What a Knockout

updated 09/11/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/11/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Like all seven of her pro-boxing bouts to date, Laila Ali's marriage on Aug. 27 to retired two-time world cruiserweight champion Johnny McClain was a stunning affair. The bride, her 5'10", 169-lb. frame elegantly swathed in a white crystal-beaded sheath by New York City-based designer Lazaro, proceeded slowly down a rose-petal-strewn aisle on the arm of her father, boxing great Muhammad Ali. Tearfully she exchanged vows with her groom. Then the Reverend Michael Beckwith handed each of them a white rose.

In times of conflict, he counseled, the couple should place such a flower, a symbol of "love and purity of intention," in a special place in their home as a reminder "that love has the final word." That set off fresh tears from the usually unflappable bride. But upon exiting the Ritz-Carlton ballroom in Pasadena, Ali, 22, snapped back to fighting form. "We're going to need a lot of those roses," she joked.

And a lot of ice. As a fighter, Ali has lived up to the family name since she closed her nail salon in Marina Del Rey, Calif., last October and stepped into the pro ring, KO'ing her first opponent in just 31 seconds. Since then, the youngest of Ali's seven daughters has felled six more rivals—not to mention one smitten assistant trainer. McClain, 32, who also works as one of Laila's promoters, clearly delights in his new wife's verbal jabs. "She's the most down-to-earth woman I've ever met," he says. "She keeps it real."

For the latest main event, family got the ringside seats. Laila's sister Hana Ali, 23, the older of Ali's two daughters with Veronica Anderson (the third of his four wives), led the procession. Laila's nephew Mikey Allford, 7, and McClain's nephew Brandon McClain, 12, followed, bearing grass pillows topped with rings designed by Roger Garabet of Lara's Jewelry in Los Angeles: for Laila, a platinum band studded with five baguette diamonds to match her baguette-trimmed, princess-cut diamond engagement ring; for McClain, a diamond-studded platinum band. Next came the flower girls, Ebony McClain, 10, the groom's daughter from his two-year first marriage, and his niece Aisha McClain, 6.

Beckwith asked the 275 guests to remain seated as Laila entered with her father, setting off more flashbulbs than a Hollywood premiere. As they neared McClain and his two best men, brothers Marc, 34, and Abdul, 30, Laila lifted her veil and kissed Ali's cheek. "Who is it who gives this woman to this man?" Beckwith asked. Ali, 58, weakened by Parkinson's syndrome, raised his right hand. Later, as boxing's royalty danced and scooped up the wedding favors (tiny white leather boxing gloves), Ali said, "Everything went off good."

Doubly so, considering that Laila blew McClain off when they met last year at her father's 57th-birthday party. "The vibe she was giving me, any normal guy would have been like, 'Forget this girl,' " he says. When McClain's mother, Nisaa Seifullah, told Ali, "I think my son likes your daughter," His Greatestness responded, "I don't blame him!" McClain says the first date was also a bust. "When the waitress asked how I like my coffee, I said, 'I like my coffee like my women. Look at her—light and sweet.' Laila thought I was an obnoxious jerk."

Yet somehow love prevailed. For now, with the honeymoon on hold while Laila prepares for a November fight, the newlyweds are settling into a two-bedroom townhouse in L.A. "They're terribly independent, terribly self-assured," says Laila's friend Joanie Laine, who served as matron of honor. "It makes for a good mix."

Jill Smolowe
Irene Lacher in Los Angeles

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