I grew up around boxing, but my father didn't inspire me to become a boxer. Truth be told, he would rather I didn't box. But I wanted to stand on my own and be judged for my own accomplishments, separate from the incredible legacy he created. I had my own salon in college, Laila's Nails: I was an entrepreneur, and I considered going to business school with the thought of expanding my salon into a national chain. It was around then that I saw women's boxing on television for the first time, and I was inspired. A year later, I decided to follow my heart and challenge myself to see if I could become a championship boxer.
I made my pro-boxing debut in October 1999. I love the sport, but I knew from the beginning that I wanted to box for only a limited period of time. I was hopeful that I could reach my goal of becoming a world champion in that time frame. I've had some disappointments, though, as far as not being able to get some of the contenders to agree to fight me. Now that I'm getting married in July to my fiancé, Curtis Conway, I am beginning to doubt whether such fights will happen before I transition to the next phase of my life and career. Additionally, while I haven't made an issue of this on "Dancing With the Stars," I have really bad knees—and I'm only 29. They're at the point where I need surgery, and I've been praying every day on the show that they don't fail me.
When the "Dancing With the Stars" producers approached me for this season, I thought it would be a lot of fun, since I was already a fan of the show. For one, it's a competition, so it brings out the competitor in me. But I also get the chance to be a glamorous woman. I knew the millions of viewers watching would see a different side of me. I expected the show to be a lot of work, but I didn't realize the dancing was going to be so complicated. We have only five days to learn a new dance—sometimes fewer due to other professional obligations—and those days go by so quickly. On top of that, as a woman I need to wear heels. After the first week, my feet were killing me, and my legs and knees were so sore! I enter every competition with the intention of winning, but, unlike boxing, I realize that there are a lot of factors beyond my control. Still, I have done my very best and have learned to dance like the pros, which should serve me well at my upcoming wedding.
So what is next for me after the final round of the show? I've been offered a lot of things to do to help me transition from boxing: movies, modeling, etc. The one thing I know is that whatever I choose to do, I must be and will be passionate about it. And my passion? A healthy lifestyle, which includes fitness, nutritious cooking and a positive outlook on life.
I want to follow in the footsteps of Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray. Yes, that's right: the boxer wants to be the next Martha Stewart. It has always been a dream of mine to have my own show, which could include cooking, fitness and other household components. In fact, I just came out with a fitness/cardio DVD with Sugar Ray Leonard. My show would feature healthy food with fresh ingredients that taste great. My family is from Louisiana, so I do home-style food with a healthy twist! Anything unnecessary, like butter, I take out of the recipe.
I taught myself how to cook when I was about 10. One of my favorite dishes is seafood gumbo. I grew up with my grandpa and grandma making it, but now everybody loves my gumbo the best: the texture of the meat, the shrimp, the flavor, the thickness. I could win a worldwide gumbo contest. Trust me. I also learned a lot about interior design from being around my mother, who went to design school. I decorated my own home and even some of my friends' homes. Anything is possible if you just put passion into it.
OK, I know what you're thinking. Laila Ali, cooking?! Decorating?! Where did that come from? But I don't worry about what people say. I never have. A lot of people are held back in life. They are worried about what other people think. But my dad, who's now 65, inspired me to have confidence and do whatever it is that makes me happy. That's the greatest thing one could have: self-love. I didn't grow up saying I wanted to be like my dad. But I can't help it: in a lot of ways I'm a lot like my father, Muhammad Ali.