Whether standing at the podium, or answering myriad questions, Laila Ali looked as comfortable in the spotlight on Wednesday as her father, Muhammad Ali, once did. When your last name is Ali, the gift of gab comes naturally.
"It's in my blood," said Ali, smiling about her loquaciousness, while promoting her fight tomorrow night against Erin Toughill.
"I've carried the load, bringing women's boxing to the forefront. There's a lot of women out there training hard, but they don't have what it takes to get the public recognition," Ali said.
"There are always going to be critics of women's boxing. We've been taught that women should be protected. A lot of people don't like women fighting, and I can understand that. But it ain't going to stop the show. I'll tell you one thing. A lot of those men who have something to say can't whip me," she said.
Nor can they outtalk her. While the heavyweight bout between Mike Tyson (50-5) and Kevin McBride (32-4-1) will be the main event of tomorrow night's card at the MCI Center, the Ali-Toughill bout is the main preliminary event. The winner will become the first World Boxing Council women's super-middleweight champion, and the exposure of fighting on a pay-per-view Tyson card will give many who have not seen Ali, or women's boxing, a chance to draw their own conclusions.
Ali did not start boxing to become a crusader for women's participation in the sport. However, she has been dubbed the Queen of Boxing, and her opinions carry weight. She is undefeated (20-0), glamorous and marketable, and her boxing ability and work ethic have convinced many of her former critics about her passion for the sport. Yet, Ali readily admits that a woman who wants to box professionally should prepare for a tough experience.
"I don't ever try to tell people to get in this game," said Ali, who is 27, and started boxing in 1999. "It's not for everybody. I think I'm a little off for wanting to go into it. It's a hard way to make a living.
"Like this girl Toughill [6-1-1], she thinks if she beats me, she's going to have all the things I have. That's not the case. I have a very important, famous last name behind me. My skills keep backing it up, but without that name, it doesn't matter how good a fighter I was, it would have been tougher."
While Ali did not reveal what she would be paid for tomorrow's bout, it would be nowhere near the US$5 million that Tyson is supposed to receive. However, Ali sounded comfortable with what she has accomplished and she insisted she would not chase money at the risk of hurting her reputation. Next month, Lucia Rijker and Christy Martin will fight for the biggest payday in women's boxing history, with US$1 million going to the winner. Martin is a popular women's boxing veteran, while Rijker has become a celebrity, because of her role in the blockbuster movie Million Dollar Baby.
Ali has already beaten Martin, and Ali insisted she would not fight Rijker for US$1 million. Ali is a 5-10 super-middleweight, much bigger than Rijker, a 5-foot-6 junior welterweight. Ali believes that a victory over Rijker would prove nothing.
Saying she has "a legacy to protect," Ali insists money is not as important to her as it may be to other fighters.
"I have my future set. I'm not worried about what Mike's making, and what the men are making," she said. "That's the mistake a lot of people make. I'm winning. I'm undefeated. That's what I want to be.