SIOUX CITY -- Graduating from East High School in December, Lauren Fierro is debating whether to study chemistry or engineering before she goes to college this fall.

In the meantime, the 17-year-old is also focused on a form of "sweet" science: kickboxing.

"Before this, I've spent a lot of time not participating in sports," Fierro said, inside the basement cage at 712 Training Center. "Boxing just seems like a fun way to stay fit."

A few weeks under the tutelage of kickboxing coach Corey Hughes, she said the nightly workout has given her a renewed shot of confidence.

So, what's the best part of boxing?

"Beating people up," Fierro said before letting out a laugh. "Just kidding. It's knowing that you can protect yourself." 

This was exactly what 712 Training Center owner Tom Waage wanted students to take away from classes offered at his mixed martial arts (MMA) academy.

"Some schools are meant to turn out future MMA fighters while other schools want to teach proper technique to students looking for a unique workout," he said at his 513 Jackson St. studio. "We're definitely in a second category."

In addition to boxing, 712 offers the full slate of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), Muay Thai and MMA classes for students of all ages and learning levels.

A full-time licensed massage therapist, Waage got involved with mixed martial arts in a roundabout way.

"I was a fan of (veteran MMA fighter and training center owner) John DeVall," he explained. "Once we became friends, I became his massage therapist while he became my Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach."

Eventually, Waage became one of the trainers at DeVall's studio at the Benson Building.

When the Benson was sold to a new owner, DeVall -- as well as all of the other tenants -- were asked to leave the 705 Douglas St. building.

"John was leaving town and wanted to sell his equipment," Waage explained. "Guess I was in the right place at the right time. John sold me his stuff while I worked on finding a new location."

More than a month after moving into 513 Jackson St., he described the studio as a "work in progress."

"We're still adjusting to things but we having plenty of room to grow," Waage said, giving a tour of his surprisingly spacious new digs.

Which is good news for aspiring boxer Fierro, as well as Zaira Torres, her sparring partner for the night.

Torres, a 21-year-old Western Iowa Tech Community College social work student, said boxing is in her blood.

"My dad was a boxer when he was young," she said. "Also, growing up in a family with all boys meant I had to be tougher than my brothers."

"You can't let anyone intimidate you," Torres added with conviction.

That sense of fearlessness is a trait shared by Beau Johnson, a Hinton High School ninth grader, who is sparring with Otto Ducasse, a 300-pound offensive lineman on the Morningside College football team.

"I'm on my school's football, wrestling and track team," Johnson said, during the break of the action. "I come here between sports seasons."

Waage can't help but smile at Johnson's energetic determination.

"People have a misconception about mixed martial arts students," Waage said. "Most of our students are young people who are engaged into all sort of activities."

However, not all of 712 Training Center's students happen to be young, right?

"You're right," Wagge, 40, acknowledged. "We have students who are preschoolers, as well as students who are in their 50s and maybe a bit older."

Chances are not all of Waage's students will become the next Ronda Rousey or Conor McGregor. Still, you can never tell for sure.

"Who knows?" he said, watching boxers spar inside a cage. "You just know what will happen."

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