Arella Perez is just seven years old, but she’s already being called the next big ticket in mixed martial arts.
“She’s a little ninja,” says Parwez Ghulam, the boxing and kickboxing coach at UFC Gym North Edmonton where Arella trains.
“Her last fight I said it — other kids came there to play and she came to fight.”
Arella, who lives in Edmonton with her mom, dad and 13-year-old brother, picked up the sport in September and is now training up to three hours a day inside and outside the octagon.
“We were trying different sports from kindergarten onwards,” said Arella’s dad, Cory Pawliuk.
“She liked to go outside. [We tried] soccer, tried golf, basketball, football, tried everything, and then she started getting ahold of my Bruce Lee movies.
“Then we got to Bloodsport, then we got to Ronda Rousey versus Holly Holm … and that was it, she was hooked.”
Videos of her fights and her fast hands in training get hundreds of views, Pawliuk said.
“Between Arella’s Facebook page and Instagram we have hits regularly on all her videos from all over the world.
“We have many martial artists, we have many MMA fighters … they all comment on the beauty.”
Of course, there’s backlash too.
After all, many people associate mixed martial arts with images of blood sprayed across a mat inside a caged ring.
Pawliuk said at first he, too, was hesitant, but his daughter loved it.
“You’re mixed, ’cause as a parent, it’s violent, especially UFC — you know it’s a full combat, contact sport, sometimes people get hurt. There’s some blood and things, but at the same time, it’s an art.
“[Mixed martial arts] taught her to appreciate martial arts as an art form, beauty of a nice kick, nice move, good floor movement, good foot movement on the floor, use of space, power, and she appreciates it that way.”