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© Copyrighted photo by Sue TL Fox


Laila "She Bee Stingin" Ali (5'10", 166 lbs) made her ring debut against April Fowler of Michigan City, Indiana, on October 8, 1999 at the Turning Stone Casino Convention Center on the Oneida Indian Nation in Verona, New York.

Normally, a bout that pitted a novice with no amateur experience (Ali) against another (Fowler) who had been KO'd in the first round of her only previous pro fight wouldn't rate mention beyond the local newspaper.

But the ring debut of 21-year old Laila, the second-youngest of Muhammad Ali's nine children, attracted major media attention and journalists from around the world joined 3000 fans in upstate New York to cover it.

Muhammad Ali may be the most recognized and best known sports figure on Earth ... instantly recognized on every continent and in every culture. His life story transcends boxing ... and his ongoing struggle with faltering steps and shaking hands raises troubling questions about boxing's safety. If any of his children had become a boxer, their career would be a "human interest" story of a high order. When one of his daughters chose to box, she became a new reason for the media spotlight to focus on women's boxing.

By coincidence, Laila Ali's ring debut occurred just one day before what was supposed to be the first male-female professional bout ever to be sanctioned by a US state boxing commission ... later ruled, and better named, an exhibition. The near-alignment of the two events focused more attention on female professional boxing than there had been  since Christy Martin's 1996 pay-per-view fight with Dierdre Gogarty.

The power of the Ali name, which evokes memories of a remarkable fighter whose skills and personality captivated millions of boxing fans, is undeniable. And more than just these memories were evoked when Muhammad Ali himself went to Verona to watch his daughter fight. There was an electric moment as the announcer introduced "a man who needs no introduction ..." and "The Greatest" made his way to ringside as the crowd revived the famous chant ... "Ali, Ali, Ali..."

This was no ordinary debut ...

A good fight could have added to the buzz generated by the return of the legendary Ali name. Unfortunately, lining up a totally safe opponent for Laila's debut had produced ... in April Fowler ... an out-of-shape novice who was too easily and too rapidly flattened by the young Ali!  The bout lasted just 31 seconds and was too one-sided to establish any boxing credentials for Laila. Still, she showed some media savvy ... and a hint of things to come ... by striking a pose reminiscent of her father as she stood over the fallen Fowler with her fist cocked and a scowl on her face. Sweet science it wasn't, but the media lapped it up.

Ali won her second professional bout by TKO with 3 seconds left on November 10, 1999 at the Mountaineer Race Track in Chester, West Virginia. This time she was properly tested by 5'4" Shadina Pennybaker from Pittsburgh, who was making her own pro debut after going 2-1 as an amateur. Ali bloodied Pennybaker's lip and forced a standing eight count in the fourth when she knocked Pennybaker's mouthpiece out. A flurry of left-right combinations sent Pennybaker reeling into a corner and produced a stoppage that was vigorously protested by Pennybaker's corner. (Ringside report here.)  

Although still far from emulating her father's smooth style, Ali again borrowed from his psychological playbook ... she taunted and talked to her opponent, and shook her head whenever Pennybaker landed well. "I had to take my time and judge my distance," said Ali, sporting a bruise on her right cheekbone. "This was only my second fight. I'm not going to be perfectly right where I need to be all the time. That's why I took my time and why it went four rounds. I'm never going to be upset if I don't lose,  I'm happy that it went four rounds because now I know what it feels like. My first fight really wasn't much of a fight."

On December 10, 1999 at the Cobo Center Riverfront Ballroom in Detroit, Michigan, a crowd of over 2,200 saw Ali, who weighed in at 166 lbs, win by second-round TKO over Nicolyn Armstrong (179 lbs), who dropped to 1-4. Ali knocked Armstrong down late in the first round with a jab, followed by three hard rights. In the second round, Ali battered Armstrong in a corner then knocked her flat on her back. Referee Sam Williams stopped the bout immediately, awarding Ali the knockout. Ali is said to have earned $25,000 for this fight. Armstrong, 31, who had won her pro debut but lost her previous three fights by first-round KO, earned $2,500. She had to shed six pounds on the day of the fight to meet the 179-pound weight limit.

