Alain “The Panther” Ngalani has always thrived on life’s challenges, even when they come in the shape of a 150-kilogram “Beast” like Bob Sapp.
Sapp — one of the biggest athletes to ever grace the combat sports circuit — was a huge star due to his entertaining appearances in the K-1 World Grand Prix and Pride FC events, so Ngalani knew he’d have his hands full when they faced off back in 2009.
“I had heard about Bob Sapp and watched his fights before. The guy is a unit. He is a true beast, twice my size,” the Cameroon-born striker says.
“He’s a big guy and he’s very strong, but you know what? I was excited. I like challenges. That’s why I do what I do. You just throw me in and I go out there and I do my best, win or lose.
“It’s all about the challenge, but I always believe that anything is possible. You just have to believe in it and be confident.”
Even before “The Panther” ever met Sapp face to face, he saw something that made him realize what he was in for.
“We came to a place where we were meeting, and he had taken his shoes off outside the door, and I saw they were so big. It was unbelievable,” Ngalani recalls with a laugh.
Of course, Ngalani is not a small man himself. His muscular physique is a sight to behold, but he was dwarfed by Sapp when they went out to film pre-bout media in his adopted home of Hong Kong.
As they walked the streets with cameras in tow, onlookers could barely see “The Panther” in his opponent’s shadow.
“We walked to a busy street to face each other and take pictures and so on, and when we were doing that, I was so little close to him,” Ngalani says.
“It was funny because usually when I’m on my own, people often turn to look at me, but people could only see him – they couldn’t even see me.”
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However, size is not everything in martial arts. The colossal American had already used his physical attributes to earn a pair of victories over K-1 legend Ernesto Hoost, so Ngalani decided on a different roadmap for victory.
Instead of relying on raw power, the game plan would see him outwork Sapp and make the most of his speed and movement.
“The strategy that we prepared was for me to be very fit to be able to keep my distance and be explosive, in and out,” the Hong Kong resident explains.
“I knew he was a unit and that he was stronger than me. I couldn’t stand there and trade with him like Hoost did — he could catch you with one of his big hammers and destroy you. I wasn’t going to stand there, show off, and trade with him. I had to be smart.”
Finally, event day arrived on 7 October 2009.
By then, “The Panther” had his game plan down pat, endless cardio, and the belief that he could pull it off. There were still some nerves for the four-time kickboxing and Muay Thai World Champion, but it was time to go implement what he had worked on in the gym.
However, no amount of training could have prepared him for the moment when the giant Sapp charged in his direction.
“The day of the fight, I was very excited. Once I had him in front of me, there were nerves, but I had to do it,” Ngalani says.
“He chased after me as soon as the bell rang, and I tell you, that 15 or 20 seconds of him chasing after me took so much out of me.
“When the fight starts, usually you want to get a feel for the fight. But when we touched gloves, he just ran at me and that put me off completely. I just lost the strategy — to throw a kick and keep the distance. He didn’t allow me to do that, so I was a bit lost.”
Fortunately, Ngalani was able to draw on his past experience to compose himself and get back to the script.
Once he had ridden out the initial storm, “The Panther” showed that his strategy could prevail, and he went on to register a massive decision win in front of his adopted hometown crowd.
“After a few seconds, I found my feet, regained my composure, and found a way to pace things again and go for it,” Ngalani says.
“When he was about to strike, I would get in and get out and avoid getting hit. That’s how it played out, and it was a great evening. I got to show that anything is possible!”