UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards visited Wolverhampton youths at The Way Youth Zone to spread the message of “staying true to yourself” and following your dreams.
Mixed martial arts students stood and watched Leon, from Birmingham, as he led a group through fighting routines and moves, all while talking about the importance of discipline and following your passions.
The champion visited the venue as part of an OnSide initiative, partnered with the UFC, to grow more Youth Zones across the UK to give more young people the opportunity to follow their passions.
Talking to the children, Leon said: “I grew up in Jamaica, I came here and we lived in poverty. My mom pushed me into training as a way to keep me off the streets. I dedicated myself to MMA, I studied it and I put my life into it.
“I really put myself into training and I just kept pushing at it. Winning the championship, it felt amazing and honestly, it was really emotional.”
Dave Lovell, Leon’s coach, continued: “If you take one thing from this. Don’t get drawn in by the crowds, stick to the programme. I know that a lot of you have people in crime drawing you in. But stick to the programme and keep on track.
“Keep believing in yourself, stick to programmes that you give yourself and believe in yourself.”
Daryl Chambers, head coach of mixed martial arts at The Way, said: “Leon and the UFC have agreed to fund these youth programs and it’s more important than ever as there aren’t that many youth programs out there.
“Because there aren’t a lot of programs out there there are more drawn to crime to find their role models. To have the ambassador of the UFC and the champion welterweight of the world here you can’t get much better than that for the kids.”
The OnSide UFC mentoring programme looks at getting more people, aged 12 to 16, to take part in a six to eight week mentoring programme focused on martial arts, which helps to develop key skills, and discipline and provides strong models for youths to follow.
Ryan Davies, aged 11, said: “It is really good how he wants to make other people better in themselves, it’s great how he wants to get people onto his level like he wants to help them and that is really good.”
Corey Mason, 12, continued: “It’s amazing how he said that he came from Jamaica and lived in poverty and now he has come up to living in Birmingham and being the world champion of the UFC, It’s really inspirational for us.” The champion visited The Youth Zone only weeks before his rematch on March 18 with Kamaru Usman in UFC 286, who he previously defeated in UFC 287 with a head kick knock-out.
More information about the marital arts training events and other activities are at thewayyouthzone.org.