On March 7, 2000 at Casino Windsor in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, Laila (160 lbs) moved to 4-0 with 4 KO's by knocking out Crystal Arcand (169 lbs) of St. Paul, Alberta, Canada at 1:10 in the first round. Arcand, a former Toughwoman competitor, was making her pro debut after going 5-0 in amateur action. Arcand came out swinging wildly, Ali circled and landed a jab-uppercut combination that sent Arcand to the canvas after just 15 seconds. Arcand got up and Ali continued the attack, putting Arcand on the canvas again with a straight right to the head. Arcand got up to one knee but no further as she was counted out just 70 seconds into the bout.

"I underestimated her," Arcand said. "She's got the power and she can back it up. I've never experienced a woman with the amount of power she has. It's an experience and lesson for me."

"She knows what she's doing, all right," said referee Fern Chretien, a former light-weight contender from Toronto, about Ali. "You can see some of her dad's moves."

On April 8, 2000 at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan, Laila (168 lbs) got the first big scare in her boxing career, on the way to a controversial third-round TKO of Karen Bill (166 lbs) of Lawton, Oklahoma. Bill knocked Ali down with an uppercut in the second round. Laila showed she had come to fight by getting up and storming back, but she was still getting pummeled in fierce action at round's end. The third round saw still more heated action with both women going all out and landing cleanly until the referee suddenly stopped the fight in Ali's favor. This drew boos from the crowd, who had been cheering the all-out effort of both boxers. Karen Bill had taken some punishment and was bleeding from the nose but she was in better shape than Ali had been during the second round. Many, including an angry Bill, felt that the stoppage was premature.

Kevin Morgan, Ali's first boxing trainer in Los Angeles, had once questioned Laila's inner toughness, noting that she had a tendency to turn her head away from punches. "Runnin' around, like her father, ain't gonna work in women's boxing. People want to see women fight", he said in an interview with the New York Daily News.

Laila Ali may have answered the question of her toughness ... and begun to come of age as a boxer ... in the Karen Bill fight. Realizing that her new career was on the line, she went right at it with the Oklahoma fighter. Even though the questionable stoppage cast a shadow over Ali's win, this fight showed she had the heart to get up off the canvas and carry on against an aggressive, hard-punching opponent. 

Laila Ali's next career move took her to Tian He stadium in Guangzhou (Canton), China on April 22, 2000, where she appeared on the first major pro boxing card in China since the founding of the People's Republic. Laila (165 lbs) capped several days of activity as a publicity magnet for the card by battering Kristina King (5'8", 166 lbs) to a TKO 0:37 seconds into the fourth round. King, a 30-year-old former Toughwoman contestant from Muskegon, Michigan had won her only other pro fight by a second-round TKO on Jan 28, 2000. However, she lacked the skills to handle Ali's combinations and movement and work her way inside. King was in trouble all the way. She was rocked in the second, then badly bloodied in the third ... a round in which a booming right from Laila knocked her mouthpiece out. King was game to keep on fighting in the fourth, but Ali quickly had her in big trouble and this stoppage, which moved Ali's pro record to 6-0, 6 KO's, was well deserved.

On June 15, 2000 at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, California, Laila (173 lbs) moved her record to 7-0 (7 KO's) by knocking out a windmilling Marjorie Jones (179 lbs) of Milwaukee, Wisconsin at 1:08 of the first round. Ali knocked Jones down three times, the last with a right to the head. Jones, a 48-year-old who had been boxing professionally for two years and had two KO wins, fell to 2-5. A near-capacity crowd of over 3,800 ... again including Ali's father ... saw this "fight", which drew widespread criticism as a blatant mismatch.

Laila next took a "time out" to get married, then returned to the ring for her first fight against a genuine title contender.

