Many of the world’s top martial artists have had their careers inspired by the movies of their youth. For some, it was Bruce Lee’s “Enter The Dragon”, while for others, it was “Kickboxer” starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.
However, for Alain “The Panther” Ngalani, he was heavily influenced by Whitney Houston’s “The Bodyguard.”
The hulking martial artist was already interested in combat sports, as he studied judo, karate, and kickboxing since he was 6 years old after being bullied. But when the Cameroonian saw Kevin Costner’s character in the film, a professional bodyguard named Frank Farmer, he thought it was the perfect way to turn his hobby into a career.
“When I was a teenager, I watched that movie, and I thought it was the perfect thing,” the knockout artist reveals of his unlikely muse. “Bodyguards can look good, be cool, and protect others. It was my dream at the time.”
After winning an African heavyweight kickboxing championship, Ngalani’s formidable presence began to garner him attention, and this was when the opportunity to fulfill his teenage dream came along.
He got his security qualifications, and then entered the world he had only ever seen on the silver screen. But soon, he realized the job was not as captivating as Hollywood movies made it out to be.
“It was amazing that I used my skill in martial arts to get a job. I could train, and use my physique to protect other people,” he explains. “It did not turn out like in the movie, though. There was more to it than just the glamour.”
The jet-setting side of it certainly was real, and Ngalani recalls some good times in the years he spent in the industry. Most young men from Cameroon will never get the chances he did to travel all over Africa, Europe, and the United States in a job which, by his own admission, earned him a “nice living.”
The socializing and travel was great for him at the time, but those are not the truly great memories he has of the five years he spent on the job. Instead, it was the relationships he built that have stayed with him to this day, in particular, one of his long-standing clients and her young family.
“There was a lady that I was a bodyguard to at one point, and she was a very nice person,” he says.
“I got to develop a relationship with her children, and even today we are still in touch. We still talk, and she is very proud of what I went to do, and am doing. Her children, we are still friends. They come and visit me. We are like family.
“There were one or two times where I had to demonstrate my skills to protect her, and these are memories I keep to this today. Because of her, I loved my job at the time, and I will never forget that.”
Although there were perks to life as a bodyguard, Ngalani never lost sight of what got him interested in the first place. It was his passion for martial arts — a passion that never waned, but one he was not able to pursue to the best of his ability due to constantly being on the move.
Ultimately, it was this yearning for a competitive career, as well as his desire of not wanting to harm others, that saw him exit the role.
“I had not achieved all my goals yet,” Ngalani says. “Being a bodyguard was one goal, but it was not everything. There was no stopping me until I got everything that I wanted.
“I did not want to go further than just protecting people. There were a few incidents that put me off. I did not want to hurt anyone. That was not the point for me, so I was glad that I did it, and glad that I stopped and moved on.”
In 2001, “The Panther” relocated to Hong Kong to go after his real dreams, and gave up life around VIPs and high-profile politicians. Now, his Impakt MMA franchise is thriving, and he obtains more fulfillment in helping ordinary people through martial arts than he ever did by simply being somebody’s muscle.
On top of achieving his ambition of having his own school, he also found the freedom again to compete at the highest level, and as his many championship titles can attest to, he could still use his skills to see the world.
“Altogether it was a very good experience, but doing it for a certain number of years, I missed the competing,” he states. “It was the right choice for me to leave that behind, and travel the world competing instead.”
Ngalani is traveling yet again, this time to Bangkok, Thailand. “The Panther” is set to make his light heavyweight debut at ONE: IRON WILL against Mongolia’s Ariunbold Tur-Ochir, and a win could get him closer to obtaining his most important martial arts goal yet — the ONE Light Heavyweight World Championship.