‘Boxing saved his life’: South London teen turns his life around after brutal murder of friend

After one of his friends was stabbed to death in a local park Aaron knew something had to change.

Michael Jonas was just 17 when he was knifed multiple times in Betts Park in Penge.

He was found by officers lying in the dark.

Waking up to the news his friend was dead was turning point for Aaron Hunt, now 18.

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Aaron has found new meaning in boxing

He told MyLondon: “It was messed up. It made me step back and think I’ve got to get away from that.

“At the time it hit me and a few others. That made my mindset change.”

It was then that old family friend, Nina Cranstoun, persuaded him to pick up gloves instead.

Under her watchful eye, Aaron started focusing on boxing.

He continued: “Nina made me see a different picture.

“It put me on the right path. It stopped me doing dumb things.

“If I didn’t put the gloves on I would have ended up in prison. 100 per cent.”

He started fighting in the ring and even won a belt after knocking his opponent out in seven seconds.

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His first ever bout was in a charity event organised by Nina, raising money to buy a wheelchair for his cousin. With his family there to support him he won.

Aaron explained: “It felt good. To make the family happy.

“I did it for my cousin as well. Got the win for her. It wasn’t just a normal bout for me.”

Aaron’s mum, Liza, saw the change in her son.

She said: “Before he was a troubled teenager. He was hanging around with the wrong crowd.

“He was not coming home and when he was he was causing dramas. Using drugs, hanging around with gangs.

“Aaron was going down that road.”

But when he started training, it was like a new start for her son.

She told MyLondon: “It saved his life.

“He just had to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“But with boxing, he began to really shine. It started to change him He was coming home a happy lad.

“It was like having a different child on my hands. The problems I had with him vanished. It got him away from the crowds, the circles.”

Liza was awed how Nina had put her son on a better path.

She said: “Everything Nina is doing is an inspiration. I take my bloody hat to her.”

Nina, a boxing promoter, started organising the training because she had seen how young lads in her neighbourhood were being drawn down a dark path.

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Nina with actor Tamer Hassan at her most recent fundraiser

She had her own experience of how serious violence could affect family, when her cousin, Barry Weedon, was killed after a row in a Penge pub in 1991.

Nina told MyLondon: “I remember my dad screaming. Crying. It’s my dad. Not saying men don’t cry but I hadn’t heard anything like that in my life.

“I remember everything. It was a cloudy day, a Good Friday.

“I knew Barry had gone. I saw the devastation it had left behind.”

That corner of London has seen a spate of knife killings with two teenagers stabbed to death down the road in Sydenham so far this year.

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She explained: “Now it seems every bloody week. People want to play the blame game but it’s happening.

“When road gets you, you’re gone.

“I’m saying there are other ways.”

Frustrated with the expense of most boxing gyms, she organises free training for around 50 young people.

When she organises exhibition fights, she’ll pay her boxers.

She said: “It’s the domino affect. People see a boy in the ring they’re inspired.

“They get belts, proper belts. It makes them feel like they’ve achieved something. And that’s the best thing I can do.”

She continued: “I’ve lived and breathed boxing for 12 years. It keeps you on the straight and narrow. The trainers become mentors to these boys.

“We’re all part of it. We give them encouragement. We don’t big them up for being a road man.”

Nina hosts regular fundraisers, dipping into her address book which includes a few celebrities to raise money to keep boxing available to everyone.

More information about boxing with Nina can be found at Unorthodox Boxing Promotions’ Facebook page.

Is there a future in boxing for Aaron?

He laughed: “You never know. Boxing is always on my mind.

“I’m not sure I want to go pro, I just want to see where life takes me.

“At least now I’m not doing anything stupid.”

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