LAILA ALI, May 14, 2003

The 411 Online caught up with Laila Ali during the press conference announcing the nominees for the 2003 BET Awards.

What advice would you give young women interested in the male-dominated world of sports, whether it's boxing or basketball or whatever?

"Personally, I don't really focus on the fact that it's male-dominated, because the way the world is now we're pretty much able to do what we want to do. As long as you're willing to work hard and be the best that you can be, then you should be able to make it. The world of boxing is a little behind everyone else, every other sport, so you just have to make sure you get with somebody who takes you seriously and who knows the game and who is going to guide you along the right way."

You won for the best female athlete award at last year's BET Awards. How do you feel about this year's nomination?

"Well, I'm happy to be nominated, because I'm definitely an athlete and I'm definitely Black and I'm definitely doing my thing. So I believe that I need to be nominated and I was surprised that I won last year to tell you the truth -- now I know I deserve it -- but I'm saying I was a little surprised because Venus and Serena [Williams] were doing so much. Since then I've actually won three title belts, so if I won last year, I really better win this year."

What do you say to critics who say that what you do isn't 'ladylike'?

"People don't really say that to me too much. What I get usually is, 'You're so pretty, why do you box?' I'm so used to that now that it kind of just goes in one ear and out the other because it's what I want to do. You know, my dad was handsome. I mean, he was famous for being so handsome and he was a fighter so it's always going to be the male-female thing. People aren't as comfortable with it, but I feel most comfortable in the ring. So I can't imagine anything different. I can't imagine the day that I stop. I know that I will, but I just love to fight. So I don't really have that."

There's a lot of sports stars who get bored and walk away from the game because they feel like they're not being challenged. Like Roy Jones Jr. moving up to the heavyweight division. Do you really feel like you're being challenged right now as a boxer?

"That's a complicated question for me because when I first started boxing, a lot of people thought it was a joke and people thought it was just a publicity stunt. They looked at me and just couldn't imagine that I would actually want to be a fighter and it was like, 'Who wants to do that? Only people that have to do it want to do it.' They didn't really give me credit for the fact that it's in my blood. I mean my dad is 'The Greatest' you know. When I first started boxing and I was fighting girls that maybe had one fight or two fights or three fights and I didn't have any, and I was knocking them out in the first round, it was like, 'Well that was just a tomato can.' We've always said that we need to progress. I didn't have an amateur background, so I wasn't going to get in there with the girls that were supposedly the best, but I always had my eye on them and I'd always tell my husband, who was my manager, I was like, 'I can whip them girls now.' But he knew it wasn't time for me yet, because I needed to get experience before I got into the public eye so I could actually look like a fighter and not look wild like a lot of these girls do. So now I'm fighting the girls that are the champions that are supposedly the ones that I would never fight because they were 'serious fighters' and I wasn't. I was 'just doing it for a publicity stunt.' But now I'm whuppin' them, taking their titles -- easily. I'm talking about making them look like tomato cans. That's my competition level right now. That's where women's boxing is. I can't help it if I'm better than they are. Now Roy Jones, you would say that he doesn't have any competition. Well, men's boxing is at that level where you can't say 'these men don't know how to fight.' But they say that about women. But these women have been boxing for 10 years and I've only been boxing for four, going on five years. It's in my blood. I love it. And yes, I feel like I will eventually stop. Like I mentioned earlier, I can't imagine it right now but I will because there's not that much competition, especially in my weight class. I'm a bigger girl. I'm a super middleweight. Most of the female fighters are like Lil' Kim's size. They're more competitive, because just as in male boxing, the smaller people focus more on their skills and not on power. And in my weight, the girls are just obsessed with being strong and they don't really have a lot of skill. So I come along and just wax 'em... whip their butt all up and down the ring. And then I get criticized like 'she ain't fighting nobody.' I'm fighting who I have. There's about three other people. I'm going against Jackie Frazier again, a girl named Ann Wolf and a couple of other people. You guys just make sure you come on the June 21. I'm fighting a girl named Kathy Rivers. She's 12-3, she's about my size and she's gonna get it, too."

-- J Rough, The 411 Online

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