The Marquee Fights of My Career

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Laila Ali, Contributor - The Players' Tribune

Every boxer has matches that shape and define their career. Whether you’re stepping into the ring for the first time or facing an old rival, there is always a bit of uncertainty every time you lace ’em up. By the time the bell rings, the promoters, fans, trainers and any other outside factors are gone. It’s only you and your opponent.

In my eight-year career, I had a record of 24-0. Twenty-one of those victories came via knockout. And yet the story my record tells pales in comparison to the story told by my mentality and experience inside the ring. These are the fights that defined my career, and shaped me as both a boxer and a person.

April Fowler, 10/8/1999

Laila Ali, Light Heavyweight Boxing

This was the first fight of my career but it didn’t live up to the hype. There wasn’t much I would have changed in my preparation. It was my first fight and I didn’t know what to expect. It ended in 54 seconds. You figure that if your first professional fight ends in a Round 1 KO, you should be excited and happy. But the weird thing about it was that I was more disappointed. I was disappointed in April because I expected a better fight. I guess that’s part of my perfectionist trait: I can always find a reason to be upset. And I always desire a challenge.

Karen Bill, 4/8/2000

Ali v Bill

This fight wasn’t very challenging either. Some of my critics say otherwise, due to the fact that I got knocked down for the first—and only—time in my career. But that was only because I was not properly squared up. If my feet had been in proper position, that never would have happened. I learned my lesson on the importance of technical details and was never knocked down again. By Round 3 the match was over.

Kendra Lenhart, 10/20/2000

Laila Ali

Going up against Kendra Lenhart was one of my toughest fights. It was toward the beginning of my career, and in retrospect I would have benefitted from more experience. Up until that point, I was the biggest, strongest girl I knew. This time the girl was much bigger and a bit stronger. She was 6’1″ and had a reach to match. That was the first time any opponent had physically hurt me. I remember getting rocked and seeing stars. It was a real gut check. I won the fight, but it opened my eyes to the possibility of what could happen. I realized that I could not win on talent alone. Every fighter remembers the first time they get hurt; those who are able to persevere typically have long and promising careers. This fight was definitely a learning experience.

Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, 6/8/2001

Laila Ali

Honestly, I was just looking to getting this match over with. At the time, she wasn’t someone I really wanted to fight. I wanted titles and she had none. But she was someone I needed to fight: Based on our family history, this was the match the public wanted. It was a big fight for women’s boxing — the first time a women’s match was the headliner for a pay-per-view. I had the flu going in and she fought her heart out, so the fight went the distance. We put on a good performance. In most people’s minds it lived up to the hype. However, I never had any doubt that I was going to win. My only regret is that we never had a rematch. The first fight was entertaining, but I would’ve liked an opportunity to get in there and knock her out.

Laila represents the United States Tennis Association as a Youth Tennis spokesperson. Throughout the year, the USTA offers youth tennis events and programs nationwide. Laila’s message is to encourage families and kids to lead an active and healthy lifestyle. Go to YouthTennis.com for more information.

Photographs By Getty Images