was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Wanting again now, it was poverty actually. My father was the top of the gang within the space I grew up in, however we lived in like a wood hut with a zinc roof. We didn’t have a lot, however everybody round you was in the identical scenario, in order a child you didn’t really feel it. My next-door neighbour was in the identical scenario and so was the man down the highway.
However I had a enjoyable childhood from what I keep in mind. My dad got here to the UK, to London, early on and would ship us stuff like cash, garments and toys. It was alright, you recognize – my dad and mom did all the pieces they may to provide me an excellent childhood. I’ve some dangerous reminiscences from the place I grew up… I’d seen weapons and other people being shot from a younger age, however I even have fond reminiscences of being in Jamaica. I used to be a cheerful child.
A while after my dad got here to stay to London – once I was eight or 9 – he despatched for me, my mum and my little brother Fabian. He then introduced all three of us to Birmingham and we lived in Aston for about three years, went to Aston Manor faculty, then moved to Erdington. That’s the place I grew up, grew to become a teen.
The 2 largest gangs had been the Johnston Crew and the Burger Bar Boys. If you went to high school, all the children’ older brothers had been in a gang. To get to your bus cease to get dwelling, you needed to stroll previous the parks and all of the gang members. You could possibly get robbed, they may take your cellphone off you, stuff like that.
It was a kind of issues: You both change into a sufferer of the gangs otherwise you defend your self, so all your folks find yourself in gangs. I wouldn’t say it was unavoidable, however it could be exhausting for you in class in the event you weren’t in a gang… I feel in my first 12 months of faculty, somebody acquired stabbed.
However having been born in Jamaica, stabbings had been the least of your worries, so once I got here to the UK and was in that kind of surroundings, I sort of understood it. It was what I used to be used to: being round gangs and other people doing unsuitable. It was a pure approach for me to go, as a result of it was what I grew up in.
My dad acquired killed in London once I was 13 years previous. I used to be in mattress when my mum acquired the cellphone name to say he’d been shot. From there, this sort of rebellious aspect got here out of me. You’ve acquired no father determine at dwelling, your dad will get killed… I feel that was the principle turning level for me to begin going deeper and deeper into gang life, following my buddies and stepping into hassle. What else may I do? I grew up on this life from a younger age.
And my brother was doing the identical precise factor. We by no means sat down and talked about it, however all the pieces I did, he did – he was simply copying what I used to be doing.
Once I was 16 or 17 years previous, there was a neighborhood MMA fitness center known as UTC being inbuilt my space. I used to be strolling previous someday with my mum, and she or he simply randomly mentioned: “You must give this a go.” It wasn’t even open but, however I knew the rationale she was saying it was to cease me hanging round on the streets and stepping into hassle.
She signed me up, it was like £60 a month. Regardless that I knew she couldn’t afford it, by some means she discovered the cash. For her, I caught to it, and the extra I caught to it, the extra I began liking it. The extra I began liking it, the extra it stored me away from hanging round on the streets.
MMA turned my life round and confirmed me a special path. I began assembly new individuals, totally different individuals. After doing that, your mind opens as much as totally different alternatives in life. If you’re a younger child and all you’re seeing is badness round you, all you’re considering is “felony, felony”. Your mind just isn’t developed sufficient to be wired to totally different alternatives. That’s what MMA did for me: It opened my mind up. It stored me on the straight and slim.
The affirmation of individuals saying: “You’re good, you are able to do this, you’re sick…” If you get that sort of consideration and optimistic reinforcement as a child, you need to do extra and preserve bettering. You need to be there every single day. Individuals had been saying: “You will get to the UFC in the event you stick at this.” It was like a household setting and everybody was chasing the identical dream and speaking positively. The vitality stored me in it.
All my buddies that I used to hold round with, they’re now within the fitness center – they’re coaching in MMA and discuss it greater than me! They watch each combat, they know all the pieces about it. They’re all household males, they’re married and have youngsters, they run companies. And since my brother had been following in my footsteps, I’m even happier that I may give him a special path to go. He fell in love with MMA, caught to it and has executed wonders with it, combating in Bellator. I’m completely satisfied that I used to be one of many first ones to take that large step into doing one thing optimistic.
My primary motivation is my household, my little boy. He’s eight, I’ve spoken about my childhood with him briefly, he’s been to Jamaica and seen the place I lived… however I haven’t been into particulars about what occurred to his grandad. I simply need to present a greater life for him than what I had as a child. I by no means need my son to combat, I need to have the ability to give him what he needs from life. I need to give him the chance to decide on and do no matter he needs along with his life.
Clearly one in all my different foremost motivations is to change into a world champion from the UK, to attain this aim whereas nonetheless coaching within the UK and provides again to MMA after what it’s executed for me. I’d like to do it for the children within the UK. It’d converse volumes if I did it. Individuals would say: “Look, Leon did it and he lives in Birmingham, so we don’t have to maneuver to America to have the ability to do it.” It’d really feel so shut that they may contact it.
I’ve began a charity that’s kicking off quickly as properly, with Darren Till and Jimi Manuwa, partnering with the UFC. I simply need to give again to the place I got here from and provides one thing to the children which might be rising up like I did. There’s many youngsters like me, from damaged properties and coming off the streets. Serving to the children from Birmingham, from the UK, is one in all my foremost motivations, that’s one of many causes I combat so exhausting.
I wouldn’t say I need to be a task mannequin, it’s simply having a coronary heart. Knife crime’s large within the UK, and if I can do one thing to save lots of somebody’s life or make them put the knife down, why wouldn’t I? I’ve been in these conditions earlier than as a younger man. Three or 4 of my buddies are doing life in jail due to stabbings or shootings, homicide. So, if I can save one individual’s life or simply assist them, I’ll do it.
I do know I gained’t be capable of change the entire UK – these issues have been round for generations – but when I will help anybody, why wouldn’t I? When you can open a thoughts as much as different methods of life, you may most likely save that individual’s life.
Catch Leon in motion Saturday evening at UFC Battle Night time: Edwards vs Muhammad. Prelims start at 10pm GMT on UFC Battle Move and proceed at 11pm GMT on BT Sport 1. The primary card will get underway at 1am GMT additionally on BT Sport 1.