A WORLD renowned mixed martial arts fighter who grew up on the streets of Croydon is mentoring young people in combat sports to show them options for using their physical and mental strength away from violence and knife crime.

Known as the Poster boy, Jimi Manuwa, who lives in LA and earned a reputation as being one of the UK’s top light heavyweight fighters, is leading a youth programme at Croydon’s Legacy Zone.

American based promotors Ultimate Fighting Championship have teamed up with OnSide’s Youth Zones, which includes Legacy, and Jimi is one of three mixed martial arts athletes involved in a pilot part of after-school health and wellness curriculum at three of its sites starting in September.

Jimi Manuwa said: “Violent crimes, especially knife crimes, are very apparent in the cities we all grew up in and we want to help to give these kids other options in life that we didn’t have when we were growing up.”


The sport of mixed martial arts incorporates techniques from various combat sports and martial arts from around the world, and is proven to help young people develop a wide range of key skills to support their physical and mental health, including improved cognitive function and muscle strength, better balance and coordination, enhanced flexibility, and better self-awareness.

The programme aims to help young people develop these skills with focus on self-discipline and self-defence, while giving them access to inspirational expert coaches and instructors from UFC, in a safe and supportive way.

Born in California Manuwa lived there until three when his father moved the family back to Nigeria and then to London in the 1990s when he was aged 10. He spoke in 2019 about how he got in to mixed martial arts: “I grew up in south London and had crazy teenage years filled with fights and life lessons. In 2006 I was 26-year’s-old and I discovered the UFC while flicking through the sports channels late at night, it immediately captured me, the likes of Rampage Jackson, Tito Ortiz , Randy Couture , Shogun were my favourite fighters and I became a fan instantly. I’d never set foot in any martial arts gym in my life and neither didn’t have any plans to. In 2008 I was 28 years old and i said to myself that I’m gonna fight for the UFC.”

He went on to win 17 of 23 professional bouts and launched five successful defences of his UCMMA Light heavyweight Championship.

The initiative also has the backing of the police who will refer participants to the programme.

PC Dean Littlewood from South Area Command Unit in the Met said: “As a huge fan of combat sports and UFC, I know first-hand how sport can change lives and encourage young people to take a more positive path. Legacy Youth Zone in Croydon….will have all of the necessary facilities to ensure that young people are directed away from the lure of criminality and supported in a friendly and supportive atmosphere.”

Young people aged 12-16 will be eligible to join the program, which will comprise of weekly classes over a six tot eight week period. Participants are selected through a combination of pre-existing membership of their local Youth Zone and from the local community.

Classes will teach various levels of martial arts disciplines that are the foundation of mixed martial arts including: boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, judo and jiu-jitsu).

Participants of this program will also receive access to the Youth Zone’s educational classes, tutoring, and after school programs.

CEO of Legacy Youth Zone, Barnabas Shelbourne said: “We’re really pleased to be working in partnership with UFC and the Met Police to bring an exciting and engaging fitness and martial arts programme to Legacy.. Having Jimi Manuwa on board is absolutely fantastic, and we look forward to his high energy, experience and training in this field.”