LAS VEGAS – Laila Ali, considered by many to be the greatest female boxer of all time, said on Friday that she would entertain the possibility of exiting her more than decade in retirement to fight Claressa Shields, the unbeaten three-division world champion and the face of women’s boxing in the United States.
Appearing Friday morning on the set of ESPN’s First Take at the MGM Grand in anticipation of Saturday night’s heavyweight world championship rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, Ali, the daughter of Muhammad Ali, was asked about the prospect of a return to boxing and about fighting Shields, with whom he had some back-and-forth with in the media over the past year or so.
“I love boxing. I always have,” said Ali, 42, the married mother of two children. “Boxing has inspired my Laila Ali lifestyle brand. I’ve been outside of the boxing gym but in the gym ever since I left. I got nutrition products. I got spice blends. I’m all about health and wellness, so I’m very healthy. So have I been sitting around thinking about boxing? No. But lately there’s been a little chatter.”
At that point First Take co-host Max Kellerman brought up Shields, who won back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016.
“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. “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 made comments about Shields in some radio interviews in early 2018 that Shield took exception to, prompting her to tag Ali in a tweet at the time.
“I decided to go and give [the interview] a listen,” Shields wrote. “And honestly to me it was some disrespect, and shade, and my thing is it only takes a phone call to rumble.”
Kellerman asked Ali during the Friday interview again specifically if she came back would she fight Shields (10-0, 2 KOs), 24, of Flint, Michigan, who is the undisputed women’s middleweight world champion and a unified junior middleweight titleholder. Shields previously unified belts at super middleweight, the division Ali was a champion in during her 1999 to 2007 career.
“Of course, especially (because of) that mouth,” Ali said of Shields. “When it’s personal that starts a fire, right? And when the money’s right and it makes sense then why not?”
Ali (24-0, 21 KOs), of Los Angeles, has not fought since retaining her super middleweight world title by first-round knockout of Gwendolyn O’Neil in February 2007 — when Shields was 12.
Mark Taffet, Shields’ manager, told ESPN that he has talked to Ali’s team in recent weeks about the prospect of a fight.
“I’ve reached out to her team and have had some brief conversations, and I hope we have continued conversations because for the two athletes, and for women’s boxing, I think it would be a great event,” Taffet said.