Ever since 42-year-old Alain “The Panther” Ngalani (2-3, 1 NC) made the risky decision to follow his dreams of being a martial arts champion nearly two decades ago, he has inspired countless of individuals, both on his birth continent of Africa and in his current home of Hong Kong.
All of this success was something that almost never happened. If it were not for the bullies in his youth, his reality would have been forever altered.
A Journey Of A Thousand Miles Begins With A Single Step
Ngalani was born in Cameroon, a country in Central Africa where he grew up alongside six brothers and one sister. He was particularly close to his mother, whom he even considered as his protector.
It’s hard to imagine by looking at Ngalani’s impressive physique today, but he was once picked on. One day at school, when he was just 6-years-old, he was bullied by some of larger kids and they took his lunch. He went home in tears, expecting his mum to teach those bullies a lesson. She most certainly did teach a lesson that day, but it was not to his tormentors. It was to her son.
“She told me to man up and go back to defend my honor by all means, and with any means, necessary,” he recalls. “Whatever it takes, make a statement.
“Immediately after that day, my mum signed me up for judo classes. I learned the hard way, failing at first, and always being abused and bullied by those bigger than me. But that never deterred me. On the contrary, it fuelled me even more, and soon I became one of the best.”
Also, it became apparent that “The Panther” had natural talent. Ngalani won a plethora of junior tournaments all throughout the country, and Africa as a whole. He even got payback against some of those school bullies in competition.
Despite possessing an innate ability for judo, he yearned for more, and was determined to get it.
After tagging along to watch his brother, James, participate in a karate competition, news came that a teammate was injured and forced to withdraw from his contest. That led to a young Alain filling-in as a last minute replacement, and though he never had any formal training in that discipline, he achieved victory.
“I won with an outstanding spinning back kick,” he says, proudly. “I was very flexible, and a fast learner. I just loved competition and wanted more, always keen to learn and to challenge myself.”
Chasing A Dream
The hunger for more led him to mastering other styles, including French Savate, Muay Thai, and kickboxing, the latter of which he was especially fond of. Also, he was enthralled by action movie stars such as Jean-Claude Van Damme and Bruce Lee.
While his parents were glad he was active, they ironically did not want him to pursue martial arts as a career. “My parents wanted me to be a doctor, so the deal was, as long as you have good grades in school, we will pay for your training and traveling/competition expenses,” he recalls.
“I knew the deal, but one day I tried to mention that perhaps I could be a kickboxer instead. My mum almost killed me. She said, ‘Boy, no more watching these stupid movies! You are losing your mind! Do you think you can raise a family by doing that? End of conversation!’”
Ngalani did not broach the topic again until he attended university to study medicine. He performed well in school, and wore a smile to appease his mom and dad, but his heart did not beat for the medical field. It yearned for the gym and the martial arts arena.
That is when he made a life-changing decision. Since he was financing his studies through part-time work, and his parents could no longer afford to help out, he elected to leave school and chase his dreams.
“My parents would always say if you decide to do something, you ought to do it 100 per cent,” he explains. “I decided I was going to succeed, be able to support a family, and prove to my mum that I will be a world champion and a successful athlete. I would convince her to forgive me for dropping medicine.”
“The Panther” immediately secured a few sponsors, and traveled around the globe to compete, even getting the opportunity to spend a holiday in Hong Kong in 2001. That particular trip further convinced him to build a new life in Asia. “I fell in love with the city of my all-time hero, Bruce Lee, and never left.”
Ngalani completed his relocation the following year when he opened the Impakt Academy of Mixed Martial Arts, otherwise known as Impakt MMA, and he turned the gym into one of the biggest in Hong Kong. The gym was so successful, in fact, he opened branches in Singapore and South Africa.
Along the way, he became a four-time Muay Thai World Champion, winning his last major title, the IKA Super Heavyweight World Kickboxing Championship, in 2011. Also, he has been an excellent provider for his children, and even proved the most influential person in his life wrong by making a noble gesture. “I bought my mum a house,” he says, proudly.
Eyeing The Richest Prize In Asia
Over the past couple of years, there has been only one thing that has fuelled Ngalani’s martial arts passion, and that one thing is to acquire the richest prize in martial arts.
“I will not rest until I achieve my ultimate final goal of being the ONE Heavyweight World Champion,” he vows. “I am hungrier than ever.”
Ngalani, who has spent the better part of the past year recuperating from a few nagging injuries and a knee surgery, is all healed up, and will have an opportunity to take a step closer towards achieving that ultimate final goal on Saturday, 16 September. He is scheduled to meet former title challenger Hideki “Shrek” Sekine (7-1) at ONE: TOTAL VICTORY, live from the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia.
To prepare for this match, “The Panther” is training hard at Impakt MMA. He kicks off the day with 45 minutes’ worth of cardio in the morning, followed by a 45-minute session comprised of takedown defensive drills and sparring. Later on, he will have a third 45-minute period focused strictly on his kickboxing and striking. He supplements that with half an hour of stretching, and does 15 minutes of power training.
All of that preparation will be necessary if he wants to defeat Sekine, a seven-time BJJ champion from Shizuoka, Japan.
“He looks like he would love to apply a takedown and finish with a submission. But my takedown defense is on point right now, and even on the ground I am a beast. Now, dare to stand-up with me, Hideki (Sekine), or have it any way you want,” Ngalani says.
“When I close my eyes, I see Hideki trying to apply pressure to take me down. It cannot be any other way. I see him succumbing to my kicks or punches, though.”
Plenty of fine men over the past decade have succumbed to Ngalani’s elite striking. In recent memory, he authored a 69-second TKO destruction of Filipino Heavyweight Champion Igor Subora, and a 31-second spinning heel kick knockout of Mahmoud Hassan, perhaps similar to the one he used in his short-notice karate competition as a kid.
“The Panther” is placing a high emphasis on this clash with Sekine, because he believes a victory could lead him to a title shot against ONE Heavyweight World Champion Brandon “The Truth” Vera.
Although Ngalani’s eye is on the prize, he is forever grateful for how martial arts has transformed him. Because of the martial arts, he went from being a little kid who was bullied in a school cafeteria in Cameroon, to a multi-time heavyweight world champion who provides for both his family and the community of Hong Kong.
“Martial arts has given me so much… a job, a career, a family outside of my family, and a purpose. Also, it taught me humility through my losses and failures,” he acknowledges. “We are here to learn, to be inspired and to inspire, to do God’s work one way or another, and change our life and other people’s lives.”