MMA Fighter With Down Syndrome Garrett Holeve Wants to Get Into the Ring

garrettCombat sports of any sort – particularly mixed martial arts competitions like those organized by the UFC – are controversial. Some consider them barbaric or cruel, or compare the practice to human cockfighting. In most cases, an argument can be made that these fighters are able-minded adults who enter into the ring willingly and are fully capable of making their own decisions, but what if the fighter has a cognitive disability? Twenty-three year-old Garrett “G-Money” Holeve has Down syndrome, but trains in mixed martial arts and loves the sport. He wants to compete, but many people consider it exploitative and potentially too dangerous for someone with Holeve’s condition. Where’s the line between encouraging people with disabilities to pursue their dreams and deciding for them that some of these dreams aren’t appropriate? Would you let Garrett fight, provided he had the requisite skill and physical conditioning? An additional question: I would bet that there are already some fighters out there with cognitive problems, from low IQs or brain damage: Are we not concerned about them? Why don’t we step in and make decisions for these supposedly “normal” competitors?


When 23-year-old mixed martial arts fighter Garrett Holeve was told he couldn’t enter the ring to fight an opponent on August 3, he was more than just frustrated — and it wasn’t because he’d trained tirelessly for the fight for two months.

Garrett Holeve said he believes the fight was canceled because he and his planned opponent, ​David Steffan, both have disabilities. But he’s not ready to give up yet. With the help of his dad, who spoke to HLN in a phone interview, he’s seeking another way to enter the ring.

“It’s our belief, based on conversation with people within the MMA community, that getting it done in any state isn’t going to be easy,” Mitch Holeve said.

Garrett Holeve, who has Down syndrome, discovered martial arts as a teenager. His father, Mitch Holeve, invited Garrett and his brothers to join him at the gym to improve their health. Garrett was the only taker. Soon, he found that he loved to spar, and that passion ignited a fire in him.

Garrett once told his dad, “I don’t want to be called Garrett, because Garrett has Down syndrome. He’s dead to me,” Mitch Holeve said in an ESPN interview.

Mitch Holeve said that, at that time, his son wanted to ignore his disability and make his way in the sport by being a sparring partner.

Keep reading.

47 Comments on "MMA Fighter With Down Syndrome Garrett Holeve Wants to Get Into the Ring"

  1. emperorreagan | Sep 16, 2013 at 3:38 pm |

    State commissions are only concerned with liabilities, not with the actual health or safety of fighters.

  2. Simon Selvfed | Sep 16, 2013 at 3:56 pm |

    It would have to be a case by case decision, I think. The real question to me is do you expect other fighters to not feel weird about fighting him? I think they might need to have their own league because of this issue. I have no problems with people with disabilities at all, but I probably wouldn’t want to fight them. It seems tasteless, because eventually you would let a disabled person fight who would get beat over and over again. The limits and boundaries would only be uncovered by actual trial and error. Also most people with Downs don’t live that long (usually not over the age of 30 or so) so maybe that means quicker deterioration in a physiological sense? Or something like that. I don’t know, I’m just wondering out loud.

    But think of it like this. If MMA became an Olympic discipline, would you not expect someone with Downs syndrome to fight in the Paralympics? I think that might be the way to go. Also it seems that there would be less harmful sports to start out with if you wanted to integrate disabled people into ‘regular’ sports.

    It’s tricky though. Do they deserve to live out their dreams any less than you and me?

    • Ted Heistman | Sep 16, 2013 at 7:03 pm |

      Olympics does have headgear for boxing, I am just worried about his brain.

  3. Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness | Sep 16, 2013 at 4:06 pm |

    Oh come on! None of these guys are very bright. It’s an occupational hazard/prerequisite for training.

    There must be some kind of way to figure out if he belongs in the ring. A test… No a challenge. I’ve got it! A competition.

    • Matt Staggs | Sep 16, 2013 at 4:12 pm |

      Eh, I don’t know about that. I know some pretty bright fighters.

