Laila Ali will always be one of the biggest names in the history of women’s boxing, and the former world champion is excited about this coming Saturday’s fight between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano, which main events from Madison Square Garden live on DAZN.
Ali sat down with The DAZN Boxing Show to talk Taylor-Serrano as well as the state of women’s boxing, Franchon Crews-Dezurn vs Elin Cederroos, how women’s boxing can grow more, and — yes — her occasional media rival Claressa Shields and a potential Shields vs Savannah Marshall fight.
On Taylor vs Serrano
“I’m super excited for this fight. I’ve been a fan of Katie Taylor since the first time I saw her in the Olympics, because I thought that she just had superior skills, and not just for a woman, just in general. I’ve always loved her, liked her character. I have more recently become aware of Amanda Serrano, and she’s a great fighter as well. I love that we’ve got two women fighting as a main event. ... (Serrano) hasn’t lost for a long time, and she has the power, that’s the equalizer. When you have that power, it makes all the difference. You can change a fight with one shot so it makes it really exciting.”
On the Taylor-Serrano style matchup
“I don’t really consider myself to have been slick, I think I had good defense and I was a well-rounded fighter, but my offense was what really kept people off of me. When you have that power, it gives you a certain amount of confidence, because you’re just, like, ‘Wait ‘til I drop that shot, wait ‘til I get that shot in.’ But you don’t want to be the type of fighter who’s only trying to look for one shot. (Serrano) has power, has boxing skills, can mix it up, can take a punch. That’s really dangerous.
“Then you have someone like Katie Taylor who is so talented. She has all these God-given gifts and she works really hard at her craft, and she can really just dominate a lot of the fights. But we’ve seen her get roughed up when she gets in there and tries to punch it out, because she doesn’t necessarily have any devastating power. She’s very tough, but that’s not what I want to see in this fight. I don’t want to see her stand there and try to duke it out with Amanda Serrano.”
On whether she ever fought someone who negated her power
“Not really. I think everyone’s been in there with someone who’s tough. I used to have trouble with girls a lot of times — and I wouldn’t have said this when I was boxing — but I had trouble with girls who would move around sometimes, girls who were taller than me, had a good jab.
“I remember I fought this girl in Europe, I wasn’t very excited about her. She just didn’t excite me much, but I was going out there to fight her, so I wasn’t even revved up. She was boxing and moving and it took me a little bit to get to her, and she hit me with a right hand. That’s when I kinda woke up and kinda took her out. That makes it exciting. Sometimes you have people who don’t wanna fight, they find a way to hold, they find a way to move. But that’s what a champion does. A champion always has to find a way to win. For me, I wanted to win by knockout, I didn’t want it to go to the judges. I didn’t care if it was a TKO or a KO, just that person is not going to be standing at the end in order to get a judgment. That was my goal.”
“You made it easy for me if you came to me, that’s all. I think Amanda Serrano would say the same thing. You come to me, you’re not going to be able to stand there and bang it out with me. And I could take a punch, a lot of people didn’t realize that because you didn’t see me get hit that often, or when I did get hit, it didn’t seem like it did much to me. But if you come to a puncher, you make it easier for us.”
On whether she regrets not fighting with Ann Wolfe
“I wanted to fight Ann Wolfe. She says she wanted to fight me. The fight never happened. I don’t feel like I want to go back in time and go, ‘Oh, this could have been us.’ I had my moment. People still say it now, ‘Oh, you’re the biggest name in women’s boxing.’ That’s because my last name is Ali. I’m aware of that. But I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t back it up, so I’m very confident in being able to say that it was the two together. And for people who say, ‘Well, if you weren’t Muhammad Ali’s daughter...’ Well, I am, so now what? I’ve been successful in many areas outside of the ring.
“I love seeing these girls have the opportunity. I think that definitely the fans missed out, because people wanted to see me and Ann Wolfe fight. Two fighters. Ann, like, Serrano, had one loss, but she was a puncher. That would have been really her only chance against me. That made it very exciting. And we’re 168, any time you’ve got bigger fighters in there, somebody’s going to get knocked out, that makes it even more exciting.”
On Franchon Crews-Dezurn vs Elin Cederroos
“I think that’s gonna be a good fight. That’s gonna be an exciting fight. I think the fans are in for a surprise, because they’re probably not familiar with the two fighters. I’ve seen (Cederroos) fight, and I was impressed with her. I thought that even though she was green, you could see she doesn’t have a lot of experience, she does a lot of things well. She’s tall, she’s rangy, she has that natural big girl power. If she gets that leverage on that shot, she can be dangerous.
