Weston Barnes

Weston Barnes speaks to a Post Register reporter during a meet and greet at Lionheart Mixed Martial Arts Studio on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.

A new mixed martial arts gym has quietly opened its doors in Idaho Falls. Owner Weston Barnes, 38, spent 11 years as a professional MMA fighter before opening Lionheart Mixed Martial Arts gym in September.

“I had to retire, but wanted to find a way to keep this sport in my life. I want to spread the positive things you get out of MMA,” said Barnes.

Barnes, whose day job is a supplement formulator at Melaleuca, originally started the business in his garage with just a handful of students who asked him to coach them. He posted videos of their lessons and soon had more and more people asking to train with him. In September, Barnes officially began Lionheart after renting out space for the gym at 510 Second St.

Barnes credits mixed martial arts with “changing his life.”

“I just wanted to try it and see how it was. When I first went into the cage and I fought, I lost. But it was the best feeling of my life. It was so thrilling and gave me so much happiness,” Barnes said.

However, when age and injuries caused him to stop fighting professionally earlier this year, he wanted to find a way to pass on his love of the sport to young people.

“It turned my life around. I’m doing positive things now. I train kids, and I’m trying to teach my students to be positive, think positive and try your hardest. MMA is the definition of discipline and doing your best. It’s not just fighting, it carries over to how you live your life,” Barnes said.

The fighting team is taught to respect one another; anyone found bullying gets kicked out. Barnes uses the sport as a way to teach kids “discipline, self-respect and humbleness.”

“I have rules for my students. Marco, one of my best students, his grades dropped a little bit. So he’s not allowed to train until he gets his grades back up,” Barnes said.

That day, 11-year-old Marco Gallegos had come to hang out at the gym, despite not being able to train. He leaned against a wall with two of his friends. He said he’s been working to improve his grades ever since being benched at Lionheart.

“(MMA) takes your anger out,” said Gallegos.

Lionheart Mixed Martial Arts has two children’s classes, a women’s kickboxing class and an adult beginner’s class. Barnes and two other coaches currently train 20 students. He has a waitlist 50-people long. At the moment, he’s not able to take them on because of limitations on the number of people allowed in classes at one time due to coronavirus. Barnes’ dream is to eventually move to a larger space.

“It really sucks to have someone say, ‘Hey, my kids really want to train at your gym’ and then have to tell them that they can’t,” Barnes said.

Those looking to learn more about Lionheart Mixed Martial Arts can visit its Facebook page at tinyurl.com/y6he6wkp.