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Challenges old and new excite ONE heavyweight star Alain Ngalani

Hong Kong heavyweight says he’s looking forward to a busy year in 2018

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In a roster packed with elite-level athletes and larger-than-life characters, Alain Ngalani still manages to stand out.

The Cameroon-born Hong Kong native is one of the most physically imposing figures in martial arts today. A hulking combination of speed and power, the heavyweight knockout artist has developed a following as one of the most fearsome athletes to step into the ONE Championship cage.

“The Panther” sat down with ONE Championship to discuss his plans for 2018 after his recent loss to ONE Middleweight Champion Aung La N Sang in ONE’s first-ever Open-Weight Super Bout last year.

That bout saw Aung La N Sang step up to face Ngalani in a bout that pitted the heavyweight’s power against the submission skills of “The Burmese Python”. Eventually, it was Aung La N Sang who prevailed, submitting Ngalani in the opening round.

“I expected him to go for the takedown. I know most people try doing that with me,” he admitted.

“I think that I did show some improvements in my ground work. I am striking much more comfortably now on the ground, and it was okay for me to stay there with him. I kept him there, and I felt I was dominating until he caught me with the guillotine choke.”

The defeat prompted Ngalani to return to his home gym at Impakt MMA in Hong Kong and immediately work on improving his submission defence.

“I did not see that he was going to take me for the guillotine. I did not work on it, and now I have,” he explained.

“It shows there is just so much to learn. I want to learn every day. It keeps me alive and motivated, and I love that. I love the whole thing. I learned from the match and came out with more knowledge. I am happy, and I am looking forward to the next one.”

And even though he ended up on the losing side in Aung La N Sang’s home territory of Yangon, Myanmar, Ngalani said he’d take fond memories away from that bout.

“I am not one to dwell on the past,” he said.

“The promotion was good, the match was amazing. I was in Myanmar, and the ambiance was awesome. The crowd was electric. I loved the crowd, and I had a great response from them after the match.”

After spending time in the cage with Aung La N Sang, Ngalani says the Myanmar athlete has a great chance of capturing a second world title. Aung La N Sang will battle with another man who has defeated Ngalani – Brazil’s Alexandre Machado – for the vacant ONE Light-Heavyweight World Title at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD on 23 February, and Ngalani says it’s a bout that’s almost too close to call.

“I think it is fifty-fifty,” he offered.

“Machado likes to go on the ground. He is basic on the ground and pound, and tries to choke you.

“Aung La N Sang also is comfortable standing and trading wild punches, but comfortable on the ground, too.”

Ngalani doesn’t currently have a bout booked, but he’s still been furthering his ONE Championship experience. Recently he was part of the group of athletes invited to the ONE Elite Retreat in the Philippines, where athletes stayed together, learned more about the direction of the organisation and had the opportunity to meet and share ideas with fellow athletes.

Ngalani says it was an enriching and enjoyable experience.

“First of all, I would just like to say it was a privilege for me to be selected. I can only thank ONE Championship,” he said.

“They really put a lot of effort trying to make us feel comfortable. To go and watch an event in Manila was a first for me – not competing, just watching the whole show – it was awesome.

“Then they flew us to Boracay, and it was another level of excitement, fun, joy, and something completely different. We had the opportunity to learn a lot of things, meet our peers, and get to know each other. I am very proud and satisfied working with ONE. It is an honor to be a part of it, and it makes this job even more amazing. I am thankful and grateful.

“We learned lots of things about social media, and how to use it to our advantage. I thought it was very interesting. Then they gave us all the information about how to better promote ourselves and use the ONE platform to market ourselves better. I came out of it with a lot more knowledge, and I am very grateful.”

A notable meeting that occurred during the retreat was when Ngalani chatted with ONE Heavyweight World Champion Brandon “The Truth” Vera, who “The Panther” had made no secret of the fact he wants to face in 2018. But despite his desire to beat the American-Filipino star to capture the title, the meeting was full of respect.

“I was very happy to meet Brandon Vera. I know we will be crossing paths, and I have no problem showing respect because he deserves it. I told him I am looking forward to meeting him in the cage,” he said.

“He is a true world champion. It would be an honour for me [to face him], and there is nothing wrong with that.

“It was a pleasure spending time with him, dancing with him, talking to him, and training with him. It was fun, and we had a great time. Once the time comes to step in the cage, we will step in there and do our jobs.”

As well as his quest to win the ONE Heavyweight World Title, Ngalani’s career received another boost with the news that he’d been included as one of the athletes set to star in the upcoming ONE Super Series, a new striking-only league created by ONE Championship.

Ngalani says he’s looking forward to renewing acquaintances with some of his former foes, who he believes he’ll get the chance to face once again.

“It is very exciting for me to get back in there with some of the athletes that I used to compete along with around the world,” he said.

“We will meet again, and it is great. I know I am working a lot on competing in the cage and want to focus on that, but it is not negative for my cage career. It will not affect me to do some more striking, as it is my background. ONE Championship is just giving us so many more opportunities. The platform is widening.”

With designs on a heavyweight title run, the challenge of the new ONE Super Series and the day-to-day job of running his Impakt MMA gyms, life is good – and busy – for Ngalani. But he wouldn’t have it any different.

“It is quite intense, but I am excited,” he enthused.

“You just want to be with an organisation that makes sense and promotes the same values that you have. ONE is promoting athletes in an awesome way on a great platform. They are opening up more things for us, which makes it even more exciting.

“Since last year, I have been very busy, and I just love that. It pushes me and motivates me to give the fans what they want. It gives me more incentives to train harder and be more prepared.”

Interview by ONE Championship. Story by Simon Head.

Freelance sports writer and MMA reporter with 19 years’ experience in the UK's national media covering major sporting events including the FIFA World Cup, UEFA European Championships, Olympic Games, UFC world title fights, The Grand National and The FA Cup Final.

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