Jimi Manuwa heaps praise on inspirational UFC champion Jan Blachowicz

Former UFC contender Jimi Manuwa is 'very happy' that former opponent Jan Blachowicz has found his way to the light heavyweight title – after almost being cut by the promotion.

The pair squared off twice inside the octagon, with both men picking up decision wins over the other – but at one point the Polish powerhouse went 1-4 over a torrid two year spell of poor results.

However, he re-established himself as a contender in the division, and won the title last September before defending against top star Israel Adesanya.

And speaking at the launch of his new youth mentoring programme in association with UK charity OnSide, Manuwa said that he was delighted to see the inspirational rise to the top for his former foe.

"I'm not surprised that he became champion," Manuwa said. "But I'm so happy for him that he is the champion now, because he had a similar to mine, except he started winning at the end!

"It couldn't have happened to a better guy, at one point he was nearly cut a few years ago, but he just got his head down and he worked hard.

"I'm mostly happy for him because it shows that hard work pays off."

That mantra of hard work will likely be a cornerstone of Manuwa's new venture; a partnership between the UFC, top fighters Leon Edwards and Darren Till and charity 'OnSide' to establish a youth mentoring programme throughout the UK.

The trio will lead a martial-arts focused after-school programme at 'Youth Zone' locations in South London, the Midlands and the Northwest, as well as visiting others across the country.

“I’m very proud that we have used our platforms and positions to be able to give back to our communities across the UK," Manuwa said of the programme.

"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 former light heavyweight star had a troubled youth that ultimately led him to a 2002 prison sentence for conspiracy to burgle, and wants to help 12-16 year-olds find direction.

They will look to specifically tackle knife crime; last year in England and Wales, in a 71% increase from 2014, there were 46,015 knife-related crimes recorded by police.

"I got into a lot of trouble when I was a kid and I went to prison numerous times for [offences relating to] driving and all different types of stuff.

"So I've been through all these issues that these kids are going through. And that's why I'll be able to communicate with them and that they will respect me and listen to what I've got to say."

Manuwa plans for the partnership, which is endorsed by MMA's largest promotion, to go worldwide after the impact is shown from the UK programme.

He said "Every single UFC athlete can have this in their own area. And that's what I'm excited about.

"There are kids all over the world who are going to need this mentoring programme and I'm excited to be able to kick it off and give help to kids all across the world.

It's such a great thing because martial arts is worldwide and there are kids that need mentoring worldwide. And the UFC is the perfect platform to do this."

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