    • emperorreagan | Sep 16, 2013 at 5:37 pm |

      I agree with Matt – in the brief time I trained at an MMA school the guys ran the gamut from really bright to not so bright. Some of the guys who were taking Muy Thai fights and competing in BJJ tournaments had a fair amount of academic success and professional jobs.

      You can see pros run the gamut, too, from guys with professional backgrounds in engineering, counseling, and teaching to guys that probably are going to land themselves in prison because they can’t keep it together.

      • Matt Staggs | Sep 16, 2013 at 6:48 pm |

        That’s been my experience, too. We’ve got medical students, law enforcement, accountants, administrators of all sorts, salesmen, attorneys, management types, plus various and sundry service industry and blue collar workers. We even had a reality television star for a little while. Some people just get the fighting bug. I’m fairly obsessed with my jiu-jitsu training, and while I’m hesitant to say I’m a “smart” guy, I’m no dummy. 🙂

        • The whole “jock vs. nerd” mentality needs to die. Matt how about we kill it in a ritualistic cage match? Enter the Septagon!

          • Alchemists, ne’er do wells and other klingon butt clinchers unite! Shake off the weight of depressed morbidity due to wheat consumption, ritualistic reverse ablutions (daily fluoride baths…ahhh luxurryy) , lethal and toxic contaminants (looking vaccines dead in their autism inducing eyes) and every other form of social scurvies brought to us by the inbred psychopathic “elite”. ‘Murica Fuck Yeah!

        • Jin The Ninja | Sep 17, 2013 at 7:12 pm |

          i have a married-in uncle, whom is quite nice, bright, very professional job and is just crazy about JJ- always asking if i want to go to his gym etc etc.

          people have a certain perception about JJ (both inside and outside the martial arts community), but it’s mostly unfounded.

          there are idiot authoritarians in every walk of life.

      • Adam's Shadow | Sep 16, 2013 at 7:26 pm |

        Agreed – the spectrum is pretty broad; not too different from the general population, actually. I’ve trained with guys who were working on their second bachelor’s all the way to people who have no job or life aside from martial arts, just trying to get that first semi-pro fight.

  4. From the picture I say let him fight. There is a referee in the ring to stop the fight. What if the kid is just that good? Should we let the PC crowd hold him back? Give him the chance to win or fall. He deserves that much.

    • Agreed. I watched a bit of his previous fight. Looked like a gamer and loved the spirit exhibited! We are all gonna die one day, let the man pursue his own rite of passage.

      • You just said two things the PC crowd will never realize: One; He is a man Two; He deserves his rite of passage.

  5. InfvoCuernos | Sep 16, 2013 at 4:49 pm |

    I think we do a lot of harm and outright injustice by deciding for someone that they can’t compete for anything. Just each according to their own merits-period. I’m sure that he has sparred enough in a non-official capacity that people already know whether or not he can handle it. If he were just plain incapable of fighting and got in the ring and got smashed that would be a personal tragedy, but if he succeeds, it will be a triumph for many people with “disabilities”. He’s capable enough to work out, so he’s already kicked my ass on the discipline required.

    • Charlie Primero | Sep 18, 2013 at 5:55 am |

      MMA is not Special Olympics. MMA is an inherently dangerous sport. I doubt Holeve could get a license to play the sport professionally. He will always be restricted to the less dangerous Amateur and exhibition matches because under Florida law he cannot give legal consent to accept the risks of professional play.

  6. Carpenter Foreman | Sep 16, 2013 at 5:17 pm |

    Personal liberty goes out the window once again. Home of the free…..hmmmm.

  7. Ted Heistman | Sep 16, 2013 at 6:43 pm |

    I am not a big fan of
    striking. I would watch MMA if it were all grappling and submission
    fighting. I don’t really know if I could in good conscience knock
    another person unconscious. It would seem to violate the golden rule. I
    certainly wouldn’t want to become brain damaged so i can’t see myself
    having a right to damage a person’s brain.

