Within 3 years of beginning his career in 2005, Ngoli Onyeka Okafor, became a two-time heavyweight champion, winning back-to-back Golden Gloves, amateur boxing’s highest distinction. His accomplishments are even more impressive when one considers Ngo’s background. Raised in the Ibo speaking region of Nigeria, the second child of a Harvard academic and a teacher, sports were frowned upon in his house; brains were always valued over brawn.
He attended the University of Connecticut in the US and studied computer science, eventually landing a job with the Connecticut Department of Transportation, where he taught engineers and architects how to draw using computers.
He accidentally stumbled into boxing five years ago, at the ripe old age of 31 (around the time when most fighters hang up their gloves). What began as a simple workout routine (punching the bag, jumping rope, etc) quickly grew into an all-consuming passion for Ngo, who, at the urging of several fashion photographers, had relocated to New York City to pursue modeling. Professional fighters who watched him sparring noticed his innate talent and encouraged him to develop his skill. With the fierce dedication he’s applied to his work throughout his life, he immersed himself in the ring, training five to six hours a day… every day.
After winning the Golden Gloves by unanimous decision in 2008 and 2009, Ngo, never one to rest on his laurels, turned his sites towards modeling and acting. With his boyish good looks, chiseled physique and quiet intensity, he was a natural. Over the years, he’s posed with supermodels like Gisele Bundchen (V Magazine) and superstars like Mary J. Blige (MAC Cosmetic’s Viva Glam campaign). He’s appeared in more than a dozen issues of Men’s Health Magazine, has produced two best-selling calendars and has been featured in publications ranging from Vogue and W to ESPN and Fortune.
Most recently, he was celebrated alongside five Olympians in the Spring issue of the Wall Street Journal Magazine. As a result of all of his efforts, he is now considered to be the most downloaded black male model in the world. Ngo’s acting career is also taking off. His television work has included stints on soap operas and TV series. He just wrapped work on a feature film titled “Jeremy Fink and The Meaning of Life”. Ngo also worked on “The Rebound”, starring Catherine Zeta Jones, and he’s currently at work on, “Triumph of the Will,” a feature-length documentary, which chronicles his journey from Nigeria to the top of the boxing world.
IMDb Mini Biography By: Lola Ogunnaike
EL: You are in incredible shape, how many days a week do you workout to maintain this?
NGO: I work out 5-6 days a week to build and maintain my physique
EL: Is your focus more on cardio or weight lifting?
NGO: My work outs are 50% cardio and 50% weights. I have to do both in order to maintain my leanness
EL: It requires a lot of discipline to be so motivated, do you consider yourself self motivated or do you need a little help sometimes?
NGO: I am absolutely self-motivated. My schedule is so unpredictable that I don’t have a specific time that I train. It’s difficult to find someone to train at all hours of the day
EL: You have achieved a lot in the boxing world; did you always have a love for boxing?
NGO: I always loved watching boxing as a kid with my dad. I never wanted to be a boxer. I definitely did not want to be a fighter. Boxing came to me much later.
EL: There’s clearly a big difference between boxing for exercise and competing, what woke up the spirit of competition within you.
NGO: After boxing for a few months for exercise, I knew that I loved it. I saw it as an opportunity to live my childhood dream of playing sports. It’s a one man sport, so you have you don’t have to learn anybody else’s position. So, I jumped on it.
EL: Were you ever afraid? And if so how did you overcome that fear?
NGO: I was scared in the beginning. Every boxer is scared. There are no guarantees in boxing. You make one mistake and it’s over. That’s scary. I wanted to be a champion, so I had to put the fear behind me and move forward. There was no other way.
EL: There must be days when training is the last thing you want to do, how do you keep going when you’re feeling a little low?
NGO: There are many days that I do not want train, but I know that there is always someone, waiting to take my spot. The thought of this keeps me going. Also, I know that if I can get over the days that I do not feel 100%, it will make my good days even better.
EL: Tell us your biggest low and your biggest high in your life to date? How did these things shape your choices?
NGO: My biggest low was in 2002 when my career when I wasn’t working at all. I lost focus and gained a little bit of weight and nobody wanted to hire me as a model. My biggest high was when I won my first Golden Gloves in Madison Square Garden in New York.
EL: In your own words, tell us about your Champion Spirit Foundation, what is the aim?
NGO: Boxing changed my life. Even as an adult, it taught me perseverance and benefits of hardwork and focus. Playing sports was always a dream and boxing helped me make this dream come true. Nigeria’s population is predominantly young. 41% of the population is under the age of 14, approximately 64 million. The median age is 19.3. That’s larger than some countries in Africa. If we let our youth down, we will be letting not just Nigeria, but indeed, Africa, down. I founded Champion Spirit Foundation to provide safe sports facilities where through the sport of boxing, Nigeria’s underprivileged youth can come and release their aggression; learn hard work, discipline and focus, which will keep them off the streets and give them a place where they belong while building self esteem.
EL: What do you feel about the state of the health and fitness industry in Nigeria?
NGO: I feel that the health and fitness industry is growing, but it still has a long way to go. It is not in culture yet, but it’s coming.
EL: What do you do to relax? Where is your peace?
NGO: My peace is at home relaxing, playing video games, watching TV, movies and editing videos.
EL: If I told you that I had given up on working out and couldn’t motivate myself, what would you tell me to lift me?
NGO: Do not keep until tomorrow what you can do today. It may be tough to get up and go right now, but I guarantee that you will feel better when it’s all over.