Croydon Characters: Cage fighting helped Jimi Manuwa turn his life around
JIMI Manuwa led a troubled existence in his earlier years.
His youth was spent being expelled from school, getting into vicious fights so many times he was barred from Croydon nightclubs and being imprisoned for his role in a burglary ring.
But the 30-year-old now insists he is a reformed character and is keen to get wayward youngsters off the street and into his cage-fighting classes, where they can "learn discipline and release energy".
Jimi, who moved to England from Nigeria when he was ten, says he has been frustrated and angry ever since he was young.
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He told the Advertiser: "You have a lot of energy and anger but you don't know why and I think there are a lot of kids like that.
"The people I hung around with were the same. They just wanted money and to have stuff but rather than work you just wanted it fast.
"I used to burgle from commercial properties, taking computers and stuff.
"I got into fights whenever I went out and I was banned from Croydon nightclubs.
"I feel bad for putting my family through that."
Jimi was imprisoned in 2002 for conspiracy to burgle and released in 2003.
On his exit from prison, Jimi saw his best friend cage fighting and decided he wanted to start training.
After winning his first few fights, 6ft and 205lb Jimi soon built up a reputation as a fierce competitor in cage fighting, winning a series of competitions.
He now wants to train youngsters in the sport, which demands participants practice mixed martial arts and battle it out in the ring.
He said: "People might think it's violent but it's a sport, like boxing.
"You get to release energy and take your frustration out and it takes a lot of discipline.
"I think kids will be able to relate to me as I've come from the same place they have. When I speak to them they listen."
Jimi says he has been inspired to give young people something he was lacking when they were his age.
He added: "If I'd been given this chance when I was younger I know I would have taken it, because I think a lot of young people don't know what they want to do.
"It gives them something to aim for."
Jimi will be opening his gym in Tamworth Place, West Croydon.
For more details call 07853 999456.