He has been called one of the best boxers of his generation, a powerful yet graceful presence in the ring and one of the quickest studies the fight world has ever seen. Within three 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. “My dad used to say athletes are like jesters in a kings court,” recalls Ngo, whose name means joy in Ibo. “I’ve always appreciated the value of a good education, but him saying that used to really piss me off, because I felt like I could have both.” 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. “I’ve always loved computers and there’s a part of me that will always be a bit of a nerd,” says Ngo. “But I also knew that I was naturally athletic and I wanted to see where that side would take me. I was curious to see if I could play at the highest level.”
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. “Boxing became my life,” he says. “I wanted to be one of the best that ever did it. I started later than most fighters, so I know I had to make up for lost time.”
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, which opens in theaters in summer 2010 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. “I really want the film to inspire people to dream big and work hard,” says Ngo. “That’s always been my mantra and so far so good.”