On October 20, 2000 at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan, Ali (165¼ lbs) advanced to 8-0 (7 KO's) with a unanimous (58-56,58-56,60-54) six-round decision over another KO specialist, Kendra Lenhart. (6'1", 165½ lbs) of Lenoir City, Tennessee, who fell to 6-8-1 (6 KO's). This was Ali's first fight to go the distance.  Lenhart, a former IFBA world title challenger, rocked Ali and bruised her face with several swinging shots to the head. Lenhart hammered Ali with a hard right with 20 seconds left in the second round and hurt her with a left-right combination in the third. Ali rallied to take the final three rounds with more decisive and disciplined punches as Lenhart tired. Both fighters looked nearly exhausted by the end of the bout. "I am a little disappointed that I couldn't knock her out and that I got hit too much," said Ali after the fight, adding "I have a fighting spirit, but I know I should have boxed more."  The bout provided more excitement than the men's Main Event, which was cut short after two rounds when Andrew Golota quit against Mike Tyson.

Ali's credibility as a boxer got a further boost when Kendra Lenhart went on to knock out highly-favored several-time world champion Valerie Mahfood in Beaumont, Texas on April 19, 2001, taking the vacant WIBF Super-Middleweight title.

On March 2, 2001 at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York, Ali moved her pro record to 9-0 (8 KO's) when she knocked out Christine Robinson of Lexington, South Carolina with a barrage of rights and a left uppercut at 1:50 in the fifth round. Robinson absorbed Ali's right repeatedly in the early rounds but hung tough and landed a few hard rights of her own in the third. Ali became more aggressive and started leading with a left jab, keeping her right cocked, ready for an opening. Robinson matched Ali punch for punch in the fourth, but Ali got the upper upper hand when she backed Robinson into a corner in the fifth. Ali threw a barrage of rights then put Robinson down for the count with a powerful left. Robinson fell to 2-5 (1 KO) with the loss.

The stage was set for a much-hyped Ali vs. Frazier IV generational "grudge match" that pitted Laila Ali against Joe Frazier's daughter Jacqui Frazier-Lyde at the Turning Stone Casino on June 8, 2001. This bout again attracted major media coverage, including being featured as the cover story in the week's TV Guide (a first for women's boxing).

Frazier-Lyde, a Philadelphia lawyer,  had taken up boxing specifically to fight Laila Ali. "It would be a great draw," she had said when she first proposed the bout. "It would establish Laila financially, and then I would establish her horizontally."

Before facing Laila Ali, Jacqui Frazier-Lyde had fought only safe opponents and had shown little sign of the ring skills needed to make Ali vs. Frazier IV more than the palest shadow of their fathers' famous encounters. The boxing press talked of the daughters sullying their fathers' reputations. Some predicted a "Groaner in Verona". Many in the men's boxing world, often far from friendly to female fighters,   seemed ready to trash women's boxing yet again if the event was a flop.

In a complete reversal of roles from the earlier generation, Ali was the quiet one during pre-fight press events, while Frazier-Lyde talked a blue streak, hurling taunts and jibes at Ali while "selling" the fight as a grudge match. As the media spotlight on the two daughters broadened well beyond the usual scope of sports coverage, I just held my breath and hoped they would put on a good show. (Nobody could reasonably have expected two boxers with single-digit fight experience to come close to matching the wars that their fathers had waged.)

In fact, Ali vs. Frazier IV, while far from the best boxing that female fighters produced in 2001, turned out to be an entertaining toe-to-toe slugfest.

Frazier-Lyde (164 lbs) rose to the occasion and took Ali (160¾ lbs) to a hard-fought eight-round majority decision. The scorecards were 77-75 and (an, in my view, absurd) 79-73 for Ali, while one card had it a draw at 76-76. Frazier-Lyde started aggressively but Ali won the middle rounds. Frazier-Lyde looked like she might be in trouble but she charged back in the late going and staggered Ali several times in a rousing finish. The two biggest names among the blooming crop of "famous boxing daughters" had confounded some of the skeptics by putting on a show that might encouraged many to take a closer look at other women's boxing! As she had done against Kendra Lenhart in her first six-rounder, Ali faded in the late going, and showed signs that she needed to work on her endurance if she had her sights set on ten-rounders against the best of her weight division, who now eagerly awaited her. [Fight report by Dee Williams; Fight report by Brian Ackley]

Muhammad Ali didn't attend his daughter's most-publicized fight to date, because of a prior commitment to a NASCAR event. After this event, Laila Ali took another timeout from competition, this time for surgery to her shoulder, while also teaching boxing aerobics classes ("The Ali Way") three times a week,

Ali returned to the ring on June 7, 2002 at the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven, Mississippi. Weighing in at 164 lbs, she cruised to a six-round unanimous decision over Shirvelle Williams (159 lbs) of St.Petersburg, Florida. Williams ate left-right combinations and jabs throughout the bout after Ali took charge in the opening round with several hard rights. Williams tired in the middle of the fight but rallied in the fifth and sixth, only to eat more left-right combinations and body shots. Williams landed a hard right in the sixth but Ali responded quickly with a booming left to the head. Williams ended the fight with a battered left eye and fell to 4-3-0 (2 KO).

