Four-time undefeated world boxing champion Laila Ali is taking on the challenge of a lifetime as a contestant on NBC’s new reality competition series Stars Earn Stripes. The action-packed show pits celebrities against one another in real military exercises from helicopter drops to shooting automatic weapons, all in the name of charity. The 34-year-old mom and daughter of legendary icon Muhammad Ali checked in with BET.com to discuss her new show, the Harry Belafonte, Jay-Z and Beyoncé debate and who would win in a boxing match between Drake and Chris Brown.
You admitted that some days participating on Stars Earn Stripes made you cry. Why did you want to be a part of the show?
Well, first of all, I love competition. Also, being that I’m retired from boxing, sometimes I’m up for a challenge. I recently did the New York City triathlon just because I wanted a challenge and same thing goes for the show. I didn’t exactly know how crazy it was going to be until I got there. I did have second thoughts, but at the same time, it ended up being a lot of fun and it definitely was challenging for me.
Did you ever get feedback or advice from your dad, Muhammad Ali, about competing on the show?
It’s funny, I never really talk to him about the [career] decisions I make. He saw it for the first time with everybody else, he probably never heard of it and I’m sure he was thinking, “This girl is crazy.” I don’t know if any of my sisters or brothers would have done something like that but I’m kind of like the chip off the old block. Once I got on the show, I was thinking, “Man this is serious, I can get hurt.” In the end, I don’t have any regrets. It’s just that I’m a mom, I have young kids, so it was kind of scary doing the things I was doing.
Gabby Douglas became America’s sweetheart with her Olympic gold medal wins. As a fellow female athlete, what went through your mind watching her?
I thought about how she must be feeling to be so young and to have that kind of pressure on her. To work at something she loves for so long and to finally win gold. Her mom has sacrificed so much for her, I’m so happy that Gabby has all the opportunities she has now like the endorsement deals. As an athlete, there’s nothing better than being recognized as one of the best in the world — it’s a great feeling.
You’ve had two children and you look fabulously fit. Is it easy or hard for you to maintain your weight?
I’m naturally a big girl so I had to work hard to lose weight because my family is big boned. A lot of times women will say, “You look good,” but they don’t know how much more work it takes. Before I started boxing I was 30 pounds overweight, eating whatever I wanted.
Tell us about taking your weight loss journey after the birth of your second child.
I did a Facebook challenge to women. I was like, “Hey, I’m always talking about losing weight and what you need to do and now I need to do it too. So who wants to do it with me?” I wanted to take that challenge to the people, let them see the weight come off and encourage them. I gave the information, tools and encouragement that they needed. I’m still not where I want to be. I’d love to be my fighting weight. But, for me, that’s just not realistic. I was working out three times a day to be that size, but working out was my job. I don’t have that type of time or commitment anymore. That’s 15 to 20 pounds lighter than I am now and I’m a 165 pounds. It’s just about accepting a realistic version of yourself and striving to be better. I like to eat, so…
Harry Belafonte recently commented that he felt Jay-Z and Beyoncé have "turned their backs on social responsibility." Since your dad was an athlete and activist, what's your take the matter?
I personally don’t know what they do, so it would be hard to say. A lot of times people don’t publicize what they are doing. I’m sure all of us can do more, especially when you have millions and millions of dollars. But all people are not the same. Not everyone wants to be like my dad or Harry Belafonte — more of activist-type people. Everybody looks up to Beyoncé and Jay-Z because they have money, but at the end of the day these were kids who wanted to be famous. Beyoncé wanted to sing and Jay-Z wanted to rap, it doesn’t mean that they are people who all of sudden are going to try to take on the responsibility of the world. They are still the same people. I would hope they are trying to give back, because I would definitely feel the responsibility to do it if I had as much money as they had. But that’s just the type of person I am, that’s the way I was raised — with those values and morals. I just don’t think that everybody sees it that way.
Now on an entirely different note, since you’re a former boxer we wanted to get your take on who would win the following boxing matches. Nicki Minaj versus Lil' Kim?
I’d have to see the tale of tape. I don’t know much about Nicki Minaj, but just from what I know, Lil' Kim came from a rough background and I’m sure that she’s had her share of street fights. Nicki Minaj may have had some too, but I’m going to have to put my money on Lil’ Kim.
Chris Brown versus Drake?
Drake. Just because of their sizes and the fact that Chris Brown fought a woman. That sounds to me like he’s not that strong of a man.
How about Naomi Campbell versus Tyra Banks?
That would be hard, but I’d have to go with Naomi because she fights people all the time. She has much more experience fighting.
Stars Earn Stripes airs Mondays at 9pm/8c on NBC.
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