Anic is a leader in the MMA-for-kids training circuit, offering a twice-a-week class at Finney's Championship Kickboxing and Mixed Martial arts gym in Crestwood for children ages four to fourteen. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Madeline showcases her striking skills, whacking Anic's padded hands with furious jab-hook-knee combos that can be heard across the room. The twelve-year-old's shoulders are hunched, and her grimace is fierce as she pulverizes Anic's mitts with her tiny arms.

"She's an all-around ninja," says one of Green's teammates.

Madeline is now training for what will be her biggest two tests so far. On March 19, the North American Grappling Association, the largest of its kind in the world, will host a tournament for the first time in the region at Vetta Sports in O'Fallon, Illinois. Madeline plans to enter the intermediate boys' bracket. Then, on April 2, she will participate in her first kickboxing cagematch in an otherwise adult showcase, staged by Jesse Finney's Shamrock Promotions at the Stratford Inn in Fenton. Finney has splashed Madeline's picture on one of the promotional cards, highlighting her debut.

"She's the first person who told me they loved me and meant it unconditionally," says Green of Madeline. For more images, visit MMA for Kids: A Family Story.
Kholood Eid
"She's the first person who told me they loved me and meant it unconditionally," says Green of Madeline. For more images, visit MMA for Kids: A Family Story.

"Maddy is the Tiger Woods of the sport," says Gee. "She's being groomed for it."

Madeline Green's childhood is much like her father's in one big way: She doesn't see her mom.

When Mike Green met Christina Moran, he'd been rising through the amateur ranks with an eye toward the pros. He had little interest in a romantic relationship. But when the eighteen-year-old Moran told Green she was pregnant, the pair attempted to make family life work.

It didn't.

By the time Madeline was two, the couple split up. After a period of shared custody, Moran eventually took to drugs.

Green never wanted to raise a child; the world he knew was too painful, too haunting. There had never been an "I love you" in his life. Everyone, it seemed, would either hurt or abandon you. How would this little girl — small-boned and coming from a broken home, just like him — learn to survive the mean streets of South Broadway?

"I seen the way I grew up," reflects Green. "I seen the way my parents separated. It's lonely."

And so, fatherhood for Green began with the very first lesson he taught himself many years ago: Always protect yourself.

Green began teaching Madeline how to assume a proper fighting stance. He showed her how to throw a punch, how to dodge a punch, how to come at an attacker with a front kick. The two began spending hours inside Green's basement, sparring with mitts. "I always tell her to be on her toes," says Green. "Head up. Pay attention. You gotta always be ready for anything."

Pretty soon, Madeline started tagging along with her dad to the gym. She'd play with the punching bags while he worked out in the ring. Undersized like her dad, she learned to be quick.

When she was eight, Green enrolled her in karate classes with Sid Gee, who'd been Green's coach and longtime mentor. It didn't take her long to make his jaw drop.

"She took to it like a fish in water," says Gee. "It's in her bloodline."

In 2008, Madeline's mother landed in rehab, and Green agreed to take Madeline on a full-time basis, abandoning any thought of turning pro. Madeline has neither seen nor spoken to her mother since.

That's been her decision, not her mother's. Prior to that year, Moran says she was a good mom, though Madeline says she has very few memories of her.

Regardless, an isolated incident — the event that drove Moran to rehab — soured their relationship for good. Moran declines to get into the details of that event, but it's a day she won't forget.

"The hardest thing in life is not seeing her," says Moran. "I made some mistakes. But I was young. And I can't take anything back."

Now 31, Moran says she's completely drug-free, and although she's never seen Madeline fight, she's still a fan. "I couldn't be more proud of the kid, whatever she does," she says. "She's incredible. I could not be more proud."

As Madeline grew into her new role as a fighter, Green grew into his new role as a dad. He started hanging out with his daughter as much as possible, introducing her to his fighter friends, who adopted her as a member of their crew. "She became like our little mascot — but also one of the guys," says one fighter.

Eventually, Madeline would begin accompanying Green to his cage matches. "I didn't like watching him at first, because of the blood," admits Madeline. "When he got knocked out for the first time it was scary. His head bounced off the cage, and he started shaking." But now she's one of the loudest voices in the crowd, the first person to come to Green's corner between rounds to offer advice. Blood is no longer scary; it's a part of the life she's chosen.

Outside the cage, father and daughter started taking rides on motorcycles together. Green taught her how to change the oil, how to pump up a tire, how to maneuver a dirt bike on her own. They shopped together at Goodwill. He coached her sports teams and hosted gatherings at his house for her friends — all little boys; rarely girls. He even learned how to braid hair and made a few attempts to get her in a dress. (She refused.)

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