More than 100 young people from Belfast have used Mixed Martial Arts to fight for a better future.
Emulating their heroes from the Ultimate Fighting Championship they have taken part in the no holds barred sport in a two-year personal development programme aimed at tackling sectarianism, racism, violence and crime.
Fight to Unite, run by the Northern Ireland Youth Forum (NIYF) and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) helped vulnerable and hard to reach young people aged 11-25 deal with anti-social behaviour, and improve their educational attainment and employability.
NIYF ‘Relentless Youth Worker’ Sean Conlon worked alongside Jack Corr, a fully qualified MMA coach with young people from deprived areas of north and west Belfast and Newtownabbey.
Jack, (21), son of Northern Ireland MMA Champion Danny Corr, is the world’s first fully qualified coach recognised by the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF).
Speaking at a special celebration event in the Balmoral Hotel, Sean said the programme had worked wonders for the young people’s confidence and self-worth.
He said: “28 of the young people have completed OCN Level 2 qualifications in Leadership and Youth Work. They have worked so hard to make this programme a success.”
NIYF Director Chris Quinn added: “It’s a huge milestone for us and the sport as well. It has been working very hard to get away from the stereotype of cage-fighting.
“It is very disciplined and by focusing on youth work together with learning the basics of MMA we have found something that is very special.”
The Fight to Unite programme, which was funded by Comic Relief, combined the best aspects of MMA with a youth work programme providing individual and group development, building self-confidence, creating employment opportunities and supporting participants’ mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Danny Corr stated: “I cannot express how pleased I am that years of work are paying off and the programme I have helped develop is now coming to fruition.
“This can only be good for the sport and those young people that will come into it in the future; my hope is that this programme can be emulated worldwide among the IMMAF family and beyond.”