The greatest is gone
Laila Ali talks about her father Muhammad Ali
Chaunce Hayden: Everyone’s heard the phrase, “Like father, like son.” But in your case, “Like father, like daughter” works just as well. Do you agree?
Laila Ali: (Laughs) I guess! We’re alike in a lot of ways. But we’re also different in a lot of ways.
I would think you feel enormous pressure to live up to the Ali name. Would I be right?
No. Because in my own mind that’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to be Laila. My last name is Ali, but people only have high expectations of me because of the standards I set for myself.
Muhammad Ali did so much for the sport of boxing and its image. Then Mike Tyson came along and seemingly helped destroy all of your father’s work. In your opinion, did Tyson ruin boxing?
No. I don’t believe one person can represent everybody. Of course every time something negative happens in a sport, people are going to associate it with that entire sport. Like Kobe [Bryant] and basketball. But Kobe doesn’t represent the entire NBA. Boxing has always been shady. There’s constantly something negative going on in boxing. I think that that isn’t good. But it’s always going to be that way because it’s just the kind of sport that it is. There are no organized committees and people looking out for the boxers. It’s the kind of sport where so many different kinds of characters can come in and get a fighter and put him in a fight. It’s just like that. But nobody can damage what my dad has done. History is already in stone. You know what I’m saying?
Do you blame boxing for your dad’s health problems?
No. The disease my father has is a disease people get that aren’t fighters. That didn’t come from boxing. But that said, even if he didn’t have the disease, he would still suffer the effects from boxing such as slurred speech and memory loss. Its things like that that fighters who stay in the ring for a long time end up getting. Just like every other fighter who looks up to Muhammad Ali and loves Muhammad Ali but still continues to fight. Anything can happen in the ring. Just like a race car driver knows that he can get in an accident and die, but he still does it. You can try to be preventative, like getting out of the ring in time and not getting beat up too bad. But if it’s going to happen it’s going to happen.
What did you think of Will Smith’s portrayal of your father in the movie, “Ali”?
I think he did a good job playing my dad. Obviously to me he didn’t seem like my dad because my dad is my dad. But I think he did a really good job as an actor and becoming that character.
Muhammad Ali is known and loved by everyone around the globe. I don’t think there’s a person on earth other than your father who means so much to so many people worldwide. What is it like to be his daughter? In some ways it almost makes you royalty.
I don’t feel that way. I’m just a regular. I have bills to pay and I have people around me dying from diseases. I deal with the same types of things on a daily basis that everybody else deals with. I don’t live my life like a celebrity. I go to the store by myself, I grocery shop, I pay my own bills, and I clean up dog shit in the yard! I do all the damn things that other people do. (Laughs) So to answer your question, I don’t feel like royalty! Not at all! I’m just a real person. But you can look at it another way. Yes, I do feel special as a person because my dad was such a great man, and that gives me a certain confidence in the ring. But outside of the ring I’m just a regular person.
The world today is in such turmoil. Your father has always been a vocal and tireless ambassador for world peace and love. How does he feel about the world these days?
It’s sad for him and it’s sad for me too. He feels so helpless because he has no control over it. So many bad things are happening at once and so fast. My dad does what he can. He’s a humanitarian. He goes around and visits people in these troubled countries and tries to bring a level of awareness to them. But at the same time, what can he do? He’s not God. I’m sure he feels like everybody else feels. He’s sad about it and just does what he can to help.
Do kids today know the importance of your father?
A lot of the kids today know who Muhammad Ali is, but they don’t know his legacy.
What boxing advice has your father giving you?
Stay focused no matter how big I get in boxing, and always remember to train hard. Because once you lose, it ain’t the same anymore.