Alain “The Panther” Ngalani took a chance.
Nearly two decades ago, he left his profitable job as a bodyguard, and dropped out of college to follow his dreams of being a martial arts champion. In the process, he has inspired countless of individuals, both on his birth continent of Africa, and in his current home of Hong Kong.
The 42-year-old hulk has achieved an incredible amount of success, but if it were not for the bullies of his youth, his reality would have been forever altered.
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 is 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 six years of age, 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 was 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.”
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 mother and father 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 or 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 medicine. He performed well in school, and wore a smile to appease his parents, but his heart did not beat for the academic field. It yearned for the thrill of competition, 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 mother and father could no longer afford to help out, he elected to leave school, and instead 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” did exactly as he set out to do. He had claimed four straight Heavyweight Kickboxing Championships of Africa beginning in 1998, immediately secured a few sponsors, and traveled around the globe to compete. He even got 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 says.
Ngalani completed his relocation the following year when he opened the Impakt Academy Of Mixed Martial Arts, and he turned the gym into one of the biggest in Hong Kong. The gym was so successful, he even opened branches in Singapore and South Africa.
Along the way, he became a four-time Muay Thai and kickboxing world champion, winning his last major title, the IKA Super Heavyweight World Kickboxing Championship, in 2011. True to his word, he became 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.
Ngalani may have captured multiple titles in several martial arts disciplines, but from the sounds of it, he is just getting started.
“The Panther” set a pair of records in September 2017, when he knocked out Hideki Sekine in 11 seconds to claim the fastest knockout and stoppage victory in the history of ONE Championship’s heavyweight division.
Since then, the hulk has moved down a weight class, and has his eyes set firmly on the ONE Light Heavyweight World Championship, currently held by the last man to defeat him, Aung La N Sang.
“I am very light for the heavyweight division. It will be easy for me to switch,” he says. “I saw that Aung La N Sang just won the [light heavyweight] title against [Alexandre] Machado, and I know that we will meet again very soon.”
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, to a multi-time heavyweight kickboxing 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.”