Memorable meeting with boxing beauty Laila Ali

Boxing is now a taboo subject for Muhammad Ali's daughter

Ever since Laila Ali announced that she was arriving in the UAE I was hoping to meet her.

Being one of the greatest fans of her legendary father Muhammad Ali, I have been following her boxing career with more than a passing interest.

Laila is now a world renowned ambassador of health and wellness with her own lifestyle brand.

Since retiring from boxing in 2007, Laila has written a book and currently hosts the US TV show Everyday Health.

You can imagine the excitement when the date finally dawned to catch up with the four-time undefeated former world champion. She is in UAE to deliver a public health awareness campaign ‘Diabetes-Knowledge-Action’.

I arrived there a little later than the appointed time driving from Dubai.

I could not conceal my excitement that a fellow journalist chided me by saying, "You look as if you are having a date with Laila Ali".

She clearly takes after her father especially his kind hearted nature and genial qualities.

Being a celebrity in her own right, she could have strutted around like a prima donna and kept her distance from strangers.

But like her famous father, Laila enjoyed the adulation and wanted to reach out to people to spread her message of healthy living which was truly touching.

As we waited with bated breath for her arrival, like everyone I was awestruck by her statuesque beauty.

Her twinkling eyes and infectious smile, she completely disarmed us and made us feel comfortable as she shook hands with everyone who were introduced to her.

I was privileged and nervous to have a ringside seat directly facing her.

Since we had limited time, after questions had been asked on her project and her impressions of UAE, I tried to ask her the question which was on everybody's lips - the health of Muhammad Ali who is suffering from Parkinson's disease.

As the organisers interrupted to keep the questions related to the programme she is here, she coyly quipped "that was a nice try".

But when I asked her another question related to women's boxing which she was promoting, she said: "My father is in good health. Thank you."

It was like personally reassuring me that Ali who turned 71 in January and whose health is constantly reported to be deteriorating is alright.

Despite suffering from jetlag having arrived in Dubai the previous night, it was a wonder that she was still awake.

She appeared willing to talk and not duck any issues and as question time came to an end, my request for one more was shot down.

But amazingly she came close to me to answer it which was about whether boxing is a dangerous sport.

"Dangerous, yeah," she replied. "I'm not promoting it now."

Perhaps she is pained to see her father's condition and boxing seems to be a taboo subject.

She was wise enough to retire undefeated six years and doesn't want to be lured back into the ring like Muhammad Ali.

"I'm retired from boxing not promoting it. It is something I used to love doing. Now what I promote is health and lifestyle," she reiterated.

"Lifestyle is something which I'm passionate about which is very important for people who need to be educated and motivated," she said adding she was a mother who wanted to bring up her children in a certain way.

As a journalist I rarely wish to pose with stars.

But I could not resist the temptation of doing so with Laila Ali.

With the event over and guests about to leave after an interactive session with 20 youngsters, I mustered some courage to walk up to her to request for a photograph.

Her bodyguard stared at me as I approached her but Laila Ali calmly looked at me and said: "I remember you."

She obliged and even asked who is my photographer and looked directly at the camera.

I will definitely remember this memorable meeting with Laila Ali.

It was as good as meeting 'The Greatest' himself.
 

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