“But Franchon is a rugged fighter. She’s gonna make it an ugly fight, she’s gonna mix it up, she’s gonna put that dog on you, that pressure on you. I don’t know if Cederroos is going to be able to handle that, because I’ve seen her back straight up, and that is not something you wanna do with Franchon, because she’s gonna leap in and crack your butt. At the same time, if Cederroos comes in there, holds her ground and stays disciplined, uses her jab, she can win that fight, too. We’ll see, I think it’s gonna be a good one.”
On Claressa Shields vs Savannah Marshall
“Savannah has already beaten Claressa once. I didn’t see the fight, and I know how it can be with judges. But when I see Savannah fight, I’m not surprised that she would have beat Claressa. She’s very tall, she’s very comfortable in the ring, very relaxed in the ring. She’s got a quiet confidence, she uses her jab, she throws straight shots and then a sneaky uppercut. And I think that being that she’s used to Claressa’s tactics, in terms of all that mouth, all that street talk, all that vibe — sometimes that shakes people up, they don’t know how to deal with that. But I don’t think that’s gonna happen with Savannah.
“It’s just one of those things. Claressa doesn’t really have the kind of power that I think she would need to keep somebody like Savannah off of her. What Claressa brings into the ring is her speed. She definitely has more speed, she has a lot of natural ability, and I know she’s gonna want to avenge that loss. It really depends on what that translates into, because you don’t wanna just go running up in there and get that right hand dropped on you. We’ve seen her get dropped before. We’ve seen it happen; she came back and she, you know, she got up and won the fight. I think that physically she’s not that strong, either. I’ve seen it in her legs, I’ve seen her get thrown down, I saw her lose her MMA fight. She really needs to bring it if she wants to keep that spot. I think that’ll be an interesting fight.
“I’m just glad there are fights coming up where you’ve got two fighters in the ring willing to face each other, because that always can be a problem, not just in women’s boxing but also in men’s boxing. When you have less women to begin with, you have less options, it makes it hard when people don’t want to fight each other. I think it’s commendable for these women to get in the ring and I’m glad they’re having these opportunities now. I hope people show up and show out for the women, because we’re also in a time where people want to uplift women and all of that. I want them to really seize the moment and put on a good show, so that the fans go, ‘Dang, I wanna keep watching!’”
On what happens if she runs into Claressa Shields at MSG
“I don’t think I would say hi to her because we’re not friends. In fact, she’s said a lot of negative things about me. But nothing’s gonna happen. I’m a classy lady, you know what I’m saying? But I always got my left and my right with me. So if anything was ever to go down in any situation, it’s not gonna be good for the person that starts something with me. But I’m definitely not ever going to start something, because that wouldn’t look good, and I’m not going to this fight to make it about me or take attention from anybody else. I want to support the women, the movement, and especially support Katie Taylor, because I am a fan of Katie’s.”
On what’s missing to raise women’s boxing’s popularity
“I think the same thing that has always been missing. You’ve got to have enough women that the fans are interested in so you can make compelling matchups. That was a problem with my career. I could only go so far, because if I keep getting in there fighting girls that people feel like are gonna be easy fights for me, people don’t always want to see that. You’re gonna have your diehard Laila Ali fans, they don’t care who you fight, they just want to see you fight. But real, pure boxing fans, they wanna see me fight an Ann Wolfe, they want to see me in a little bit of danger. They want to see two fighters that you know what this one’s bringing, and you know what the other one’s bringing.
“We can look at Amanda Serrano, we can look at Katie Taylor, we know what their skill sets are, what their weaknesses are, and we can bet on the fight. A lot of times you’ve got one girl who has a name, another one who doesn’t — you know what I’m saying, you’re only gonna go so far. You also need promoters like Eddie Hearn, who I commend for being someone who has intentionally promoted women and decided he was going to be that promoter who was going to help take women’s boxing to the next level.
“That’s what’s needed, that star power. You got, you know, you’ve got all these male fighters who don’t get attention, don’t make money. It’s not just women. There’s a lot of fighters. To get the fans to watch, you need to have those compelling matchups, that talent in the ring, exciting fans, and a promoter who’s going to pay these women well so they can focus on their boxing career. When I was boxing, that’s all I did was box. I didn’t do anything else. I didn’t have to. A lot of these women have to do something else, they can’t really fully focus on it. They don’t have a marketing team behind them, none of that. But a lot of male fighters don’t either. It takes a lot to make a star. Not everybody’s going to be able to be a star, that’s just the way that it is.”