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New boss Arnold a big ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ draw for Laila Ali

Laila Ali is one of the contestants on the new "Celebrity Apprentice," debuting Monday on NBC. | Richard Shotwell/AFP/Getty Images

While retired pro boxing champion Laila Ali said she had been “asked for multiple seasons before and turned it down,” the daughter of the late, great Muhammad Ali couldn’t say no when she was approached to compete on the overhauled “Celebrity Apprentice.”

The draws for her: “the new boss, the new advisors and the fact it’s now done in L.A.”

Though not specifically saying why she didn’t want to be on the show during its Donald Trump era, Ali couldn’t say enough good things about Arnold Schwarzenegger, who succeeds Trump as head of the boardroom on the new iteration of the series, launching at 7 p.m. Monday on WMAQ-Channel 5.

“Being on the show was a lot of fun,” said Ali, who taped the series earlier this year and is sworn to secrecy about the ultimate outcome . “The show was very challenging, but it was fun at the same time, and a large part of that was due to Arnold himself. He’s a funny guy. I didn’t realize before I did the show that there’s a little bit of a comedian in him — that comes out many times during the show.

“On top of all that, I thought he did an amazing job as the boss.”

And she learned some lessons about herself. “I work well as a member of a team,” she said. “Being an athlete — especially an athlete in a sport that is very individualistic — I hadn’t had a lot of experience working in a team setting. I had always had a lot of confidence in my abilities as a boxer, but this was new. In the past, I would become uncomfortable when I had to rely on other people, but doing this you learn you have to trust your team. … I was happy to discover that I worked well in that environment on the show.”

Ali competed to raise funds for the Women’s Sports Foundation, where she previously served as president. Founded by Billie Jean King, the organization works to empower young girls and women through physical activities and sports.

The undefeated pro boxer turned wellness and fitness expert laughed when the eclectic nature of the “Celebrity Apprentice” cast was discussed. After all, the initial group includes quite the range of personalities. The other competitors are TV personalities Brooke Burke-Charvet, Carrie Keagan and Carson Kressley; NFL Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson; Grammy winner Boy George; “American Ninja Warrior” host and physician Matt Iseman; comedian and actor Jon Lovitz; Olympic gold medalist and WNBA champion Lisa Leslie; musician Vince Neil; reality TV stars Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Kyle Richards and Porsha Williams; mixed martial artist Chael Sonnen; singer and actress Carnie Wilson, and Heisman Trophy winner and ex-NFL player Ricky Williams.

“Listen, being eclectic is what makes ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ work. It’s what makes the show interesting and fun to watch — such a combination of such different personalities!”

Ali did admit hesitation about meeting the various women who were part of reality series. “I didn’t want to get caught up in any drama, but when I got to know them I really liked them. That was something of a surprise for me. It’s not like we became best friends or anything, but I was pleasantly surprised how we did get along.”

Before the taping began, Ali said she really only knew a handful of the competitors: Eric Dickerson and Lisa Leslie from the sports world, and Carnie Wilson, because “she and I had competed on a celebrity edition of ‘Chopped’ on the Food Network.”

Her father, “The Greatest” himself, died in June but was still alive during the “Apprentice” taping.

“As always, my goal with this — as with everything I do — was to make my daddy proud,” Ali said. “After all, I’m his baby daughter. Back when I was competing as a boxer, he always wanted me to hold up the family tradition of excellence. He always told me, ‘Laila, no matter what you do, do it with integrity.’

“My father always taught me to never step on others to get ahead. That is important to me, and it was even in this game [of ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’]

“Whenever I see someone taking advantage of other people in an unethical way — I’ll call them out!”

Looking back on her years of competing as a professional boxer, Ali said being a trained athlete was something of an advantage on “Celebrity Apprentice.”

“Being focused on hard work and knowing how to push through against all odds — all obstacles — is something athletics does teach you. But, that can only get you so far. This show is different in that you also need to put on your executive hat and work well with other people.”