When Laila Ali strode down the center of the ballroom to the podium today as Club Industry's keynote speaker, the first thing I noticed was that she's not that big of a person, even though she proclaims to be a "big chick."
Laila Ali, of course, is the daughter of perhaps the biggest person in the world (figuratively speaking). In his prime, it was said that Muhammad Ali was the most famous person on the planet, and that probably holds true today. As we learned from his daughter, The Greatest of All Time will still remind you of how famous he is.
Laila Ali has made a name for herself, too, and like her dad, her fame initially came from the sport of boxing. At 15, Laila Ali was diagnosed with Graves ' disease, a thyroid condition that required radiation treatment. By 18, she had gained weight, so she decided to go to a boxing gym. It was for that reason--not because of her dad--that she gave boxing a try.
Today, Ali is the women's super middleweight boxing champion of the world with a 24-0 record, 21 by knockout. Although she has not retired from boxing, she did say she is not currently boxing because "there are no challenges in the sport."
Laila Ali used to be known as just a boxer or the daughter of a famous boxer. Now, a whole new group of fans know her from her time as a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars." She didn't want to participate in the TV program at first, but she eventually said yes and went on to become a finalist. She told us her partner wasn't all that nice and that the outfits she wore on the show were designed specifically for her.
Keeping off weight has always been a struggle for Ali, whether it's for boxing or for "Dancing with the Stars." She admittedly loves to eat, and even came to the podium with a Starbucks in her hand. For one of her fights, she had to drop eight pounds and wound up spitting just to lose extra ounces to make weight.
Ali made a great impression with the standing-room-only crowd by saying that you have to be comfortable in who you are. She's working on a kids program for Nickelodeon that focuses on getting obese children in shape. The show is being filmed in Decatur, IL, which Ali mentioned was "The Obese Capital of the World." A couple of people in the crowd said they were from Decatur, but they didn't seem to take too much offense with her comment.
Industry veteran Norm Cates stood up and had a request rather than a question, which made the crowd laugh heartily about what they thought his request was. But Norm got everybody on the same page when he told Ali, "Will you please tell your dad that we love him?"
"Yes," Laila replied, "I love him, too."
Muhammad Ali is now living in Arizona, close to where his daughter lives in California with her husband, former Chicago Bear Curtis Conway (who was dressed to the nines as he quietly stood near Laila Ali at the front of the room as she spoke to and took pictures with attendees after her speech). Laila said her dad still travels a lot despite his ongoing battle with Parkinson's disease and that he "looooves people." With her recent fame from "Dancing with the Stars," people come up to him and ask about her. That's usually not how it works with the most famous man on the planet.
In addition to the kids show, Laila Ali has a workout video with another boxing legend, Sugar Ray Leonard. She said it was a little hard to keep pumping herself up on camera so that she could get other people pumped up, too. Someone from the crowd asked if she wanted to do a talk show. She said it would be too much work, and she doesn't want to be on TV just to be on TV.
She is doing some promotional spots for Vaseline, and here, you can see more of the tattoo on her right shoulder that she displayed at the show once she took off her jacket. Judging by her arm(s), if she wanted to get back in the ring anytime soon, she'd handle herself just fine.