But while dreams of professional fighting are exciting in the short-term, young fighters like Madeline will one day grow up and face a complex set of challenges. The risks of injury are a high price to pay for a sport offering little potential for glory or profit.

Right now there is nothing to suggest Madeline will not turn pro. But if she doesn't, she'll never make a dime in the sport. Amateur-level competitors earn nothing but battle scars and pride. Mike Green may be a legend in the gym, but outside that world, he is a bar manager.

Even for professional fighters, the chance for a payout is small. And for girls, the outlook is particularly bleak.

For more images, visit MMA for Kids: A Family Story.
Kholood Eid
For more images, visit MMA for Kids: A Family Story.
For more images, visit MMA for Kids: A Family Story.
Kholood Eid
For more images, visit MMA for Kids: A Family Story.

The sport's top promoter, UFC, still bans female fights, and in other professional leagues such as Strikeforce and Bellator, the best female fighters might make a few thousand dollars a match — if they're lucky.

Sam Caplan, who runs the MMA fighter blog fiveouncesofpain.com, says there are currently about five professional female fighters who make a decent salary, with another ten who are just able to scrape by. "MMA is still a fringe sport, and female MMA is the fringe of the fringe," he says. "Unless something changes, the prospects of women making money are very, very slim."

Even at birth, Madeline was a fighter, overcoming a cardiac defect called ASD/VSD, which is marked by a hole in the heart. After she was delivered via C-section, recalls her mother, Christina Moran, "she was breathing so hard you could count her ribs. She was so little and skinny."

Nurses said Madeline would almost certainly need open-heart surgery. But when Madeline reached six months, the nurses said they'd never seen a hole that large close so quickly.

One evening in February, Madeline stretches out in the puffy chair in her bedroom. She bears a striking resemblance to her Irish father, with large, deeply set blue-gray eyes and high-arching eyebrows. A collection of freckles is splashed across her face.

She may be a tomboy, but she's still adorable, quick to flash a wide, dimply grin. Her room is a wall-to-wall mess of old trophies, Disney posters, DVDs and sports paraphernalia. A Batman cape hangs in the corner, near some of her many hats. (She rarely leaves home without one.)

"It's kinda fun being one of the shortest people in my class," Madeline says in a faint Southern drawl, underscoring her carefree attitude toward life. She loves the Green Bay Packers, Katy Perry and St. Louis Blues player Cam Janssen — mostly for the way he fights. She likes to skip and jump on her trampoline. Her favorite phrases include "that's beast!" and "epic fail!" ("Eww, those nachos are soggy — that's an epic fail," she explains to a friend one day at her dad's gym.)

She also likes to roughhouse, to the chagrin of some of her friends. When she playfully lunges at a friend named Austin for the second time in one day, the boy puts up his hands and pleads for mercy. "I'm still sore from your last triangle!" he contends.

Madeline is energetic but also very shy; most of her teachers and classmates have no clue about her fighting talents, which, up to now, haven't been promoted. On top of her four-day-a-week training regimen, she's maintained a normal schoolgirl's life during the day, despite the black eyes and scrapes she sometimes carries with her. Her last report card showed all A's and B's. If she somehow isn't able to turn pro, she wants to enter a career where she can work with animals.

She calls her dad her hero. "He taught me to be prepared for anything," she says.

Asked about her mother, she pauses. "I don't really want to see her again."

Recently, though, Moran has been fighting for her daughter's forgiveness. Ever since rehab, Moran has struggled to absolve herself for youthful mistakes. She explains how difficult it is to face each morning without her daughter in her life. "It breaks my heart every day," she says between sobs. She comes across as sincere.

Last fall, Moran began texting her daughter. Sometimes Madeline texts back.

Moran says she's proud of Madeline's MMA accomplishments but worries about a fiercer set of opponents: junior high girls.

"Girls are so terribly mean," says Moran. "Mike's a great dad, but he doesn't know how girls are." Now is the time — just before puberty — when daughters need their mothers most, she says.

"At Christmas, I asked her what she wanted, and she said skinny jeans," she recalls.

Moran suggested they go shopping. But Madeline declined.

"That killed me," says Moran.

Shortly after Christmas, she dropped the skinny jeans off at the doorstep.

The Carondelet neighborhood has undergone slight changes over the last two decades. A few dive bars have been displaced by coffee shops and art spaces, and new street lamps dot South Broadway. But residents say the area has further to go. Bums still drink, drugs are a problem, and local hookers — "nasty-ass whores," opines a local bartender — still look to score.

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