Above all, teenagers still brawl. "You don't really grow up around South Broadway without learning to fight," says one scrapper from the area.

But Mike Green has changed for good. A decade ago, he'd be the one littering in the alleys, but now he's the one picking up other people's trash. A one-time friend of the dope dealers, he's now trying to sweep them off the streets. (Two of his biggest pet peeves, he says, are people who don't recycle or cut their grass.) He no longer gets in street fights, and he has a tattoo of Einstein on his hand, reminding him to think before he acts.

Neighbors appreciate his efforts. "Mike is the godfather of the south side," says longtime friend Wally Frankovic. "He's the guy who will never do you wrong — as long as you never do wrong to him. Everybody on the streets shakes his hand."

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.

More than a godfather, though, Green is simply enjoying his role as father. Each one of his teammates calls him the best dad they know. As one of them puts it, "Maddy comes first, and then there's everyone else."

"We best buddies," admits Green. Tattooed on his wrist, just below that dangerous right hand, is the word "Daddy." (The only part of fatherhood that he seems worried about is the inevitable talk about periods.)

On a morning in late January, however, Green's mostly preoccupied about his upcoming fight. It's the day before his headline match at South Broadway Athletic Club, and Green has been pitted against Daniel McKinney, a fresh-faced city kid with seven fights under his belt. "He's a young cat — looks like a brawler," says Green, his body jittery from a 24-hour fast prior to weigh-ins.

With a 38-18-4 record, Green is still dangerous in a cage, and he's an instant crowd draw. He's upped his training regimen to two workouts a day, and later this year he'll defend a local belt he won recently in his 155-pound weight class. "I'm not going anywhere anytime," he assures. "I never met nobody who could step on my toes."

But in the back of his mind, he's worried about losing for the second time in a row, which would be a first. A few months ago, he suffered his first knockout, alerting him to the sobering reminder that, at age 37, he's no longer invincible. Age lines have creviced into the scars encircling his eyes, and his withered knuckles have started to swell.

"There was a time when not a whole lot of people wanted to fight Mike Green, but today is different; he's not the Mike Green he was twelve years ago," says Biondo. "Now, his name is almost like a brand, and young kids want to fight him. He's turned a lot of people into MMA fans. He's a St. Louis story."

South Broadway Athletic Club, minutes before the St. Louis legend enters the cage for the headline match in front of a sold-out crowd.

Madeline, hyper all night thanks to the free Dr Pepper offered by her favorite bartender, has been selling raffle tickets and using a giant green foam hand to bop heads in the crowd. Her voice is hoarse from cheering; her tongue painted blue from a lollipop.

But now, in the late hours of the evening, she channels a fighter's mentality. She strides to the locker room door and assumes her position to lead Green's entourage in a parade to the cage.

The opening bell sounds; Green bows to his opponent. After a few seconds of dancing and warm-up jabs, the legend comes at McKinney with a karate kick to the chest. McKinney stumbles and goes down. "Let's see some blood!" shout the fans.

Like a tiger, the legend pounces on his victim and assumes a chokehold. McKinney wiggles free and flips the legend on his back. But the move is reversed. Soon, the legend is straddling McKinney's waist, unleashing a flurry of right hooks to the side of the head. One minute and 56 seconds after the opening bell, McKinney motions for surrender. He is done.

Maddy runs onstage and gives her hero a hug.

Eventually, the chaos dies down, and the fans retreat to their cars, leaving the fighters, girlfriends and club attendants behind. And sometime during those moments, Mean Mike Green, the fighter, transforms back into Dad.

He slings his gear over his waist, as Maddy tugs at his waist. It's past her bedtime.

Correction published 3/4/11: In the original version of the story, we erroneously stated that Mike Green graduated from St. Mary's High School. Though he attended St. Mary's, he graduated from Mehlville Senior High School.
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