Former UFC champion Vitor Belfort will be welcomed by Cameroonian heavyweight Alain Ngalani in his first fight under the ONE Championship banner, and “The Panther” sees it as the perfect opportunity to showcase his potential in MMA even though some think he hand-picked to make the Brazilian look well.
Ngalani built a career in kickboxing and muay Thai before making the transition to a brand new sport in 2013. A 38-year-old heavyweight at the time, Ngalani bounced between wins and losses at ONE, building a 4-5 record with one no-contest before the company approached him with the offer to face “The Phenom.”
Sure, Ngalani has been in big ONE fights before, like when he welcomed then-middleweight champion Aung La Nsang to heavyweight. But sharing the cage with a name known worldwide is the kind of opportunity he’s waited for.
Ngalani told MMA Fighting he was supposed to be Belfort’s first foe in the ONE cage before the coronavirus pandemic hit Asia in 2020, which forced the promotion to cancel all events. Although there’s still no official date for the fight, things are slowly going back to normal in some parts of the continent, and Ngalani is finally able to train in a Hong Kong gym again — with “a few restrictions.” ONE has yet to re-start event promotion with athletes that are not based in Asia.
“But one thing is for sure, it will happen,” Ngalani said. “So it’s kind of a done deal.”
The planned matchup became public when Belfort himself broke the news in late-April. The Brazilian veteran hasn’t competed since he parted ways with the UFC following a knockout loss to Lyoto Machida in May 2018. “The Phenom” fought at middleweight that night, and will move all the way up to heavyweight for his ONE debut.
“I got fans reaching out to me for all over the world and being so excited about this fight,” Ngalani said with a laugh. “I’m very excited, personally. Vitor Belfort is a legend and fighting him… What could be bigger than fighting a legend? I’m very excited. I needed something to bring the fire back in me. I needed something to give that motivation, that fire that I was lacking, and fighting a legend is the best thing that could have happened. I’m very excited and I got the fire back in me, and I cannot wait to get back in there and mix it up with a legend.”
Belfort started his career as a heavyweight teenager under Carlson Gracie, but only competed once in that weight class in the past 19 years. Belfort told Ag. Fight he believes speed and strength are on his side versus Ngalani, and the Cameroonian is “glad to hear that.”
“That’s awesome,” Ngalani said. “I believe my speed and strength are also my advantage. I’m a natural light heavyweight at heavyweight, I’ve been that my whole life. If I’m in the right state of mind and healthy, nothing can stop me. I’m sure of that. Nothing can stop me.”
The Brazilian appears to be much stronger compared to his final run in the UFC, raising questions if he’s back on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) now that he’s fighting overseas and North American athletic commissions rules won’t apply. TRT was banned in the United States in 2014, forcing Belfort and other MMA stars to quit the therapy.
Ngalani won’t start that debate going into their bout. Yes, he prefers it to be “fair to both athletes, to be healthy and natural,” but isn’t concerned.
“I personally do not want to jump into that polemic,” he said. “I’m athletic, I’m a very natural athlete, I’m very healthy and never been under the influence of any sort of drugs or performance enhancer. I’m happy to be tested anytime by any organization, I do not mind at all. I love this sport, I love what I do, I love training, I love competing, I love my health foremost. I will not jeopardise my health taking whatever is out there just to train and whatever. I will not do that.
“I’m physically very fit the way I am, I’m very natural, and I’m happy with that. If anyone is doing the opposite or is taking (enhancing) substances, that’s their responsibility and that’s on them. I will not judge anyone, I’ll just say that I respect Vitor. He’s a legend. I don’t want to comment on that, don’t feel comfortable starting a controversy.”
“I wouldn’t mind both of us being tested, although, tested or not, I’m gonna win this fight regardless,” he added. “I wouldn’t mind that we are tested just to make sure it’s all legal and it’s all fair, but no excuses whatsoever. Tested or not, whatever that is, I will win this fight.”
Ngalani only fought twice in 30 months, defeating Ariunbold Tur-Ochir in his only MMA to ever to the distance before a loss to Mauro Cerilli a year later in March 2018. All the time away from the game allowed him to recover from a neck injury and have hand and knee surgery. “All this put me down morally and physically” during his last MMA appearances, he said, but being healthy again will change things up against Belfort.
That said, the fact that Ngalani only has four MMA wins raised some eyebrows when ONE paired him up versus an experienced opponent in Belfort. Some fans treat it as a gimme fight for Belfort, another high-profile name signed by the Asian company.
The whole conversation about his MMA record doesn’t “bother” Ngalani, and doesn’t “surprise” him either. And he repeats: “The Panther” can “bring damage” to anyone in the sport “when I’m in the right mindset and I’m healthy.”
“They are judging me, they are seeing my record and jumping on that to judge me,” Ngalani said. “That’s fine. I can take that. That’s my record. No problem, I’m not ashamed of it. I will not be the first athlete to be criticised for their record. When Floyd Mayweather wins, they criticize him. When Jon Jones wins, they criticize him. You win or you lose and they criticize you. Jon Jones wins and they criticize him every time. I’m just ‘The Panther,’ Alan Ngalani, and I’m doing my thing. I love what I do, I’m an athlete and I can be a danger to anyone.
“I’m here to prove the fans wrong, but, again, I’m going there to do my thing and prove myself a lot things. It’s not just about the fans. At the end of the day, nobody cares. The fans don’t care, you know? At the of the day is me and myself alone, that’s all. Of course you could say you will do something for the fans, yeah, that’s right, but I’m doing for myself first. I’m gonna go in there and give the best that I have and be proud of myself. This is my legacy. I’ll focus on myself.
“It’s ok for the fans to say that, it’s ok if you look at my record and say it’s a gimme fight, they can say whatever they wanna say. They’re always gonna find an excuse. If Vitor beat me, that was a gimme fight. If I beat Vitor, ‘Oh, it’s because he’s already old,’ although I’m older than him [laughs]. Whatever. They’ll always find an excuse. It doesn’t matter. What I know is that people will watch the fight. People want to see the fight, regardless of what they are saying. The fans are talking but they want to see the fight. They gonna see the fight and I’m gonna give them for the money. Yes, I will give them for the money.”