How Chris Ngimbi overcame family tragedy to become a world champion
Known as “The African Warrior” Chris Ngimbi is looking to make a huge statement on his first-ever appearance for ONE Championship this weekend.
At ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS, Ngimbi will take on Muay Thai legend Yodsanklai IWE Fairtex, in a ONE Super Series kickboxing bout at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday, 18 May.
Ngimbi has rubbed shoulders – and traded punches – with a host of top names in the past, including Giorgio Petrosyan, Andy Souwer, and Artur Kyshenko. Now, he faces a Muay Thai superhero in the heart of Asia.
Ngimbi was born and raised in Kinshasa, Congo, a city known for years of conflict, but he remembers it differently.
“I had a good youth. It was only due to the circumstances that we had to flee the country,” he said.
“I played outside a lot with the other kids. I was just having lots of fun with my friends.”
Despite all this, he was forced to uproot and move to Europe after a civil war and the sad death of his father, as the family bounced from country to country trying to find the right place to settle.
Then, more tragedy struck, as he explained.
“I never really had a steady life. Everything was always a rush, always moving, from Congo to Belgium, Holland, [and all these] different places,” he said.
“In the 20 years I was alive, I think I had a steady life for maybe three years before it was all interrupted again due to my mother passing away.”
Before his tragic second loss, Ngimbi found himself interested in martial arts and loved watching classic movies from the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme. It was made even more relevant to him as he was watching “The Muscles From Brussels” while living in Belgium at the time.
He became interested in kickboxing, but wasn’t sure how to get started in the sport. Instead he played soccer, and was considered a promising young player with a chance of making it as a pro.
When he turned 17, he attended his first kickboxing class, and everything changed.
“I went to kickboxing for the first time, and I just immediately fell in love with the sport,” he said.
“At first, it was once a week, then three times a week. After a couple of months, I had my first bout. The feeling of winning was amazing.
“I was doing kickboxing and football together for a while. I really liked football. I just went with the one I liked the best. I made the choice with my heart. I wanted to do what I loved.”
Like many stories we’ve seen with ONE Championship athletes, it wasn’t easy for Ngimbi to earn approval for his newfound passion, and he hid his training from his mother at the time.
“I was like, ‘Man, if she finds out, she is going to kill me,’” he laughed.
“She thought it would make me more aggressive, but when she saw it helped me to be more relaxed and achieve more in life, she started to show some appreciation.”
Sadly, his mother’s untimely death meant she never saw him make it in the sport and reach the level of a world champion.
The loss of his mother instantly placed more responsibility on Ngimbi, who became the senior figure in his family.
“I had to become an adult from one day to the next,” he says.
He worked hard at school, studied for a degree, and continued improving inside the kickboxing ring, all while looking after himself and his sisters.
“I had to combine everything. I had to make sure that I was growing in life, but also that [my sisters] were growing with their goals, going to school, and everything else,” he said.
“They both finished school, so I am very happy with that. It was very tough, but my mum had mentally prepared me for everything.”
Despite the heavy workload, Ngimbi thrived. He helped his sisters graduate and kept them safe. He also excelled in kickboxing, and also graduated.
Then, at the age of 23, he took the plunge and turned professional as a kickboxer.
“It paid off,” he said. “I won many bouts and many titles.”
He won the WKA Muay Thai World Championship twice, and the It’s Showtime World Championship twice. Most recently, he captured the SUPERKOMBAT Middleweight Title.
When he defeated Chahid Oulad via unanimous decision in November 2009, he felt like he’d elevated his skills to a new level in his career.
“Defeating Chahid Houlad was confirmation for me that I belonged in there with the big guys,” Ngimbi said.
“It was the point where I saw everybody was beatable. I went on a good win streak, and beat anybody in my path. It made me realize there was so much to obtain in my career.”
He then made the decision to “go for the ride and see how far I can take it.”
It’s resulted in a string of titles and, now, a huge opportunity in the ONE Super Series, where he faces legendary figure Yodsanklai.
The Kinshasa-born athlete says he’s ready to make an impression, and continue his ascent to the very top.
“Signing with ONE has made me highly motivated again,” he said.
“I am training harder now than I have for years, and only once I have gained success here will I be able to stop.”