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Maxim women

Tiffany Stewart, of Lake Station, tries to gain an upper hand during a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu sparring match against Maggie Mouratides, of Schererville, at Maxim Gym in Hobart. They are part of a growing trend of women training and competing in mixed martial arts.

HOBART | This sure wasn't a Zumba class.

"We've had many drop out just after warm-ups," Armando Reyna said of the cardio kickboxing class he leads at Maxim Gym, a martial arts school he owns with his wife Ana.

"We're not doing any dancing in here," Reyna said. "We throw real punches and kicks."

And a lot of other things. Though the class is non-contact, meaning no one takes strikes to the head or body, Reyna was going for a knockout or two. He relentlessly kept the crucible's settings high while intermittently teasing his students with promises of turning on the room's dormant-since-last-August fans.

"Nah, I think I'm going to turn the heat up instead," Reyna said.

Nonetheless, all went the distance -- most of whom were women.

"This is mainly a word-of-mouth class, but anyone can come," Reyna said. "It just so happens that more women end up sticking around."

And some stick around all day, like Maggie Mouratides, 25, of Schererville.

"I started coming here when it first opened (in 2011), and I usually stay for three classes," Mouratides said of the subsequent Combat Conditioning class, which she says is "10 times as hard as Cardio Kickboxing" and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

"I've competed before (in jiu-jitsu), but it's the overall training I enjoy," Mouratides said. "It's different everyday. (Reyna) is always mixing it up."

On this particular Tuesday, Mouratides took a break from Combat Conditioning to "mix it up" with Tiffany Stewart in a jiu-jitsu sparring match.

Stewart, 35, of Lake Station is a mother of four. She's also a three-time North American Grappling Association no-gi jiu-jitsu champion. Stewart also recently placed second at both the U.S. Grappling Chicago and Midwest Christmas Jiu-Jitsu tournaments.

"My husband, who used to wrestle, doesn't like me doing this," Stewart said. "He doesn't want me getting hurt, but I can get hurt just walking out my door or down the street, and this may help me not get hurt if I ever need to defend myself."

Both Mouratides and Stewart trained at gyms where they were one of the few women participating in jiu-jitsu and other full-contact classes.

"But here, there are a lot more women doing MMA training," Stewart said. "It's gotten so popular among women that (UFC owner) Dana White, who once said that he would never have women fight in the UFC, eventually reconsidered and now women headline his events."

Reyna, who earned his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from the legendary Carlson Gracie, and was a corner-man for Miguel Torres when he was the World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight champion, has seen mixed martial arts evolve through the years in sometimes unpredictable manners. And women MMA fighters emerging as household names has been one of those unforeseen circumstances.

"You can say it basically started with women taking Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu," he said. "At first it was mainly for self-defense reasons as most attacks end up on the ground.

"Then more women began to say, 'Where can I go with this?' and started to supplement their training with boxing, kick boxing ... other forms of self defense."

Former gymnast Kayla Fitchett is a multiple-discipline student at Maxim's.

"There was an intimidation factor at the beginning, but that's like that for every new thing you try," Fitchett said. "I knew I had the flexibility for it, and after a while, my strength and confidence improved."

Kayla younger sister Krystal joined with her.

"During my first (cardio kickboxing class), I said to myself, 'This sucks'," Krystal said. "But after I got through it, I knew I wanted to do it more.

"I don't know," 17-year-old Krystal said about possibly becoming an MMA fighter. "I'll have to see where this takes me."

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