Sword collectors

Extreme Martial Arts owner and head instructor Al Verduzco is pictured with several of his prized pupils: from left, Damien Kapuschat, Alicea Verduzco and Jacob Milla.

SCHERERVILLE | Are women taking over the UFC? If not, then why is Ronda Rousey more of a household name than Jon Jones?

"I know who Ronda Rousey is," St. John 8-year-old Alicea Verduzco said of the undefeated UFC women's bantamweight champion.

"Before she even knew who Rousey was, she was already mastering her famous flipping takedown move," Alicea's father, Al Verduzco said.

It was natural for Alicea to get into martial arts. Her father is the owner and head instructor of Extreme Martial Arts in Schererville. A former full-contact fighter, Al Verduzco has been training mixed martial arts fighters long before MMA became vogue.

"We didn't push her into it, but still as parents you want your child to be able to defend herself," Al said. "I think what got her from just wanting to train to wanting to compete was seeing these guys win their swords."

Verduzco was referring to Jacob Milla, 7, and Damien Kapuschat, 8, both of Schererville.

"They have a built-in, burning desire to compete," Verduzco said of Jacob and Damien, who both have earned five Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament titles. "They want to win and are willing to do what it takes."

Recently, EMA fielded teams that competed at the Jiu-Jitsu Cup Championships and the North American Grappling Association Championships -- both held in Chicago.

"This is my favorite medal," Jacob Milla said of one of his NAGA first-place medals. "I like the gold-and-black coloring. It looks cool."

But it was Jacob and Damien's championship swords, which are often awarded at BJJ tournaments, that caught Alicea's eye.

"I wanted to win a sword for myself," said Alicea, who did just that while earning three BJJ titles.

Cool-looking swords and medals are nice, but Damien was able to come away with a little more since he started training at EMA about 18 months ago.

"I wanted to be able to protect myself and have more confidence," said Damien, who was a former bullying victim

"Bullying is always going to be a problem kids have to face," Verduzco said. "What we hope to do is give kids the confidence and the self-esteem to stand up for themselves.

"Standing up for yourself is not always easy, but neither is competing in a tournament. It's okay to be nervous as long as you know how to face those situations."

Whether Alicea does continue her gender's takeover of the UFC in the near future or not, she's more likely to take over her father's business.

"She even mentioned that to me before," Verduzco said of Alicea, who helps coach her 4-year-old brother in martial arts. "She has an entrepreneur spirit. She makes jewelry out of rubber bands, and on her own she set up a stand outside our home."

Alicea has donated much of her rather lucrative earnings to various charities.