    Our brains are a huge part of who we are. Brain injuries can not only
    cripple people it can permanently change their personality. So with
    that said I think this is a really bad idea and I am not sure why this
    kid doesn’t just do grappling tournaments. Its really not wimpy at all
    to grapple. Its fucking tough sport, and its been proven that in fights
    between pure high level boxers and pure high level grapplers grapplers

    Not everyone can be licensed to fight. Not everyone can be in the NBA. Life is not fair, unfortunately

    • Jin The Ninja | Sep 17, 2013 at 6:46 pm |

      i agree with you- but i’m the opposite way with MMA- if it had none of the grappling and submission holds- i’d watch it;)

  8. Fighting as a spectator sport is already an exploitative sideshow, at least how I see my friends watch it. I myself wouldn’t be able to watch without thinking of Blaster from “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” which makes me feel ashamed.
    But that’s my problem.
    He’s an adult man. He should be allowed to do what he wants as long as he’s physically able. The guy has had enough barriers in his life. He’s familiar with people making fun of him. Now he can kick their asses. Let him fight.

    • Full disclosure: I have a severely disabled sibling. I also helped take care of a youngster with Down syndrome who was really, REALLY good at kicking.

  9. If you beat Holeve, you’re the monster who beat up a guy with Down Syndrome. If you lose to Holeve, you’re the guy who couldn’t beat up a guy with Down Syndrome. If you’re the audience, you’re the person who paid to watch a guy with Down Syndrome get beat up or beat somebody else up. Sounds like a no-win scenario for everybody involved but Holeve.

    • You’re a phucking idiot. Down Syndrome, Down Syndrome, Down Syndrome, Down Syndrome. You left wing, liberal, PC, Obama loving jerk. How about Holeve the man. How about Holeve the MMA fighter. You’re a blind, biased, low information voter, welfare sucking, moron. You must be a public school teacher.

      • Ted Heistman | Sep 17, 2013 at 10:39 am |

        You’re a joke. You can’t be real. Nobody is that much of a cartoon stereotype. Does your character jerk off to Rush Limbaugh too?

        • Your sexual reference to me tells me all I need to know about you. My guess is that your avatar is a picture of who you dream to be. Sit to pee do you?

          • Ted Heistman | Sep 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm |

            I give that about a 5 out of a 10. Keep working on it. Maybe eventually you can get a talk radio show of your own.

      • Ted Heistman | Sep 17, 2013 at 10:43 am |

        Wow, You might be a real person. You have 3000+ posts! Holy shit! Or else you are just a REEEEEAAAALLLY commited troll. Either way kudos. I am entertained by your cartoon sensibilities

      • Is there an argument anywhere in all that ad hominem diarrhea?

        • You left wing libbies are always the first ones to cry about race, to whine about skin color, to nash your teeth about someone’s special needs, etc., etc. I see Holeve as a man. You pukes only see his disability. You and Heistman here can both kiss off. Both of you probably walk light in your loafers anyway.

          • Ted Heistman | Sep 17, 2013 at 4:59 pm |

            What’s wrong with Libby’s?


            LOL that you thought my picture was too manly to be real! (yeah, that not me its just the guy I’ve been giving hand jobs since 1984!)

          • I applaud your dogged dedication.

          • You sound like you’re overcompensating for something.

          • That your claims of bias and blindness come hand in hand with your homophobia are particularly amusing. I’m willing to bet that you tried to enlist in the USMC, maybe even made it as far as Boot Camp, only for the DI’s to smell Fake Tough Guy on you a mile away and for you to wash out before the first week was over.

            If you want to keep acting like I’ve pissed you off, I can give you a reason for to act pissy. All I said was that Holeve’s involvement in MMA alongside regularly abled fighters had the potential to make for a complicated side narrative, one that could distract from discussions of the actual merit of both fighters. You were the one who came to the conversation already pissed off at the world, looking for someone to vomit a bunch of abuse onto. The guy who shows up in the comments section of every article and posts nothing but restroom wall poetry contributes more to the discussion than you have.