On August 17, 2002 at Aladdin Hotel and Casino, in Las Vegas, Nevada, Laila (165½ lbs) won her first world title before a capacity crowd and a national PPV audience. Ali TKO'd Suzette Taylor (166 lbs) of Las Vegas at 1:11 in the second round to take the IBA Super Middleweight belt. Referee Kenny Bayless halted the scheduled 10-rounder after titleholder Taylor absorbed a barrage of unanswered punches. Ali showed good hand speed and her body punching had Taylor in trouble in the opening round. Ali frequently beat Taylor to the punch and showed a combination of speed and power that spoke volumes about her progress as a boxer. (Taylor's previous fight had been a loss to Ali's arch-rival Jacqui Frazier-Lyde for the WIBA light heavyweight belt in December 2001.) Taylor fell to 10-7-1 (7 KOs). [Video]

WBAN named Laila Ali its Fighter of the Month in September 2002.

On November 8, 2002 at the Stratosphere Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, Laila (167 lbs) won by a TKO at 1:14 in the eighth round over IWBF and WIBA Super Middleweight champion Valerie Mahfood (161 lbs) of Groves, Texas in a triple title-unification bout. Ali dominated the Texan, with whom she had testy exchanges before the fight. Both took some time to warm up in the first round but after this it was all Ali as she began to land hard left hooks to Mahfood's chin and bloodied Mahfood's nose with a straight right. Ali began to work Mahfood's body in the fourth and Laila's digging left hooks paid dividends by the sixth round as Mahfood's gloves began to come down. Ali began to unload on the flagging Mahfood in the seventh and started the eighth with a pounding right to the head that bloodied Mahfood some more. Ali later backed Mahfood to the ropes where she uncorked a fierce left-right-left combination that brought referee Joe Cortez in to save Mahfood from further punishment. Ali said she was unhappy at the stoppage as she wanted to continue to pay Mahfood back for her prefight comments. Ali took home the WIBA and the IWBF Super Middleweight belts as well as her IBA belt from this bout, which was carried live on ESPN2.  Mahfood fell to 13-5-0 (7 KO). (There are more fight photos and a behind-the-scenes report by Sue TL Fox on the WBAN Records Member Site).

Under new trainer Roger Mayweather, Ali has developed boxing skills to match the expectations that her name conjures up for the boxing community. WBAN named her its Fighter of the Year in 2002.

On February 14, 2003 at Louisville Gardens in Louisville, Kentucky, fighting in her dad's original home town, Laila (167 lbs) TKO'd former world champion Mary Ann Almager (5'8", at 168 lbs the heaviest of her ring career) of Midland, Texas at 1:55 in the fourth round. Ali took the action to Almager in the opening round while still looking wary of Almager's southpaw stance and ring experience. Almager looked overmatched by by Ali's quickness and reach in the second, and was swinging her punches, looking to tag Ali with one haymaker. Almager kept swinging in the third while Ali threw precise combinations and kept her distance well. Almager faded as Ali picked her apart with body shots in the fourth and the fight was stopped with Mary Ann clearly out of gas against the ropes and hurting from a hard right to the midsection. The 34-year-old Almager, who came out of retirement to take the fight, fell to 14-6-0 (9 KO) with the loss.

