Laila Ali hinted at a possible return to boxing on a recent television appearance, raising the possibility of a mega-fight in a women's sport. Ali raised the possibility of fighting current boxing champion Claressa Shields when asked about it on a recent appearance on ESPN.
"She's been calling me out. She's taken offense to some things I've said in the past that had nothing to do with her," Ali said in an appearance on sports-broad casting network ESPN. "And people are asking me; Would you come back? Well, I have to be inspired by the opponent. I have to be inspired by the purse because I have multiple things going on, multiple streams of income. I don't need to do it. I have to want to do it."
Ali also suggested that she is the naturally bigger fighter and that Shields would struggle with her punching power.
"She has fought at 168. She walks around at 185...I am 200 lbs right today. I am naturally a bigger girl...that will definitely come into play that's why I have 21 knockouts. Let's stick to the facts."
During her career, Ali won 21 of her 24 fights by knockout. Claressa Shields, who set a record in winning three world titles in ten contests, has won only two of her ten bouts by knockout. While it is unclear what weight class such a match would take place, the two share a sizable age difference. Ali is 42. Shields is 24.
Her comments come after an appearance on the Jordan Harbinger Show, a popular podcast earlier this month, in which Ali admitted that she has begun boxing training again after a long stint away from the ring.
The daughter of late boxing icon Muhammad Ali last fought 13 years ago. Several media interviews in the last month and her appearance on Oprah Winfrey's 2020 Vision: Your Life In Focus Tour stop in Charlotte, NC last month suggest a coordinated effort to re-introduce her to the public eye.
Her ESPN appearance came as both Sheilds and Ali attended pre-fight promotional events for the rematch between Deontary Wilder and Tyson Fury for the heavyweight title on February 22nd.
"Who inspires me to come out of retirement at 42? – Do you have $5 million for me, do you have $10 million for me?" Ali said in a radio appearance in January, "Cause it's going to take at least that to come get me."
Ali hasn't fought since 2007 when she knocked out Gwendolyn O'Neil in the first round in South Africa. Her professional boxing career began in 1999 after a brief amateur career. Shields, by contrast, won two gold medals during her amateur career at the 2012 and 2016 summer Olympic games.
Ironically, the career of Ali's legendary father offers a cautionary tale about former champions attempting to return to the ring. His attempted comeback at age 39 ended in disaster with the legendary fighter losing a unanimous decision to Trevor Berbick on December 11, 1981, in Nassau in the Bahamas.
While older boxers usually retain much of their punching power, it is the cardiovascular fitness that often deteriorates late in a boxer's career. Weighing in Ali's favor is the fact that women's boxing is contested in two-minute rounds versus the three-minute rounds in men's boxing.
A handful of male boxers have had success in the ring past the age of 40. Notably, George Foreman won the heavyweight title in 1994 at the age of 45 in a ring comeback becoming the oldest fighter to win a world championship at that time. A handful of fighters have pushed that record even further; Bernard Hopkins, Jr. fought for a light heavyweight at the age of 49 in 2014. In women's boxing, Alica Ashely won a world title at 48 in 2016 and subsequently competed in a world championship fight at the age of 50 in 2018.
Filipino senator and boxing champion Manny Pacquiao became the older welterweight champion in boxing history when he won a world title at age 40 last year.
Shields took to Twitter to respond to Ali's comments hinting at a possible comeback. The current champion blasted Ali at retiring undefeated at 29. Shields suggesting that Ali did so to avoid facing Ann Wolfe – then one of the formidable female boxers who like Ali is also retired.
Shields also made her desire to meet Ali in the ring as soon as possible.
"Well come on then! enough talking, let's fight, make it big for women's boxing."
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