There are plenty of sports for middle school students to participate in – football, basketball, baseball, soccer, among many others.

But two Independence students who attend Pioneer Ridge Middle School participate in a sport that is uncommon among students their age – boxing.

Tito Mendoza and Brian Lackey go to the Whatsoever Boxing Club in Kansas City to train. They train Monday through Friday and fight on the weekends and both have been in competitive fights and plan on a future in the sport.

Mendoza won his first fight by technical knockout in 36 seconds at the Kansas City Golden Gloves youth tournament during the last weekend in April. It was the only fight in the 132-pound novice division, so he took home the Golden Glove award as he threw a flurry of punches that his opponent couldn’t answer.

“He’s been training for a solid 45 months,” said Mendoza’s boxing coach Eddie Guillen, a 2007 Van Horn High School graduate. “He destroyed the other kid. He wasn’t ready for the pressure and the power that Mendoza had. It was an outstanding victory.

“The Golden Gloves are the longest running sporting event in the Kansas City metro area.”

Mendoza said he was surprised how quickly the fight ended.

“I just did what I practice at the gym,” he said. “All my hard work paid off in that fight.”

Mendoza’s father, Jason, was a former professional boxer and was a multi-Golden Glove winner and is making a return to the sport this summer after being away for a few years. Jason has been a major influence on Tito.

“He is always telling me you have to do this and you have to do this,” Tito said. “He gives me ideas but gives me the final decision on what to do. Every day we run after practice and we are competitive with each other in everything we do. We even see who can get the most groceries out of the car.”

Lackey has been boxing for nearly three years and has a 7-5 record and is a two-time Golden Glove champion in the 101-pound and 110-pound open weight divisions.

“This is what I want to do,” Lackey said. “Coach thought we were only going to last a few weeks, but everyone usually quits after two, three weeks. But I have been doing this for two and a half years now. I have won Golden Gloves and have been fighting consistently.

“This has been a really good experience.”

Lackey said he eventually wants to fight more experienced boxers.

“Some of my matches were one-sided fights, just non-stop punching,” Lackey said. “I want to fight guys with more experience, guys with 100 or 200 fights. Fight the best of the best in Kansas City.”

Their training involves a lot of running, punching combinations on pads, sparring, punching bags, jump rope, throwing medicine balls and one-on-one punching drills.

“If you can run, you can do anything,” Guillen said. “Our training is pretty much anything you see in a ‘Rocky’ movie. Boxing is a very hard sport. Kids have to be dedicated to make it.”

Added Tito: “When you sign up to do boxing, you sign up to do track, too.”

The goal for Mendoza and Lackey is to make the U.S. national team when they turn 18.

“That’s what they are training for,” Guillen said. “Right now they are fighting novice. The best of the best make it to that level.”

Lackey wants to go even beyond that.

“I want to be in the Olympics and even go pro,” Lackey said.

Added Tito: “I want to fight in the Olympics and Junior Olympics. I want to push this to its furthest extent.”