Child's play: Tapout grooming MMA prodigies

You might have some mixed feelings when viewing Tapout's "short film" -- the clever term for "Please watch this 10-minute commercial" -- featuring Giovanni and Carlos Ruffo, two sawed-off MMA stylists who train in Las Vegas. The Ruffo boys are 7 and 8 years old, give or take, wear fringe-sport-worthy mohawks, and absorb regular instruction from Mark Coleman, Randy Couture and Vinny Magalhaes. And, yes, they're pretty good on the pads.

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"When I punch somebody when I'm sparring," said one of the boys, "it's really good."

The Ruffos are not the first prepubescent practitioners of a sport that frequently chews up adult frames, but they are the first to be endorsed by an apparel company, complete with their own manager. (Negotiating Pokemon card swaps is going to look good on his CV.) The thinking goes that if the boys are training this early, they'll probably be outstanding competitors in 10 years -- a pair of St. Pierre 3.0 or 4.0s.

That's the optimism talking. The pragmatist in me is reminded of the endless examples of children who lacked the emotional maturity to realize they were being used as vicarious funnels for their parents' interests. In addition to the precocious child actors who grew out of their novelty-act status, there was Richard "Little Hercules" Sandrak, who was prodded by his overzealous father to become a freakishly sculpted 12-year-old bodybuilder. In all these cases children were given heaps of attention before a growth spurt left them rudderless.

The Ruffo boys are different: The skills they're accruing now could see them through to some very intriguing careers in athletics, where fostering skills from a young age is standard practice. Unlike most child performers, they're not going to outgrow their niche; they're going to grow into it. But the problem of implanting such enormous expectations remains. What happens if Carlos turns 16 and decides he wants to be a chemist instead? How does someone adapt to a life with the spotlight shut off? There are more Bobby Fischers in this world than Jodie Fosters.

Best of luck to the kids, though. Living in fear of a 10-year-old being able to kick my butt is just what I needed.