an empowerment thing. People see it differently all together." Ali did more to promote herself and her sport, signing more endorsement deals with such companies as Dr. Pepper and Ford. She even published an inspirational autobiography entitled Reach! Finding Strength, Spirit, and Personal Power in 2003.

The media buzz continued when Ali racked up more wins. She won the International Women's Boxing Federation light heavyweight title after a third round knockout of Guyana's Gwendolyn O'Neil in Atlanta in October 2004. And in 2005, she became the first woman to win a World Boxing Council super middleweight title. The title fight against her opponent Erin Toughill ended with Ali delivering a technical knockout in the last second of the third round. Ali, who left Toughill bloodied, noted her own ferocity during the fight, telling Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post that "people are not used to seeing me hit my opponent like that." But her father, who drew the attention of the crowd even more than his victorious daughter, approved, saying simply, "She's bad," according to Steinberg. Ali fought her first bout in Madison Square Garden in 2006, with her famous father ringside. In a historic first, HBO televised a short clip of her fourth round technical knockout of Shelley Burton. The following year, Ali headlined with Gwendolyn O'Neil in the first women's professional boxing match in South Africa.

Sought Other Challenges

With a 24-0 career record with 21 knockouts, Ali found little competition in boxing. She decided to seek out a completely different type of competition in 2007, when she joined the reality television show Dancing with the Stars. Ali moved with a polished grace that belied her massive, muscled frame and she charmed audiences. She and professional dance partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy earned a perfect score for their rumba, yet finished the competition in third place. For the finale, Ali dedicated her last dance to her father, who sat admiringly in the audience. About her experience on the show, Ali admitted to syndicated columnist Kam Williams in the Tennessee Tribune that "it was a nice change for me, to do something glamorous, but challenging."

Competition seemed to be a driving force for Ali. She explained to Williams in 2007 that in her boxing career she had "definitely reached my goals." "Unfortunately," she added, "it's left a void in how I feel about my career, because it wasn't as challenging as I would have liked it to have been on the way up." She concluded "I'm pretty much where I thought I'd be right now, undefeated and a world champion." With her retirement on the horizon, Ali began seeking various other business opportunities, making a documentary Daddy's Girl for PBS and workout videos with boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard. She also hinted at starting a family with her husband Curtis Conway, whom she wed in 2007. Whatever Ali's next step might be, she will certainly take it with the same confidence and vigor that enabled her come out from behind the shadow of her father's greatness to create her own.

Selected works

Books

Reach! Finding Strength, Spirit, and Personal Power, Hyperion, 2003.

Films

Daddy's Girl (documentary).

Television

Dancing with the Stars, 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

Ebony, October 2001, p. 164.

Jet, July 3, 2000, pg. 52; June 25, 2001, p. 51; September 2, 2002, p. 51; October 18, 2004, p. 51; September 12, 2005, p. 54; July 9, 2007, p. 54.

Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2005, p. D1.

New York Times, November 9, 2002, p. D4.

People, May 7, 2007, p. 124.

Savoy, April-May 2005, p. 76.

Sentinel (Los Angeles), August 28, 2003, p. B3.

Spokesman Review, August 23, 2003, p. C1.

Sporting Goods Business, October 2003, p. 18.

Sports Illustrated, Oct. 18, 1999, pg. R1.

Sports Illustrated Women, December 2002-January 2003, p. 112.

Tennessee Tribune, June 14-20, 2007, p. 33.

Time Magazine, May 1, 2007, pg. 66.

Vogue, April 2002, p. 292.

Washington Post, June 9, 2001, p. C1; July 16, 2004, p. D1; June 12, 2005, p. E17.

On-line

Laila Ali,www.lailaali.us (September 5, 2007).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ali, Laila." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ali, Laila." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ali-laila

"Ali, Laila." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved September 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ali-laila

Ali, Laila 1978–

Laila Ali 1978

Boxer

Began Training for Pro Boxing

First Fight, First TKO

Faced Formidable Opponent

Sources

Despite living in the shadow of her famous father, Muhammad Ali, Laila Ali took it upon herself to break new ground and become a pioneer in womens boxing. Refusing to rely on name-recognition alone, Ali took the boxing world by storm, using grace, athleticism and determination to pave the way not only for herself, but for female fighters worldwide.

Born in 1978, Laila Ali was one of two daughters her former heavyweight champion father had with Veronica Anderson, the third of his four different wives. She grew up in Los Angeless Hancock Park area with her mother and sister, Hana.

It was Alis sister, Hana, who was the aggressor, typically roughhousing with her little sister. Ali was described as quiet, usually keeping to herself and playing with dolls. During her teen-age years, Ali became restless and rebellious. She disliked high school and was caught stealing her mothers car on more than one occasion. In 1995, she was arrested for shoplifting and spent three months in juvenile hall. Prior to that, was spending considerable time in the seedy areas of L.A. Everyone else was trying to get out of the ghetto, Laila told writers Alex Tresniowski and Kelly Carter of People.com. I was trying to get in.

Began Training for Pro Boxing

In 1996, Ali started working at a beauty salon in Marina Del Ray. It was at that time when Ali saw womens boxing champ Christy Martin on television. Alis friend Joya Settle said seeing Martin motivated Ali. She was like, I can do that, Settle told People.com. Ali began a rigorous training regimen, including daily two-mile runs and two-hour gym workouts. That summer, she spent a couple months at her fathers 81-acre spread in Berrien Springs, Michigan, training and getting tips from the former champ.

