Hulking heavyweight Alain Ngalani is set to take centre stage in a special ONE Championship Open Weight Super Bout in Yangon, Myanmar, on 3 November, but he says the contest is just another step towards his ultimate aim of becoming the ONE Heavyweight World Champion.
‘The Panther’ takes on Myanmar superstar Aung La N Sang in a non-title battle between the hard-hitting heavyweight contender and the newly-crowned ONE Middleweight World Champion.
Ngalani will be the bigger, stronger man in the cage on the night, but as he explained, the physical advantages weren’t always in his favour growing up.
As a 6-year-old, he returned home from school in tears after a group of larger children bullied him and stole his lunch. Upon hearing the news, Ngalani’s mother gave her young son some stern advice.
“She told me to man up and go back to defend my honour by all means, and with any means, necessary,” he recalled. “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.”
The bullying at school soon stopped, as Ngalani’s judo training stood him in good stead when facing up to his young adversaries at school. He even exacted decisive revenge in a competition setting when he defeated one of the bullies on the judo mat.
His love for training and learning, coupled with a curiosity for exploring other techniques, soon saw Ngalani branching out into other martial arts.
He fell into kickboxing by accident, volunteering as a last-minute replacement while attending a karate competition to support his brother. That bout lit another competitive fire inside Ngalani, who earned a spectacular win.
“I won with an outstanding spinning back kick,” he said, proudly. “I was very flexible, and a fast learner. I just loved competition and wanted more, always keen to learn and to challenge myself.”
From that moment on there was no stopping ‘The Panther’. Inspired by action movie stars including Bruce Lee and Jean-Claude Van Damme (whose famous splits scene in Kickboxer led to him learning how to do the same), Ngalani studied a host of other martial arts, including French Savate, Muay Thai, and kickboxing.
“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 and competition expenses,” he said.
However, in a household that knew and respected the more traditional martial arts, the thought of Ngalani moving into full-contact kickboxing prompted a different response.
“I knew the deal, but one day I tried to mention that perhaps I could be a kickboxer instead. My mum almost killed me!” he remembered.
“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!’”
That conversation may have ended, but Ngalani’s determination to pursue the sport certainly didn’t. He later took the life-changing decision to leave his studies and pursue a full-time career in martial arts.
“My parents would always say if you decide to do something, you ought to do it 100 per cent,” he explained. “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.”
It’s proved to be a good decision.
Ngalani captured four successive African heavyweight kickboxing titles before moving to Hong Kong and opened his own gym, Impakt MMA, where he has developed the facility into one of the largest of its kind in Hong Kong.
The successes in competition continued, too. Ngalani won two Muay Thai world titles before switching to kickboxing and capturing two more world titles. Now, he’s one of the most recognisable stars in ONE Championship, and arguably a serious threat to Brandon Vera’s ONE heavyweight title.
More importantly than his championship honours, Ngalani was able to repay the woman whose strong words of advice put him on his martial arts journey by buying his mother a house.
“Martial arts has given me so much – a job, a career, a family outside of my family, and a purpose,” he said.
“Also, it taught me humility through my losses and failures. 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.”
His latest opportunity to inspire comes on 3 November in Myanmar, when Ngalani faces ONE Middleweight World Champion Aung La N Sang in a special open-weight contest.
Ngalani’s gameplan is simple. Deliver a spectacular performance, knock out the middleweight champ, then set his sights on the heavyweight belt.
“I think the fans are going to love it, and they will not want to miss it,” he said.
“They know I am explosive. I am not a boring martial artist. I am not going over there to look at my nails; I am going over there to look to finish it, and my opponent is surely going to give me a good match. I am looking forward to that.
“There is no title on the line in this super bout. It is just another test for me and to get me into the rhythm. I am fine with that, but ultimately Brandon Vera is in my line of fire. I am looking for him. I will bring that title home to Hong Kong.
“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.
“I will not rest until I achieve my ultimate final goal of being the ONE heavyweight world champion.”