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ANAHEIM ( — Aalijah “The Prodigy” Pineda is in a ring, jabbing and swinging, before she’s seen on video taking a punch to the head.

She’s 10, and that footage sparked a debate that led officials to ban the mixed martial arts sport known as pankration, an ancient martial art that blends boxing and wrestling.

“I didn’t even feel it,” Pineda said of the punch.

The champion fighter from Cypress hasn’t fought in more than a year since the California State Athletic Commission stopped all youth pankration as it studies the sport after seeing the video of Pineda punched in the head.

The young fighter, who’s been training since she was 5, hopes to return to the ring soon. “It’s been a little boring without pankration. Pankration, I loved it, I miss it so much,” she said.

She grins before adding, “I think it’s fun because I get to beat up boys.”

Pineda’s father, Jeff, credits the sport with teaching his daughter self-defense and confidence, and said it should be looked at as any other sport.

“Football is a contact sport. You see a lot of broken bones in soccer, different things, gymnastics,” he said. “It’s just, honestly we look at it as another sport. It really is a sport.”

The Pineda family was hoping lawmakers this week would lift the ban and add more regulations to the sport. It instead appears that a decision won’t be made for at least a month.

Aalijah said when she grows up she wants to be a professional mixed martial arts coach.


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