Okonkwo fame began when, as a young man of eighteen, he accomplished the amazing feat of throwing Amalinze the Cat, a great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten. The acclaimed wrestler had earned his nickname "the cat" because in competition, his back was never known to touch the earth. All the old men of the village agreed that Amalinze "was one of the fiercest since the founder of their town engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven nights." The man against whom young Okonkwo was pitted was legendary, but after a fierce struggle, Okonkwo threw the Cat.
After that incident, Okonkwo's fame had continued to grow "like a bush-fire in the harmattan." He was known for his ferocity; "he was tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and wide nose gave him a very severe look." Okonkwo became a brave warrior, and was known for his many achievements. He amassed many wives and barnsful of riches, and was looked up to and respected by the people of the tribe.
Ironically, beneath his powerful, formidable exterior, Okonkwo harbored a deep-seated insecurity. His father, in contrast to himself, was a weak, effeminate man, and despite his reputation and success, Okonkwo was terrified that others might identify similar weaknesses in him, the son.