In conversation with Laila Ali

After hanging up her boxing gloves with a cool 24-0 record to her name, Laila ‘she bee stingin’ Ali raises the bar in her toughest challenge yet — encouraging a nation to become champions of fitness. Khaleej Times’ Kelly Clarke faces off with the inspirational woman — outside the ring


Kelly Clarke

Published: Fri 8 Mar 2013, 10:23 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 10:30 AM

She holds a boxing record that would quite literally knock the socks off anyone who dares challenge her to step into the ring again, but retired four-time world champion boxer, Laila Ali, is now focusing all of her strength on educating those who are more couch potato, than fitness fanatic.

The daughter of heavyweight boxing legend Muhammad Ali, Laila’s accomplishments have seen her noted as ‘the face of women’s boxing’, meaning she’s hot on the heels of her father’s legendary place in the sports history books.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Laila will be the guest of honour at the Inspirational Women of Fitness event, which is taking place today in the capital.

Here, she opens up about what 
inspires her, her drive behind building a healthy nation and her hopes of continuing the legacy that her father started.

Will this be your first visit to the Middle East?

Yes. I’m excited and looking forward to it. I want to see the beauty I keep hearing about.

What were your thoughts when you were approached about the Inspirational Women of Fitness event?

I thought it was a great idea. Especially (to raise awareness) in this part of the world. It’s something that I do in the States a lot, so it’s an honour to be able to come to the UAE and do what I’m so passionate about. I love inspiring women to be strong... but also to (encourage people) to live an active life. We have a lot of the same problems in the United States (that) you guys have in the UAE with diabetes, heart disease etc… It’s really natural for me (to do this). I’m devout.

How does it feel to know you are considered one of the world’s most inspirational women in fitness?

It feels good. I know I have a very popular last name, so that helps as far as awareness (is concerned). This is how I live my life. So it’s great to be able to inspire other women, when you’re just (doing the things) that you do naturally. (It) is very flattering of course… and I app-reciate that I am looked at as a woman of inspiration… but most importantly, it lets me know that all my hard work is paying off.

How has your father inspired you?

My father loves people and loves to travel. With my father being Muhammad Ali, I’ve always had big footsteps to walk in. I would like to continue his legacy by having the same positive impact he had on people.

And how is he keeping?

My father has Parkinson’s. I am so proud of him because even with this disease, he still does his best to try to help and encourage people. He is doing well.

Seen as an inspiration to many yourself, who inspires you?

I get inspiration from many places. Not just individual people. I love to see people happy. That inspires me to put more smiles on more faces.

The event falls on International Women’s Day. Do you consider yourself a bit of a feminist?

No. I have always focused on being the best I can be. I happen to be a woman, which of course is great, but I don’t limit my reach to just women.

Why is spreading awareness of fitness and well-being so important to you?

To me, it’s a lifestyle... and a lot of people have the opposite lifestyle. That’s (what contributes) to diseases like diabetes and heart disease and all these problems that we have. By doing this, I can try to help educate people and inspire them to live healthier, (especially) children… So many people are sick and unhealthy, which is confirmation that we all need to be further educated and inspired when it comes to healthy living.

Do you think this technologically advanced world contributes towards the decreasing fitness levels of people?

Yes. There is so much for them to do that does not involve physical activity (nowadays). People have become lazy and preoccupied with television, computers etc. Parents need to facilitate activities that the whole family can do together, such as going to the beach, swimming or bike riding.

The campaign focuses on fighting diabetes. Is this particular disease close to home for you?

Diabetes is one of the leading health problems in the United States, so I am always trying to speak about this topic. In the past, I have worked with the Women’s Sports Foundation, Healthy Child Healthy World and Peace 4Kids.

It sounds like it’s going to be an adrenaline-packed day. Have you been training hard for the event?

No. I work out regularly. That should have prepared me well enough for the event.

What message do you want people to take home after taking part in the event?

I want people to aspire to be the best they can be. This happens by taking care of the self. I hope to have a positive impact on the people in the UAE.

As a fitness expert, what does a typical day consist of for you?

My life is pretty normal. For the most part, I make it a habit to work out first thing in the morning. I don’t do one type of training. I mix it up. I run, spin, weight train, box and do pilates.

As a retired four-time world champion boxer, have you hung up the gloves for good?

I doubt I will fight again.

Fitness on Top

Inspirational Women of Fitness has received an overwhelming amount of support from the Abu Dhabi community. The Champion Partner of the event is Mubadala Healthcare. Active Life by Daman and Royal Group are Super Partners. UAE Women’s Sports Committee is the Empowerment Partner, and Occidental and Nutrislim are the Health and Fitness Partners.

Women’s boxing was introduced at the London Olympics last Summer. Do you think this will be the start of a surge in younger generations joining boxing/fitness clubs?

I would imagine so. So many young women saw boxing for the first time and it will probably make them want to participate.

As someone who is more a fan of the couch than the yoga mat, what would you recommend I do to see fitness as more of a friend than a foe?

Try to start slow. Get out and walk for 20 minutes a day, outside or on a treadmill. Leave your phone and computer (at home) and take the time to go within (yourself) and think. Use this time to connect with yourself, not just work out. That’s the best advice I can give.

Do you live by any particular motto?

When it comes to fitness: ‘You have to pay the cost to be the boss.’

And what’s next for you?

What’s next? I just shot an independent movie. I’m (also) in culinary school due to my passion for cooking and I will continue overseeing my hair care brand, while also building more businesses.

More news from