On June 21, 2003 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA, Laila again stopped Valerie Mahfood (168 lbs), this time at 1:17 in the sixth round. Neither showed any reluctance to mix it up on the inside in this second matchup, but Ali found a home for a counter right hand that could shake Mahfood. Mahfood landed some solid leather in exchanges in the third and fifth rounds and opened a small cut near Ali's eye in the fifth. In the sixth, Ali shook up Mahfood with a right hand with Mahfood on the ropes, then continued to smash Mahfood's head back with hard rights, prompting referee David Mendoza to stop the bout. Ali didn't look quite as sharp in this fight as she had in their first match last November, but she still had enough to overwhelm Mahfood. "I hit her good with a right hand. That is when I decided to take her out then," said Ali, adding "I didn't underestimate her and she didn't underestimate me. I fought the way men fight, which is an exciting style like HBO wants. It takes a star to make Women's boxing grow. I just hope that networks like HBO take notice."  Mahfood fell to 13-6-0 (7 KO).

On August 23, 2003 at Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center, Biloxi, Mississippi, Laila (162 lbs) knocked out Christy Martin (who had normally fought as a welterweight or junior welterweight but weighed in at 159 lbs wearing bulky combat fatigues) at 0:48 in the fourth round of a PPV Main Event. The scheduled ten-rounder was for Ali's IBA Super Middleweight title ... but also on the line was status as the icon of women's boxing. Christy Martin (5'4") had personified the sport in the 1990's but was at a severe height and reach disadvantage against Ali. Martin charged out to start the fight and both landed heavily at first but Ali staggered Martin against the ropes near the end of the round,  which left Martin already red and swollen under her left eye. Ali again rocked Martin early in the second. Martin came back to land some shots near the end of the second round, but Ali knocked her down in the third with a string of quick hard uppercuts. Martin was dropped by a rapid-fire barrage of leather in the fourth and her husband/trainer Jim exhorted her to "stay down" at not try to beat the count.

Martin was unable to counter Ali's reach advantage and get to within range to land combinations that might have slowed Ali down. "She was just too big," said Martin after the fight, adding, "she was in great shape and she kept on coming. She still fights like an amateur, but all around she was just too big." Ali conceded "Christy is tough, but I'm definitely stronger than her. She cracked me, but she didn't hurt me."

Martin fell to 45-3-2 (31 KO) with her first loss by knockout.

The weight discrepancy in the Ali-Martin fight may have been much larger than advertised. I've been told that Martin may only have been 147 lbs on fight night. I feel strongly that fighters should not be allowed to weigh in wearing bulky clothing like the combat fatigues that Martin showed up in. This fight might not have taken place if the Mississippi commission had applied more reasonable standards.

Ali's next scheduled appearance was to have been a six-rounder with unbeaten Gwendolyne O'Neil of Guyana on January 10, 2004 in Abuja Stadium, Lagos, Nigeria, in aid of a charity combating AIDS and human trafficking. O'Neil had already been in Nigeria for five days when Ali canceled her flight to Nigeria, citing flight connections that would not allow her adequate time to prepare for the bout.

On July 17, 2004 at Prince Georges Stadium in Bowie, Maryland, and televised live on Pay-Per-View, Laila (167¼ lbs) successfully defended her IBA World Super Middleweight title by TKO'ing former Toughwoman champion Nikki Eplion (167¾ lbs) of South Point, Ohio at 1:30 in the fourth round. Ali’s boxing skills and aggressive style were too much for Eplion, who was game but could not compete with Ali's mobility and power, despite stating in the pre-fight press conference that "I don't think she [Ali] will have an answer for [my] big left hand." Eplion began the fight aggressively, trying to land with that left, but her plan apparently went out the window when Ali walked past her punches and began  landing lead rights. Eplion began going backwards and was backed against the ropes and into corners as Ali picked up her pace and ramped up the pressure on her with the crowd chanting, “Ali, Ali”.  Eplion was knocked down four times in the third and fourth rounds and Ali was scoring hard right hands and short left uppercuts before referee Gary Camponeshi stopped the bout. Eplion fell to 13-2-2 (8 KO). 

