31 JANUARY 2007

In the course of his life-long battle against injustice Nelson Mandela has become famous for his indomitable spirit. And the former South Africa president encountered someone else with a fighter's blood coursing through her veins when he met up with Muhammad Ali's daughter Laila this week.

The American athlete, who is in South Africa for a match against Guyana's Gwendolyn O'Neil on Saturday, joined the iconic statesman in the offices of his charitable foundation in Johannesburg. And the elder statesman was clearly delighted to welcome his old friend's 29-year-old daughter to his homeland.

"It is an honour that she should come here, and we wish her good luck in the fight," said the 88-year-old, who was himself an amateur boxer in his youth. "We will be next to her in the ring, if not physically then spiritually."

Laila was visibly emotional when asked how she felt about meeting the anti-apartheid leader. "Mr Mandela has a lot of respect for my father, as my father has for him," she said. "He reminds me so much of my own father. He is like family - I am very honoured to be here today."

And courage in the face of adversity isn't the only thing Nelson and Muhammad have in common, apparently. "He kept going on about my dad, and I said: 'You are a great man, too'," revealed Laila. "He said: 'I don't know about that that.' I told him that's the same thing my dad says - he is a very humble man."

Laila is due to defend her WBC and IBF super-middleweight titles at Emperor's Palace casino on February 3. "I have so much inspiration and motivation to do my best and I will," said the fearless pugilist, who is yet to taste defeat after 23 bouts.

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A visibly emotional Laila embraces the former South African president. "He kept going on about my dad and I said: 'You are a great man, too'," she revealedPhoto: © AFPClick on photos for gallery
Photo: ©
On Saturday she will defend her WBC and IBF super-middleweight titles against Guyana's Gwendolyn O'Neil. After 23 fights Laila has delivered 19 knock-outs and remains undefeatedPhoto: © AFP
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