February’s focus was on the mind: the most powerful tool we have as humans. Some people are born with an unshakable belief. Laila Ali, just like her father Muhammad Ali, always knew she was the greatest in the ring and felt that way before any of her fights began. I have always been the biggest Muhammad Ali fan. I have a painting of him on my kitchen wall, and some of his quotes are words I live by. I have a tattoo of his face on my arm. To say I’m a fan might be an understatement, and during my interview with Laila, I made sure not to mention those things in case I seemed a little over the top. My business partner, Betty Dodson, said she connected with Laila and she agreed to do an interview with me. I spent the next week stalking her pretty hard getting all my research in order. I am now a hardcore Laila Ali fan as my days of research left me in awe. This woman literally does everything, and she is just getting warmed up.
Let’s make a list.
She competed in 24 fights, 21 of which she won by knock out. She also won the other fights– just didn’t quite knock her opponents out. She has been in movies and has hosted multiple TV programs. Most recently Laila was in Celebrity Apprentice. She has written a book called Reach, which is focused on inspiring youth. She has a cookbook coming out in the fall, and she helps in the fight against heart disease. Laila is part of a mentor program, has her own hair-styling products and is an ambassador for the American Dental Association. She has done a tremendous amount for female athletes, including helping with Title IX. She has a podcast, has two kids, and she has done a lot more, but I think you get the picture. The funny thing about this list is I asked her if she ever thought she would do all these things, and her knee-jerk reaction was, “That list isn’t long enough.” She admitted to not wanting to get caught up with lists, minus her to do lists where she has to prioritize what is on her plate because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for all she wants to do. Laila is living proof that if you believe you can do anything, you can.
What I liked the most about talking with Laila is she seemed totally real. She admitted that she isn’t good at everything, and, yes, she has insecurities like everybody else. Knowing what her strengths are is important, but she also spoke to wanting to improve her weaknesses. Her confidence, she claims, “Comes from preparation.” Walking into the ring, she focused on the hours of work she put in and believed that those moments were hers. She would visualize the end of the fight, her success, and then she would, “think about that piece of cake she was allowed after the fight,” she said jokingly. Generally, before big fights there is a lot of press around the two fighters, and they often cross paths in the hotel, to and from events, and Laila said she could tell everything she needed to know in her opponents’ eyes. She could sense their fear, and if she couldn’t sense any fear it motivated her even more, because she knew it would only be a matter of time before she would defeat her opponent.
It seems to me that people who are successful are the ones who are less concerned with failing and more concerned with the effort, which is one of my favourite quotes from the Buddha, “The greatest effort is not concerned with results.” Laila sees mistakes as learning opportunities, and even though she can be upset about them, she seems to move on quickly and leave the emotion behind.
My last question for Laila was about how she manages to keep balance in her life with all that she has going on. She admitted that it is her current biggest obstacle. She wants to help everyone, say yes to everyone, but sometimes she has to say no to opportunities so she can focus whole heartedly on the task at hand. She isn’t huge on lending out her name to charities because for her the most important thing is to be hands on and see the difference being made, so anytime you see Laila’s name associated with a cause, you know she is all in.
During our skype call she had a yellow Muhammad Ali t-shirt on and didn’t seem worried about time when we were chatting, and even though she was in L.A. and I was in Malmo, Sweden, I could still feel her presence. Laila is much more than a boxer, and her main mission now is to inspire healthy living to those who follow and support her. Her priorities, despite all the fame around her, have stayed the same. She wants to be the best version of herself, inspire those around her, and she wants to be with her family. She could hire a chef or someone to take care of her kids, but that’s not how she wants her children growing up. She is famous but isn’t caught up in it, which I think is a real art.
I asked if she could take on all the boxers in the 2012 London Olympics, which was the first time women were able to compete in boxing. She was the commentator for NBC sports during the fights, and even though she is retired, she said, “Oh yeah, without a doubt,” and giggled, but not like she was joking, rather that to her she is truly the greatest, not just when she was fighting, but period.