Ali vs. Nunez in July 2004
© Copyrighted photo by Brian Ackley

On July 30, 2004 before 17,000 fans at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, Laila (168 lbs) successfully defended her IWBF Super Middleweight belt by stopping Mónica Núñez (164 lbs) of the Dominican Republic at 0:42 seconds in the ninth round. Ali had Núñez on the ropes when the challenger's corner threw in the towel. See the full story by Brian Ackley, WBAN's Senior Editor, who writes that "While fans were warmly enthusiastic in their support, many also felt unsatisfied and grumbled at the end result when Nunez’s corner, for no reason apparent ... waved the bout to a sudden halt. Many fans didn’t even know what had happened. Rarely did Ali let her punches go, and even rarer was her attempts to try and step back from Nunez’s clutch and grab survival strategy. Even at the stoppage, while Ali did have Nunez pinned briefly on the ropes near a neutral corner, the Dominican challenger appeared relatively unhurt." Ackley adds '"The win over Nunez was solid, but certainly lackluster in many ways. The expected Ali “beat down” turned into more “hoe down,” with the combatants going round and round often in clinches. Ali did do some decent body work in the middle rounds which wore Nunez down, but as early as the second round, there were scattered catcalls from those who expected Ali to ratchet up the inspiration fighting in her father’s hometown." (For more photos of this fight, see Photo Gallery #191 at the WBAN Records Member Site).

“Well, I was happy that I won", said Ali. "I wasn’t happy that my opponent didn’t want to fight, but sometimes that happens. I’m trying to stay busy right now. It’s back home and back to the gym. There’s not too many girls out there for me right now. It’s hard for me to stay motivated lately, so I just want to stay busy.”  Núñez fell to 9-2 (4 KO).

On September 24th, 2004 at the Phillips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, Laila (174¼ lbs) won the IWBF Light Heavyweight title with a third-round knockout of Gwen O'Neil (175 lbs) of Guyana. Ali began this fight letting O'Neil come to her while she blocked most of her punches with her gloves, a strategy reminiscent of her father's "rope-a-dope" tactic against George Foreman.  As O'Neil appeared to tire after just a minute of this, Ali began to respond with quick jabs and hard hooks to her body. She responded to a lazy jab by O'Neil midway through the second round by knocking her down with a counter right to the chin. O'Neil recovered quickly but the same scenario played out later in the round, putting O'Neil down for an eight count that left her still wobbly. Ali turned up the heat in the third as O'Neil looked increasingly desperate.  Ali dropped O'Neil in a neutral corner with another right to the jaw as the third round was ending. This time O'Neil sat stunned as she was counted out by referee Jim Korb. “She was tough,” said Ali, “I had to hit her with straight rights to knock her down.”  Ali improved to 19-0 (16 KOs) with the win while O'Neil fell to 9-4-1 (6 KOs).

On February 11th, 2005 at the Phillips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, 8213 ringside fans and a live ESPN2 audience saw Laila (168 lbs) defend her WIBA Super Middleweight title by TKO'ing Cassandra Geiggar (170 lbs) of Arkansas at 1:13 in the eighth round of a scheduled ten-rounder.  Ali worked the body against the bigger but over-matched Geiggar, who didn't throw many punches but instead seemed intent on smothering Ali's at close quarters.  Ali began slowly and didn't need to show much movement to control the action easily.  Ali stepped up her work rate in the third (and took advantage of Geiggar's apparent confusion over the ten second warning to go after the Arkansas fighter, who thought the round was over and was on her way back to her corner). Geiggar showed her toughness in the later rounds by standing up to a steady barrage of punishment, including a bad swelling over her left eye.  Ali came out aggressively in the eighth and eventually dropped Geiggar to one knee beside the ropes.  Geiggar had now lost her appetite for continuing the lop-sided affair, which was ended by the referee.

Geiggar fell to 6-5 (6 KO's).  After the fight, Ali said that her next opponent could be WIBA Middleweight champion Leatitia Robinson of Chicago, who KO'd Monica Núñez in the first round of on the undercard of the Ali-Geiggar mismatch. She also hinted that she is thinking about starting a family.

