Laila Ali honestly didn’t know a whole lot about FFA before being asked to speak at the 90th Annual National FFA Convention, but she wished she would have as it may have kept her out of a lot of fights outside the ring growing up.
“When I read up on FFA, it put a smile on my face to know that all of you, thousands of you, are on the right track to become leaders and change the world,” Laila said.
The daughter of the late beloved global icon and humanitarian, Muhammad Ali, Laila is a four-time undefeated boxing world champion, whose stellar record includes 24 wins (21 of which were “knockouts”) and zero losses. She is heralded as the most successful female in the history of women’s boxing. Today Laila is a fitness and wellness expert, TV host, cooking enthusiast, founder of the Laila Ali Lifestyle Brand, and a wife and mother of two.
And Laila says she couldn’t have accomplished all of that without setting her own personal short- and long-term goals. After moving out of the house at 18 and starting her own nail salon, Laila was on track to attend business school when she first saw a pre-fight women’s match before a big Mike Tyson fight at her friend’s house.
She knew that was what she really wanted to do. After training in secrecy and sparring, news got out that Laila was going to professionally box. And her father caught wind of it.
“He said, ‘What are you going to do if you get knocked down?’ I said well I’m going to get back up just like you did Dad. ‘Well the whole world is going to be watching you, there is going to be a lot of pressure on you. What are you going to do if you get knocked out?’ Well I don’t think that is going to happen, but if it does I will get back up just like you did Dad,” Laila said.
Her first fight … Laila knocked the girl out in 54 seconds in the first round. From there her career as a professional boxer only escaladed. Some of her most memorable fights include beating Joe Frazier’s daughter Jackie, stopping Suzy Taylor in the second round, and coming out victorious against Christy Martin, one of the most famous boxers at that time and an inspiration to Laila.
Muhammed wasn’t happy she was boxing but always came to the fights and supported her. Laila said after she had so much success in the ring, her father told her, “I was wrong. Women can fight. You can fight.”
“It just brought tears to my eyes,” Laila said. “I didn’t think that I cared how he felt about my career, but I actually did.”
Since her retirement from boxing, Laila has found new passions in life. She took third in the season four of “Dancing with the Stars,” she has co-hosted “American Gladiators,” and won several times on the celebrity edition of Food Network’s “Chopped.” She recently released a cookbook “Food for Life, where she tries to encourage healthy eating and now Laila is the host of Oprah’s network series, “Home Made Simple” where she whips up some healthy meals with families in their homes.
But as Laila points out, it all goes back to “I Can” goals.
“When you talk about ‘I can,’ it really resonated with me because I believe that first you have to set your own goals in life. That’s what I did at a very young age. I had to think about what would make me happy because that is the time to be selfish. When I say selfish it is not in negative way but to think about yourself,” Laila said. “Because I believe if you don’t fulfill your own goals and own passions, you cannot begin to help others. First you have to be happy and figure out what your path and purpose in life is going to be, not that you have to have it all figured it out, but you need to start thinking about those things and have positive intentions.”
Laila said then as you go along you can think about how you can contribute to the world. She said when she thinks about “We Will,” her father’s famous quote comes to mind: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
And Laila said that is what she loves about FFA – it is a backdrop to service to others and members are clearly doing something to make a change in the world.
“You may decide not to do anything with agriculture when you grow up, but you are going to take the same qualities you learned here through FFA with leadership and citizenship and caring about people and realizing that we are all connected whether you like it or not,” Laila said. “The sooner people realize that the better. You guys are so ahead of the game and I just want to commend you for that.”