Laila Ali's fighting style is more deliberate and less flashy than that of her famous father, Muhammad Ali. But so far it has been just as successful.
Last night at Prince George's Stadium in Bowie, the daughter of one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time remained perfect as a professional with a technical knockout of Nikki Eplion at 1 minute 26 seconds of the fourth round.
Ali (17-0, 14 knockouts) stalked Eplion (12-2-2) throughout the fight, repeatedly caught her in corners and rained blows on her and knocked her down four times before referee Gary Camponeshi called a halt to the bout.
"What can I say?" Ali said. "I had to put the beat-down on her."
In the evening's co-featured event, Washington's Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson won a unanimous decision over a tough Paulino Villalobos to defend his WBO 115-pound crown.
The Ali fight was the main event of a scheduled eight-bout card that was dramatically re-organized on the fly because of the rain that came and went throughout the evening.
Fights were scheduled to start at 7 p.m., but they were postponed for more than 21/2 hours. At 8:25, Bowie Baysox Marketing Director Phil Wrye announced the fights would begin at 9, when the pay-per-view telecast was to start. He also announced, to the surprise of the crowd, that Ali's fight would go first.
As the rain came down, Baysox employees held down the edges of a tarpaulin that had been draped over the ring, and most of the more than 7,000 fans sought shelter under umbrellas and in the stadium's concourse. The tarp was peeled off at 8:55, and the Ali-Eplion fight started at 9:36.
Ali's performance was worth the wait. She refused to let reporters watch her work out this week, and her trainer, Buddy McGirt, did not arrive until Saturday, raising questions about how well Ali had prepared for Eplion. Those questions were answered emphatically.
Eplion was aggressive early, but Ali took control midway through the first round, landing a combination that started with a big right hook. Ali later caught Eplion in a corner and landed a series of punches.
"I knew she would come out after me that fast, she's my size and of course she came after me because I have those belts," Ali said. "She kept coming after me until she got cracked."
In the third round, Ali caught Eplion with an overhand right and then a left hook. As Eplion staggered backward, Ali came in to finish the fight as the crowd broke into a spirited chant of "Ali, Ali, Ali." Ali landed an uppercut-right cross-uppercut combination to send Eplion to the canvas.
Another flurry of punches sent Eplion down again just before the end of the third round, and Ali stayed aggressive in the fourth. She knocked Eplion down with an overhand right followed by a left early in the round, and, after Eplion tried to stand in and trade punches, Ali ended the fight with another blinding flurry. She attacked the body, then went to the head, and almost before Eplion had crumbled to the canvas, Camponeshi raced in between the fighters waving his arms.
Last night's fight was Ali's first since she beat women's boxing pioneer Christy Martin last August. But she will have little time to savor her victory. In less than two weeks, she will fight Guyana's Gwendolyn O'Neal in Louisville on the undercard of Mike Tyson's bout against Danny Williams. It will be the shortest layoff of Ali's career. Not ideal, but Tyson provided an opportunity she couldn't pass up.
"I gave [promoter Marty Wynn] my word," that Ali would fight in Bowie, said Ali's husband and promoter, Yahya McClain. "But anytime you're dealing with a Tyson fight, you're dealing with a lot of money."
Johnson's victory, which was scored 97-93, 96-94, 96-94, was his fourth in a row and third since moving back to the 115-pound division. Johnson, who dominated the 112- and 115-pound divisions in the late-1990s, had moved up to 118 pounds, but lost twice to Rafael Marquez.
Also on the undercard, up-and-coming middleweight Henry "Sugar Poo" Buchanan defeated Keith Lawrence, who was making his pro debut, when Lawrence's ring threw in the towel late in the first round. Buchanan improved to 4-0.
The card was trimmed from eight fights to five, and the fifth was halted before the second round when the rain returned.