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Ali wins debut

She's not the greatest yet, but she's 1-0

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Posted: Thursday October 14, 1999 08:06 PM

  Laila Ali Like father, like daughter: Laila Ali towers over fallen opponent April Fowler. AP

VERONA. N.Y. (AP) -- They called Muhammad Ali "The Greatest."

Just call his daughter "The Quickest."

With her father watching from ringside, 21-year-old Laila Ali made her pro boxing debut by knocking out April Fowler at 31 seconds of the first round Friday night before about 2,800 fans at the Turning Stone Casino Convention Center.

It was no fight at all. Fowler, a waitress from Michigan City, Ind., was inept in the ring, often turning her head as she punched. Ali speared her with several jabs and then knocked her out with a left-right to the jaw.

When Fowler hit the floor, Ali stood over her with her fist cocked, reminiscent of how her father stood over a KO'd Sonny Liston in the first round of their rematch in 1965.

Her father, a native of Louisville, Ky., showed no emotion when the fight ended, but his wife, Lonnie, smiled broadly.

The 5-foot-10 Ali, who weighed 166 pounds, could have trouble finding opponents because most female boxers are not that heavy.

While the daughter was in the co-featured match, it was the father who drew the crowd. Shortly before 9 p.m., as the ring announcer acknowledged 'a man who needs no introduction,' the crowd rose to its feet, cheering.

Muhammad Ali then entered the ring with Lonnie. Also accompanying him was Hannah, Laila's sister, and one of two daughters Ali had with his third wife, Veronica.

Laila's mother, Veronica Kennedy, sat on the other side of the ring from Ali.

Laila Ali, who owned a nail salon in Los Angeles, said she got interested in boxing when she took it up as exercise to lose weight.

It has been suggested that she is exploiting one of the most famous names in sports. In a TV appearance earlier in the week, however, she said, "It is my name, too, so I don't feel I'm exploiting anything."

Fowler, fighting for just the second time - she was knocked out in the first round 18 months ago - had said she expects to be back serving tables at her restaurant Saturday night. Fowler, who is divorced, also said she plans to celebrate her son's ninth birthday Sunday.

The fight preceded a 10-round heavyweight match between Donovan "Razor" Ruddock and Jose Ribalta. Ruddock knocked down Ribalta twice and stopped him at 1:49 of the first round.

There was no question, however, that the main attraction was the Ali name.

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