Lalia Ali 'following my dad's footsteps' to Africa

Updated: June 23, 2006, 6:03 PM ET
Associated Press

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Another Ali is going to fight in Africa.

Nearly 32 years after Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle," his daughter, Laila, plans to fight this summer in Cape Town, South Africa.

"There's a lot of love for Ali in South Africa," she said Friday. "I'm following in my dad's footsteps."

It will be the 28-year-old boxer's first visit to Africa. She wasn't born in 1974 when Ali won the heavyweight title in Kinshasa, Zaire, now the Congo.

"Whether my father fought in Africa or not, I would go to Africa because it's just one of those places you want to go," she said.

"It's an historical event. We may not see that now, but in the future, this is something I can look back on and be proud of."

Muhammad Ali, who at 64 is slowed by Parkinson's disease, has been invited by the organizers to attend.

"Sometimes you don't know until the last minute whether he's going to make it or not," she said. "It just depends on how he feels."

Ali attended his daughter's previous bout in Germany in December.

"It's always nice when my dad is there because the energy of the crowd is spectacular," she said.

Last year, Laila Ali created a stir when she said her father's health seemed to be fading. That led to unfounded rumors that Ali had months to live.

"That was blown out of proportion," she said. "Anybody is concerned about someone who has a disease, but not in a bad way. He's the same as he's always been, good days and bad days."

Although she said they don't speak daily, she added, "I definitely, for the most part, know where my dad is and what he's doing. He's doing good."

Ali, the women's WBC champion, is 22-0 with 19 knockouts since her pro debut in 1999. She is scheduled to fight Ijeoma Egbunine, an Atlanta-based Nigerian with a 12-1 record, according to Harlan Werner, Ali's co-manager.

Borrowing a bit of her dad's old boastfulness, Ali proclaimed, "I am definitely going to knock this girl out, but I don't call rounds. That would put so much pressure on me. Every girl fights me 10 times harder because they feel they have so much to gain."

Some proceeds from the Aug. 5 bout will benefit the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The light heavyweight matchup will be part of a monthlong celebration of women's empowerment in South Africa.

"It's a strong affirmation for our women, who, for the most part, have been relegated to the lowest level of society," said Jeanette Ndhlovu, South African consul general in Los Angeles. "Her presence will show it's possible to overcome sex and race to become a role model."

Ali plans to spend three weeks in South Africa leading up to the fight, visiting school kids and impoverished neighborhoods.

"The people that have AIDS and HIV, that can't come to the fight, to be able to go and speak to them and make a difference and make an impact in their life, that's what's cool about this whole situation," she said.

"It's just wonderful that it can happen in South Africa and that so many other people can benefit from me fighting, other than just me and the promoters making money. The people of South Africa can be inspired and motivated."

Ali, who last year divorced her husband and former promoter Yahya McClain, enjoys traveling, cooking and decorating -- leisurely pursuits that belie her day job.

"I don't love boxing. Boxing doesn't love me. It's a brutal sport," she said. "I'm crazy for the fact that I like it. I say, `Why do I do this?' But then, I can't imagine living and not doing it."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press