Jimi Manuwa, Leon Edwards and Darren Till lead fight against knife crime

Britain's biggest UFC stars have launched a three-pronged attack on knife crime in the country's most violent cities.

A record 45,000 such incidents were recorded by police in England and Wales last year, an increase of seven per cent on the previous 12 months.

London is struggling to shake its unwanted tag as the knife-crime capital of the UK while Birmingham and Liverpool are struggling to stem the ride of fatal stabbings.

And fuelled by their own harrowing experiences, mixed martial artists Jimi Manuwa, Leon Edwards and Darren Till are convinced their campaign can steer the streets' wayward youths onto a different path.

"Knife crime is out of control now," London's Manuwa, 40, told Mirror Fighting . "I don't know if there's just more social media and media to cover it but I feel we can do something because we are these kids and we come from the same places they are growing up in.

"Before I started fighting I had my fair bit of trouble; I've been to prison four times so I've come from these same circumstances.

"I would have wanted someone to do something for me when I was 17 or 18, I needed that same guidance."

Manuwa, who is retired, Edwards and Till have 65 professional fights – and 285,000 Twitter followers – between them.

Liverpool's Till, 27, challenged for the UFC welterweight title two years ago and is now ranked in the top five at middleweight while Edwards, 28, was potentially one victory away from a title shot before the coronavirus crisis struck.

"Growing up in Birmingham as a teenager, knife crime was high in certain areas," he said. "I could name four close friends who are doing life in prison for gun violence or knife crime.

"There are stabbings every day in Birmingham and you almost get desensitised to it but that's not right.

"Mixed martial arts changed my life and my family's life so if I can give back to the community, and give back to one or two kids, it will mean a lot to me.

"Fighting gave me discipline and taught me hard work; when you're hanging around the streets with your friends and you have nothing to do you're going to get in trouble.

"I can speak for me and my friends and family; I brought my brother into the gym and it's changed his life so now I want to reach out to people outside of my friends and family and bring them into the gym environment. 

"It will teach them discipline, hard work and dedication; it's not just about punching and kicking but also the mental side and what it's taught me as a man."

Manuwa, Edwards and Till have met remotely with two MPs as they plot a roadmap towards a community scheme.

The pandemic has seen crime fall dramatically due to strict lockdown measures but there is a fear this will be reversed as restrictions are lifted.

"We're trying to get the government to set up a scheme and to pay for these kids to come and train," added Manuwa.

"We know violence is going to happen, we're not here to solve the problem but we know we can make a difference and help kids take another path.

"Not everyone wants to be in that situation, people want to make money and have a good life."

Till, meanwhile, is all too familiar with Liverpool's battle against knife crime which has seen incidents double over the last five years.

He was stabbed in the back eight years ago with the weapon missing a major artery by a millimetre.

"I've been stabbed a few times myself and I know what it's like," he said. "Knife crime will probably always exist but there are so many mindless crimes being committed by youngsters, some as young as 13.

"If they've got beef with another gang or they're just bored, they're going to resolve that beef with knives. Ninety-five per cent of the time they're not going to intentionally kill another person, but that's what ends up happening.

"Their family is distraught because they’re going to jail for life and the other family is even more distraught because their family member has been taken from them, sometimes for the stupidest of arguments.

"We need to get these kids into any activity, it doesn't have to be mixed martial arts or boxing.

"As much as gyms are important, we need community centres where kids can go and make friends, have a laugh and keep their minds active.

"They're going to have to take notice of us at some point. We all have a powerful social media following and we're going to create a powerhouse."

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