By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
There was another incentive to fight, of course. She wanted to shut Mahfood up. Before the fight, Ali told reporters that her disdain for Jacqui Frazier didn't compare to how much she despises Mahfood.
"There's different levels of ass-whupping that you can get," Ali said, "and she's going to get the highest level that I've ever issued out."
The Vegas crowd is still chanting "Ali! Ali! Ali!" when Mahfood and the star meet at center ring. Ali glares like a hit man. At 5-foot-10, she looms over the 5-foot-8 Mahfood and stares at her purple head, waiting for The Wolfe to make eye contact. Mahfood keeps her eyes glued to the canvas, raising them only to touch Ali's gloves before retreating to her corner.
The bell rings, and the women meet at center ring again. Mahfood brings on the fight, moving in on Ali with a straight left to the body that misses. Ali answers with a whiff of her own, and the two boxers step back, circling each other like hungry barracudas. Mahfood moves in again, this time connecting a right to Ali's ribs. Unfazed, Ali unfurls a left-right-left combo that keeps The Wolfe at bay.
It's a tentative start given all the pre-bout noise, but Ali forces the issue. With less than a minute left in the opening round, Ali lands a solid right on Mahfood's face that sends her purple top snapping back violently. Mahfood bounces up and moves back in on Ali, dropping down to deliver that promised body shot. But Ali anticipates the move and lands a right hook square across Mahfood's head just as the bell rings.
A week after the Ali fight, Mahfood is sitting in a booth at the Outback Steakhouse in Beaumont when she catches the waiter with his guard down. He wants to know how she wants her steak cooked. Mahfood looks him in the eye and says "raw."
He thinks she's kidding, and half the time she is. But this time she's serious--her Lebanese heritage has given her a taste for uncooked beef.
"Extra, extra raw. I'll cry if it's not cooked right--tears, snot, the whole nine yards," Mahfood says. "I want it as raw as you can make it."
The waiter has difficulty breaking eye contact with Mahfood. That's probably because of her eyes. She wears purple contacts, which accentuate the purple half-moons--gifts from Laila Ali--that appear over and under each eye. Or it could be Mahfood's girlish voice; it tends to startle people, because Mahfood looks like a man.
"Everybody thinks I'm a guy. I'm used to it. I have a shaved head, a Mohawk. Don't wear makeup. I'm big. For a girl I'm big," says Mahfood, who weighs 164 pounds, all of it muscle and bone. "I suppose I could do more to look feminine, but I'm not doing anything to look more masculine, either."
Mahfood says this situation doesn't bother her. Usually. "If somebody does it deliberately, if they call me a man just to aggravate me, yeah, it's gonna aggravate me," Mahfood says. "I have a girl's voice. The minute I start talking, everybody knows I'm a girl. At that point, if you're still calling me sir, either you've drank too much or I haven't drank enough."
Outside the ring, Mahfood swears she hates conflict, avoids it at all costs. Rather often, though, conflict finds her. As she slices into her steak, a fist-sized cut dripping with blood, Mahfood explains how in March she got busted for disorderly conduct outside a local watering hole. It was ladies' night, and Mahfood had to pee.
"I went into the bathroom. I knew better than to go to the rest room in a redneck bar," Mahfood says. She was in the stall when she heard a voice say, "There's a man in the ladies' rest room."
A bouncer greeted Mahfood outside the door. He tossed her out of the bar, telling her, "We don't like homosexuals in the bar, and neither does God." Mahfood got up, dusted herself off and went back in. This time when the bouncers hauled her out--four of them, with each grabbing a limb--Mahfood says they dropped her on her head, ripped off her clothes and beat her to a pulp.
"I was laying there with my blue jeans and my bra on," Mahfood says. "I don't know why they took off my clothes, except to prove that I'm not a girl."
When the cops arrived, they arrested Mahfood for disorderly conduct. (She stood accused of "being loud" in the bar.) The charges were later dismissed, and Mahfood says she's since contacted a lawyer to begin the process of suing the place. It's the principle that motivates her. "If there was any doubt," about her sex, Mahfood says, "they could've asked."
There are other things that get under Mahfood's skin. At the top of the list are people who ask her why a woman would box.
"I just want to slap them. It's for the same reason men do," she says. "They'll never ask a man that question."
In high school, Mahfood tried every sport there was. She played hoops or, rather, kept the bench warm during games. She liked bicycle racing well enough, but her poor sense of direction caused her to get lost. Same thing with cross-country. But boxing was a different story.