After two years of working with her father, Ali would be ready to break into the ranks of female boxing. She had her debut match on October 15, 1999 against April Fowler in the casino ballroom of an upstate New York Indian reservation. Ali needed only 31 seconds to dispose of her opponent.

Lidz observed that in the ring, Laila Ali has the similar characteristics of her father, while incorporating her own personality. Under the nickname Madame Butterfly, Ali impressed many with her boxing debut. Madame Butterfly is brash, brazen and almost as pretty as her pop, Lidz wrote. At 510 and 168

At a Glance

Born in 1978; daughter of Veronica Anderson and Muhammad Ali; engaged to her manager/trainer, johnny McClain,

Career: Made her boxing debut on October 9,1999 in Verona, NY, knocking out Aprii Fowler; trains at L.As Boxing Club,

pounds, she can mimic the Greatests routinesbiting her lips as if seething in anger, feigning outrage with widened unblinking eyesand she certainly shares his playfulness. Asked if she feared being punched on the nose, Laila said I have a cute nose already. If its moved a little to the left or a little to the right, it will still be cute.

First Fight, First TKO

Ali made her transition to mainstream womens boxing shortly thereafter. She won her second bout on November 10, 1999 at the Mountaineer Race Track in Chester, West Virginia, scoring a technical knockout against Shadina Pennybaker with just three seconds left in the fight.

Exactly one month later, at Cobo Riverfront Ballroom in Detroit, more than 2,200 people watched as Ali ran her record to 3-0. Ali knocked Nicolyn Armstrong down late in the first round with a jab, and followed up with three hard rights. In the second round, according to geocities.com, Ali battered Armstrong in a corner then knocked her flat on her back. The referee stopped the fight at that point and Ali walked away with the winners purse of $25,000.

On March 7, 2000, Ali went to a record of 4-0 at the Casino Windsor in Windsor, Ontario. She knocked out countrywoman Cystal Arcand after one minute and ten seconds in the first round. Her opponent started the bout swinging wildly while Ali circled and landed an uppercut combination that sent Arcand to the mat. Ali continued the attack and sent her to the canvas again, this time with a straight right to the head. I underestimated her, Arcand told geocities.com. Shes got the power and she can back it up. Ive never experienced a woman with the amount of power she has.

Faced Formidable Opponent

With four professional wins and all of them knockouts, Ali appeared unstoppable. But when she stepped in the ring at Detroits Joe Louis Arena on April 8, 2000 against Karen Bill, Ali was brought down to the earth. Bill knocked Ali down in the second round with an uppercut. Even thought she quickly got up and began fighting again, Bill kept tagging Ali with sharp jabs to end the second round. Ali opened a cut above Bills eye in the third before the referee ended the fight in Alis favor.

Two weeks later, Ali would defend her unbeaten record against 166-pound Kristina King on April 22nd at Tian He Stadium in Guanghou Peoples Republic. Ali battered King in the second round and bloodied her in the third, a round where a booming right from Ali knocked out Kings mouthpiece. King came out for the fourth round, but the fight was stopped. Jet magazine highlighted the fight, which was Alis hometown boxing debut: Ali needed just 68 seconds to put down the 48-year-old Jones as Alis famous father Muhammad Ali and his former heavyweight rivals sat ringside. The 22-year-old Ali knocked down Jones three times, the last time with a right to the head. The referee didnt bother to count.

About 3,500 fans where in the audience to see the fight, which was on the Oba Carr-Juan Soberanes undercard. After the fight, Ali told Jet she was a little disappointed that the bout didnt go into later rounds. I feel good, but of course, I would have liked it to last longer, Ali said. I told the referee to let me knock her out.

Alis winning streak continued on June 15th at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles when she knocked out 173-pound Marjorie Jones. Her trainer, Deb Huntly, told geocities.com that Alis intense work regimen and focus on the sport is the foundation to her success. Huntly added that Alis best punch is a right hand into a left hook. Ali is said to train three hours a day, six days a week. She runs three to four miles daily, jumps rope, spars, and works on punching bags in order to keep up with the super-middleweights.

That work paid off again for Ali on October 13th in Auburn Hills, Michigan. On the undercard of the Mike Tyson-Andrew Golota fight, Ali won a decision against Kendra Lenhart, going the distance for six rounds. Detroit Free Press sports writer Steve Crowe wrote that the first three rounds of the fight had Lenhart clearly ahead of Ali. For the first three rounds of Alis six-round survival victory by decision, Lenhart, 34, pressed most of the early action and landed the harder shots, Crowe wrote. But stamina and punching flurries, especially to Lenharts body, served Ali well in the later stages. The win moved Alis record to 8-0, with seven knockouts.

Womens boxing is a growing sport. Promoter Rick Kulis, of Event Sports, told Time that the ladies are receiving just as much fanfare as their male counterparts. I havent had a single event were the women havent received a standing ovation, Kulis said. As the sport takes off, gaining popularity and legitimacy, Laila Ali may very well follow in her fathers footsteps, en route to becoming The Greatest herself.

Sources

Periodicals

Jet, July 3, 2000, pg. 52.

Sports Illustrated, Oct. 18, 1999, pg. R1.

Time Magazine, May 1, 200, pg. 66.

Other

Additional information was obtained online at http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Field/6251/lali.htm and www.people.aol.com/people/990426/features/ali.html.

John Horn

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ali, Laila 1978–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ali, Laila 1978–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ali-laila-1978

"Ali, Laila 1978–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved September 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ali-laila-1978