'I like beating people up,' says 7-year-old Edmonton MMA fighter
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."
For the uninitiated, Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm are two of the biggest female stars in the world of mixed martial arts, competing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Arella's coaches are already drawing comparisons.
"Arella came into the gym telling me that Ronda Rousey was her favourite fighter and Ronda's famous for the arm bar, so on her second day I taught her the arm bar," said Stephanie Gulaga, who coaches the children's jiu-jitsu program at UFC Gym North Edmonton.
"She uses her technique well, she listens really well, she's eager to learn."
Arella has become a bit of a social media phenomenon.
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."
Why she loves the sport
Arella isn't as colourful in her language when describing why she loves the sport.
"I like beating people up," she said bluntly, with a gap-toothed smile.
With great power though, comes great responsibility.
One only has to imagine a child with Arella's training and skill in a playground dust-up.
Gulaga says discipline is part of the messaging in the classes.
"In bullying situations, you give them two opportunities. You say, 'Stop.' You say, 'I'm asking you to stop for the last time.' Third time, well, they've had their warnings."
Pawliuk isn't worried about that with his daughter.
Arella is too busy at the gym to get into trouble, he said.
She's showing many encouraging signs as she works toward her goal of becoming a world champion, he added.
"We'll just go for the ride, see where it goes, but cheer her every step along the way and give her all the support we can."