Fighter with Down Syndrome Petitioning to Compete in MMA

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Garrett Holeve, a 24-year-old mixed martial arts fighter with Down syndrome, is fighting to make his dreams of stepping into the cage a reality.

“I can [do it]. Don’t mess with me,” Holeve said in an interview with Chris Serico of “I’m a blue belt.”

The first fight for Holeve will be held in a court of law against the Florida State Boxing Commission and other organizations impeding his chance to compete.

On August 30, just minutes before the opening bell, the boxing commission cancelled Holeve’s fight against David Steffan, a Special Olympian with cerebral palsy. Mitch Holeve, Garrett’s father, wasn’t too happy about receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the commission barring his son from competing in sanctioned events.

There is already an added layer of rules in place to protect amateur fighters. But while Mitch admits Garrett’s reaction time is slower than most fighters, he believes the commission should have at least allowed his son to compete against Steffan.

“This is a fair match-up. We think that their limitations kind of offset themselves,” Mitch told Serico. “He’s not trying to take on [former UFC welterweight champ] Georges St-Pierre.”

Well, at least that’s what Mitch thinks.

“I want to,” said Garrett.

Despite the “fair match-up” and added layer of rules in amateur fighting, there are still those out there who feel like Mitch is setting a bad example as a father for allowing his son to compete in an actual fight.

There is also the case of responsibility falling back on the commission and whatever promotion hosts Garrett’s fight. No one wants to soil their hands with the repercussions from things potentially going wrong.

Mitch admitted himself that Garrett’s reaction time was slower than most fighters. The time at which a person is able to react is crucial to both safety and success in MMA. What if Garrett lacks the reaction time to properly defend himself from strikes? What if he ate numerous shots and got seriously hurt?

These are all concerns from a general public wincing at the idea of a fighter with Down syndrome possibly competing against another athlete without the same condition.

“They’ve never met my son. If they were in his shoes, and they did anything different, then I think they’d have to deal with the consequences of not doing what he loves to do,” said Mitch.

Garret added, “My dad’s not crazy [for letting me fight]. They’re the ones who are crazy.”

The Holeve family has received support from the National Down Syndrome Society, who recently issued a statement on Garrett’s behalf:

Mr. Holeve has been denied his rights to an equal opportunity. Holeve has been training in the competitive sport of mixed martial arts [MMA] for four years. NDSS is teaming up with Garrett and his family along with in launching a petition to allow Garrett to fight in true MMA competitions.

Many MMA trainees seek to fight in official bouts as a natural progression in the sport. Mr. Holeve is no different – he wants to progress in the sport and needs to take the next step and he has tried to take the next step. But despite being qualified to fight an opponent of equal experience and ability, the Florida Boxing Commission, through amateur sanctioning organizations, has prevented Mr. Holeve from taking that next step.

Garrett, who goes by the nickname G-Money, has even earned the support of UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar, who tweeted the petition a little over a month ago. As of now, more than 111,000 people have signed the petition against the boxing commission.

Tajiana Ancora-Brown, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, explained to Serico that Holeve’s bout wasn’t canceled because he has Down syndrome.

According to Brown, the Amateur Sanctioning Organization (ASO) hosted the event but elected not to sanction all of the bouts scheduled for the fight card, including the bout between Holeve and Steffan:

As a regulatory agency, we take any occurrences of unsanctioned bouts very seriously. Upon becoming aware of the unsanctioned bout, we quickly took action. In fact, the issuance of the Cease and Desist Notice as a result of an unsanctioned bout was not related to individual participants.

With the trial set for December 9, “G-Money” will have to put his dreams on hold for now. In the meantime, he can focus on honing the skills of future athletes as an instructor at American Top Team’s training program for kids.

“I feel good that I’ve been helping them,” said Holeve, per Serico. “I’d like to do it more, if I can.”

Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA writer for Rocktagon

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