Alain “The Panther” Ngalani takes on former ONE World Heavyweight Title challenger Hideki “Shrek” Sekine at ONE: TOTAL VICTORY on Saturday, 16 September, and looks to propel himself to a world title shot in his third combat sport after kickboxing and Muay Thai.
Ngalani took up martial arts as a 6-year-old after he was bullied at school. He was instantly bitten by the martial arts bug, and never looked back since.
This weekend in Jakarta, 36 years after taking that first judo class, the Cameroon-born native of Hong Kong will step into the ONE Championship cage, in an effort to move one step closer to a shot at the ONE Heavyweight World Title.
Ahead of his bout with Sekine, he reflects on the moment his martial arts path began, as his mother empowered him to solve his own problems at school by using martial arts to defend himself.
“My mum signed me up for judo classes,” he begins. “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.”
Ngalani excelled in judo, and then when he stepped in as a replacement at a karate competition, he showed his natural aptitude for martial arts, winning his bout with what he described as “an outstanding spinning back kick.” His instant success, despite no formal karate training, sparked his desire to learn more martial arts disciplines.
“I just loved competition and wanted more, always keen to learn and to challenge myself,” said Ngalani.
That craving for challenges saw him travel the globe, and eventually settle in his spiritual home of Hong Kong, recalling: “I fell in love with the city of my all-time hero, Bruce Lee, and never left.”
There, Ngalani set up his home base, Impakt MMA, which soon expanded to include gyms in Singapore and South Africa. As well as establishing gyms, he also started collecting titles.
During a hugely successful kickboxing and Muay Thai career, he became a four-time Muay Thai world champion, then picked up a world title in a second sport when he became the IKA Super Heavyweight World Kickboxing Champion in 2011.
After reaching the top of the mountain in both Muay Thai and kickboxing, Ngalani turned his attention to the cage, with a singular goal of becoming the world champion again.
“I will not rest until I achieve my ultimate final goal of being the ONE Heavyweight World Champion,” he says. “I am hungrier than ever.”
On September 16, after almost a year out rehabilitating a succession of injuries, including recovery from knee surgery, the 42-year-old will look to ignite his title challenge as he pits his world-class striking against the dangerous submission game of Sekine.
Tha Japanese is is a seven-time Brazilian jiu jitsu champion in Japan and Asia, but Ngalani says he is fully prepared for wherever the match goes.
“He looks like he would love to apply a takedown and finish with a submission,” Ngalani acknowledges. “But my takedown defense is on point right now, and even on the ground I am a beast. Now, dare to stand up with me, Hideki (Sekine), or have it any way you want.
“When I close my eyes, I see Hideki trying to apply pressure to take me down. It cannot be any other way. I see him succumbing to my kicks or punches, though.”
With Sekine’s only defeat coming to Vera, a victory for Ngalani will push “The Panther” one big step towards a title shot of his own.
hile winning the title remains a career ambition, the Hong Kong resident admits the culture of martial arts has already given him much more than a world championship belt ever could.
“Martial arts has given me so much – a job, a career, a family outside of my family, and a purpose,” he explains.
“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.”