      • Adam's Shadow | Sep 17, 2013 at 10:52 pm |

        Hi, public school teacher here; how’s it going sweetie? Up late grading papers, what are you doing? Oh, that’s cool, being retired sounds fun; I mean, who the fuck else has that much time to spend commenting on the internet? Or perhaps you’re on disability. Or is this the point where you start lecturing me about getting off the teat of government assistance and start being self-reliant like you and opening my own dry-wall business? Either way, the best to you Mr. Bob G, sir; you really do your fellow Marines proud.

        By the by, I also have several teaching colleagues who are fairly conservative; on an article-related note, they are experienced grapplers and jiu-jitsu practitioners, as well. Strangely, they don’t seem like closeted dicks like yourself; still, takes all kinds, I guess.


        • You gay people are funny sometimes. Thanks for the chuckle. And a public school teacher too. How many ways can you spell loser? Keep me laughing bud.

          • Adam's Shadow | Sep 18, 2013 at 10:20 pm |

            “Keep me laughing bud.”

            Sure thing guy 🙂 How’s that civilian life coming, by the way? Lots of free time on your hands because nobody wants to hire you or just lazy? And don’t you get tired of reading “Soldier of Fortune?” (Sorry, that last one’s an oldie but goodie)

            “You gay people are funny sometimes.”
            “Both of you probably walk light in your loafers anyway.”

            What is it about you pseudo-tough guys and your almost pathological focus on dudes fucking? Seriously, have you not picked up on that? It’s almost like you’re projecting some undesirable quality of your own that you can’t deal with onto others. Hmmm.

          • Stomp your feet real hard on the ground and maybe you’ll feel better. I’m going to get a soda pop and read my Soldier of Fortune.

    • Jin The Ninja | Sep 17, 2013 at 6:44 pm |

      yes, yes and yes. i wasn’t sure how to articulate this, but you’ve already done it for me. seconded.

  10. BuzzCoastin | Sep 16, 2013 at 9:42 pm |

    interesting that MMA & Down Syndrome are so compatible

    But that doesn’t mean they will stop fighting.

  11. jasonpaulhayes | Sep 16, 2013 at 10:55 pm |

    DD (developmentally disabled) men often fight to the brink and that has to be taken into consideration. He should do whatever the hell he wants to do, who are any of us to take away his dream of being a sanctioned fighter? You cant ask the man to give up, he fights a losing battle every day.

  12. Charlie Primero | Sep 17, 2013 at 5:33 am |

    The article does not say whether this fighter has a clinical diagnosis of mental retardation. People with mental retardation have a legal status akin to that of children. It is illegal to have sex with, or enter into contracts with them because they lack the legal ability to give consent.

    • Calypso_1 | Sep 18, 2013 at 5:12 am |

      Even the mildest forms are considered to produce intellectual disability. In the vid they specifically referenced his decreased motor & mental reaction time as well. Given the significant risk for brain abnormalities w/ associated risk of seizures & CVAs along with heart defects that are comorbid with Down’s I think they are in a very grey area.

  13. Matt Staggs | Sep 17, 2013 at 6:01 pm |

    Hey guys, please welcome “Colonel Frank Fitts” from From “American Beauty” to our comment section. He’s under an assumed name, but I think you’ll recognize it soon enough.

    • I love that Mr Eagle Globe and Anchor seems entirely unaware of the gorgeous irony of throwing that up as his avatar when most people are well aware that the Marines have the highest quotient of ‘non-heterosexual’ service persons compared even to the Navy…which is a close second. Even my str8 Marine buddy still quips “The Marines happened because the Navy needed men who could lead when it was time to dance.” If you have friends in military security…whose nighttime patrols pretty much involve making Marines stop humping each others butts in unauthorized places…it kinda takes the sting of watching a troll blast hot air all over the board here 😉

    • And here I thought he was George Liquor.

  14. InfvoCuernos | Sep 18, 2013 at 5:39 pm |

    This just reminded me of that clip that was on here about a month ago with the dojo in the US that had the “exhibition” match with the crazy guy that got beat to smithereens and then dragged out.

Comments are closed.