On June 11, 2005 at the MCI Center, Washington, District Of Columbia, with her father among the 15,472 ringside fans, Laila (167½ lbs) TKO'd Erin Toughill (168 lbs) of Huntington Beach, California at 1:54 in the third round to win the newly-minted WBC Women's Super Middleweight title.  In the first round Ali and Toughill, a world-class MMA fighter with limited boxing experience, both began cautiously. In the second round, Toughill sported a bloody (and broken) nose and the crowd began chanting, “Ali, Ali, Ali.”  Ali had the faster hands, and Toughill was unable to mount a consistent attack, so Ali took charge. Though Ali used a jab occasionally to set up other punches, most of her damage was done with a stiff right hand that Toughill seemed unable to avoid. By the end of the second round, Toughill's nose was bleeding profusely, and her corner was unable to stop it. Toughill started the third round more effectively but by the end of the round, Ali backed her into a corner throwing a barrage of combinations, landing about 15 unanswered punches to Toughill's face. The bout was stopped when Toughill turned her back to her. Muhammad Ali said of his daughter's performance ... “she’s bad”. The bout was also a defence of Ali's WIBA Super Middleweight and was carried live on Showtime pay-per-view. Ali improved her record to 21-0-0 (18 KOs) while Toughill fell to 6-2-1 (0 KOs).

After the bout, Ali’s then husband and manager Yahya McClain said that “We’re looking at some bouts overseas. We’re looking at South Africa, maybe China, maybe Germany. Right now, we’re not looking at what’s here in America because it’s just too much headache to make these fights with Ann Wolfe, Vonda Ward or Leatitia Robinson. They keep backing out. It doesn’t make sense for me to keep trying to make these matches because they keep falling out. Maybe Vonda Ward because of the historical significance,” McClain continued. “Laila would fight for the heavyweight championship of the world like her father did. But those are the only things on the table at this moment.”

“The two girls I want to fight are Leatitia Robinson and Ann Wolfe,” said Ali. "Ann Wolfe because she is a strong girl, she has a good record, she’s been talking a lot of noise, the public wants to see me fight her, she looks scary and we want to make that fight happen.
Same with Leatitia Robinson, we put Robinson on two of my undercards but when it was time to make the fight happen, she started talking crazy. Then you have to make them starve a little bit and make them recognize again until they understand.”

Ali is the winner by TKO over Sandell in Berlin

On December 17, 2005 at Max Schmeling Halle in Berlin, Germany,   
a sell-out crowd of over 10,000 saw Laila (169½ lbs) defeat Asa Sandell (6'2",166½ lbs) of Sweden by a TKO at 1:51 seconds of the fifth round. This was Ali's first fight without McClain as her manager. After more than holding her own by using a left hook against an unusually sluggish-looking Ali in the early going, a tiring Sandell looked stunned after taking a hard right 90 seconds into the fifth round. Ali took advantage of the opportunity and threw a barrage of combinations, backing Sandell up against the ropes and peppering her with more quick combos.  Sandell looked winded and failed to defend herself, so the referee stopped the fight. (
WBAN Round by Round report by Peter Geudens).

After the fight Ali said “I expected the fight to be a little tougher than usual because she was a tall opponent and she was a tough fighter. And I felt like they stopped the fight too soon. I was a little disappointed at the stoppage because I didn’t think that she was ready to go yet. I wanted to put her out. She was on her way there. I had a game plan, I was working my way to her, and I started to get closer and closer, and I finally turned up the heat and they stopped the fight. It’s happened to me before. You know what I mean? These referees for women, for some reason, they don’t want to see ‘em get hurt. But, I have to give her her props; she did very well."  (For photos of this fight's weigh-in, see Photo Gallery #315 at the WBAN Records Member Site).

Shelley Burton vs. Laila Ali in Madison Square Garden
© Copyrighted photo taken by Lori Steinhorst

On November 11, 2006 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Laila (166½ lbs) TKO'd Shelley Burton (164 lbs) of Kalispell, Montana at 1:58 in the fourth round defending her WIBF and WBC Super Middleweight belts. According to the Reuters report, "Laila Ali fought conservatively at first, but soon it was clear she could land her big right at will, stunning her challenger several times. As the fourth round was drawing to an end, the 28-year-old Ali landed a left-right combination flush to the nose of Burton, who stooped over as blood poured out and referee Arthur Mercante Jr. called the fight off with two seconds left in the round."  Ali improved her record to 23-0 (20 KO's) wile Burton dropped to 8-3-1 (2 KO's).  The bout was not carried by HBO, despite being the co-Main Event on a card on which men's fights were carried by HBO, but see "HBO was right" by Bernie McCoy for a contrary view.

