Ever since 42-year-old Alain “The Panther” Ngalani 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 of 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 fueled 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 wanted 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 attended the University of Cotonou to study Sports Sciences. He performed well in school, and wore a smile to appease his mom and dad, but his heart did not beat for the academic 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 percent,” 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”, who had claimed four straight Heavyweight Kickboxing Championships of Africa beginning in 1998, 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,” said Ngalani.
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 continuously fueled Ngalani’s martial arts passion.
“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.”
He took a step closer to achieving that goal when he dispatched former title challenger Hideki “Shrek” Sekine (7-2) at ONE: TOTAL VICTORY in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Ngalani put ONE Heavyweight World Champion Brandon “The Truth” Vera on notice by knocking Sekine out with a perfectly-timed right hand in just 11 seconds — the fastest KO recorded in the heavyweight division’s history, and a full three minutes quicker than it took the reigning world champion.
“I knew that he was going to try to stop me from striking and the only way he can do that is to close the distance and take me down,” he recalls. “He took the risk, and he got knocked out, so sometimes it works and sometimes it does not.”
“The Panther” knows all about taking risks. In fact, it is something he prides himself on. It is an attitude that brings a rush of excitement, and inevitably entertains the fans.
The punch that sealed the deal in Indonesia was a chance he took, and he took another risk on Friday, 3 November when he met ONE Middleweight World Champion Aung La “Burmese Python” N Sang in an Open Weight Super Bout at ONE: HERO’S DREAM in Yangon, Myanmar.
It took immense courage for Ngalani to face Aung La N Sang in the world champion’s hometown, with an entire nation of millions behind him.
Although he fell to the “Burmese Python” via first-round submission, the two put on an incredible show, and more importantly, displayed the true spirit of martial arts to the world. The amount of mutual respect and humility between the two massive stars was simply inspiring to see.
With the super bout behind him, Ngalani is now focused on his true goal – the ONE Heavyweight World Championship.
“Everyone wants to see me versus Brandon Vera. I know that match will happen sometime next year, and I am preparing for it. Everything else is for me just a warm-up match to the big bout that I will have with Vera,” Ngalani reveals.
Although Ngalani’s eye is on the world title, 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.”