On February 3, 2007 at the Emperor's Palace Casino in Johannesburg, South Africa Laila Ali (168 lbs) stopped Gwendolyn O’Neil (165¾ lbs) of Georgetown, Guyana just 0:56 seconds into the first round of a scheduled ten-rounder for the WBC and WIBA Super Middleweight titles.  Ali was quoted in an AP article that she “apologized” to boxing fans including former South African President Nelson Mandela, for the brevity of the fight. The fight's publicity was out of proportion to its competitiveness, as Ali had already easily dispatched O'Neil in 2004 on the last occasion that O'Neil fought outside Guyana where her opposition is limited (her last three opponents had a combined 5-19-2 record). Ali improved her record to 24-0 (21 KO's) and intimated that she would not be boxing again for a while.  O'Neil fell to 12-5-1 (7 KO's).

WBAN received a large number of comments from readers after the second O'Neil fight regarding Ali's boxing career, its effect on women's boxing, and the possibility that this mismatch might be Ali's last fight. 

Ali said she was looking for a rematch with Jacqui Frazier-Lyde to do what she couldn't in their first fight ... knock Jacqui out! Asked about this rematch by WBAN's Sue TL Fox, Ali replied: "I always thought that after she (Frazier) fought me, that she would quit. The thing is...I still feel the same way about Jacqui as I always did.   The bottom line is the  business side of it. Jacqui obviously wants to fight me, and if we can make it happen, and we can make it happen big ... then we can make it happen. She's in my weight class, and she is a world champion now. And there's not that many in my weight class that are challenging anyway. And I  was not that happy with my performance in that fight, so that has been on my mind----I definitely will fight her again." 

In fact, the O'Neil fight proved to be Ali's last as a pro boxer. She went on to compete on Dancing With the Stars, coming in third behind Apolo Anton Ohno and Joey Fatone in 2008. In 2009, she joined Hulk Hogan in the re-make of American Gladiators, and became a regular on the talk-show circuit.

Ali had matured into a strong and capable boxer whose ring career would merit serious attention even without her family name. But the media buzz, endorsements and fame she achieved came from the extra ingredient her background brought to the world of women's boxing.. 

Ali did not grow up to close to her famous father. She is the younger of two daughters with his third wife, Veronica, and she lived with her mother in California after her parents divorced when she was eight. She grew up in Malibu and graduated from Santa Monica Community College. Her defiant attitude to the world got her into some street fights, according to promoter Mike Acri. At age 16, she was busted for shoplifting and later did a three month stint in a juvenile detention hall for "something else". Before turning to professional boxing, she ran a beauty salon.

Ali is reluctant to compare herself to her father: "We're two different people, but I know that because I am his daughter that I naturally have boxing skills that most people probably don't have when they start" she told reporters before her Verona debut. "My dad never had this much attention on him when he was first fighting,"

Ali's decision to box despite her father's struggle with the symptoms of Parkinson's disease has of course sparked a mixture of debate and criticism.

Ali states that her father painted the worst possible picture of boxing for her and "he doesn't want me to get hurt" but supports her 100 percent. "He always wants to make sure that I know what I'm doing is not easy and you're going to get hit and bruised and the wind is going to get knocked out ... he always takes your mind to the worst possible scenario to see if you're going to still want to go forward with it", she says. "I'm going to get hit, I'm going to get my face swollen, it's going to happen," she said.

Laila's credentials as a magnet for worldwide media attention (and for ongoing questions about whether women's boxing is sport or spectacle) were clear. As she continued to fight more experienced boxers, she built interest in women's boxing as well as her own career. Ironically, her biggest publicity boost came from a fight that she herself seemed to disdain ... the challenge from Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, who did a great job of promoting their generational battle and then put on a tenacious scrap once they were in the ring.

Ali with the WIBA and IFBA belts
© Copyrighted photo by Sue TL Fox

Throughout her ring career Laila Ali walked in the largest possible footprints ... with the world watching to see if she measured up! Her genes may have bestowed some extra skills, but they also brought her extra scrutiny as fight fans asked if she could live up to the expectations generated by her famous name.

Women's boxing as a whole was better off because of the extra attention she garnered for the sport.

More Laila Ali Links

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Page last updated: Sunday, 09 December 2012


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