"Fighting is something we do only once in a while," Bonnar contends. "Most of MMA, 90 percent of it, is training, studying, and living martial arts. That's what I see when I see Garrett — a martial artist. He trains, studies, and helps teach martial arts. The fact that he has the courage to go in there and compete makes it that much more inspiring."

Not everyone sees it that way. On YouTube, there's a three-minute video of Garrett in a heated sparring session with a woman named Brooke Crosby. Garrett takes some punishing jabs to the face, though both fighters are wearing headgear and plush gloves. "I'm going to send this to Stephan Bonnar if you lose," the cameraman shouts. After two minutes of exhausting grappling, Garrett locks Brooke's forearm between his legs and leverages his weight to apply an unpleasant amount of pressure on her elbow joint. She surrenders.

"This is ridiculous! There is nothing amazing or living a 'dream' about this!" writes one commenter using the handle "lee4d17." "I'm a special ed teacher and to see this makes me cringe... There is no way in hell this should be allowed."

Garrett Holeve and his father Mitch.
George Martinez
Garrett Holeve and his father Mitch.
Garrett trains at American Top Team in Weston.
George Martinez
Garrett trains at American Top Team in Weston.

Another commenter says Garrett has an unfair advantage because of "retard strength," while still another says that "retards need to be kept out of the sport." Mitch writes these people off as trolls, but there are a few critics he can't ignore. Mitch's sister and brother-in-law, who live in Minnesota, are thoroughly appalled by Garrett's MMA pursuits.

"I'm upset that they don't support him at all," Mitch says. "I've sent them pictures, I've sent them videos, and I don't even get an email back. My brother-in-law basically told me to my face that I was a bad father for letting my kid do this."

As for the Special Olympics, it's a long shot. Mandy Murphy, a spokeswoman for the organization, explains in an email that judo is the only martial arts competition offered. "To get judo as an official Special Olympics sport that has become part of our World Games... our Special Olympics International Medical Committee did an extensive study on safety as well as controlled emotion for our Special Olympics athletes," she writes.

But Mitch and others who work closely with Garrett say critics and naysayers see only the haymakers and chokeholds of MMA, the 10 percent of the sport that makes it to television. Those people don't know how it has helped Garrett evolve and the potential it has for others.

On Bonnar's last day in Florida, he sat Garrett down and explained how inspirational he is, how he's a role model for the entire sport. Bonnar made a point of calling him Garrett, not G-Money, G, or any other nickname.

"Literally the next day, we're driving home from the gym, and Garrett turns to me and says, 'Dad, I know I have Down syndrome. And I'm proud of it, and I want to be a role model,'" Mitch recalls. "Before that, he would have never been open to the idea of working with D.J. and training another guy with special needs... People don't see how compassionate he is."


Garrett has fought only two exhibition matches. There have been no winners or vicious attempts to knock the other guy's head off. In February, he's slated to participate in a third exhibition fight at the Ultimate Kickboxing and MMA Challenge, a charity event to benefit the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

"There are a lot of promotions going around that I could get him a fight for," says Haddican, Garrett's electrician friend. "It's just finding the right one and the right crowd... As for finding the other fighter, we're not telling anyone to take a dive. We tell them to hit him, kick him, and punch him. We tell them to keep their guard up because he's gonna get ya. But we're not putting him in there in a full-on fight. It's just an exhibition."

In reality, Garrett will never make it as a professional. No matter how much time he spends in the gym, no matter how much weight he can bench-press, that one extra chromosome has imparted a permanent disadvantage.

"The issue with Garrett's fighting is this: reaction time," his dad says. "He's never going to have the reflexes that a regular kid is going to have... Our goal is just to get the word out and maybe we'll find some special-needs kids we can start training and have our own little Special Olympics for the kids who want to do this."

Still, pro or not, Garrett is already changing the world of mixed martial arts simply by doing what he's doing.

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12 comments
kimberleyl9
kimberleyl9

I LOVE HIS MOTIVATION! I have a 27 year old with Downs Syndrome. I would love if he was passionite about something. Garrett has inspired me.

neko687
neko687

I love it, this is a young man doing what he wants to do, and he has a supportive family behind him.

I'm willing to bet that those questioning the choice of sport for this young man (apparently due to the risk of injury) wouldn't have a problem sending their kids to football/cheerleading/gymnastics.

paulkchoi1
paulkchoi1

It's great that this person has a passion for something but there is no future in it.  He could get the same passion in tai chi or fencing without the violence.   He is like a dog with a bone.  Once you take the bone away he can clear his mind and think about other things.

alehound
alehound

I can count to potato......

lenny14
lenny14

In the late 1960's, Miami had the Sunland Training Center, a euphanism for a place for Downs Syndrome kids left in the care of the state. There were both boys and girls there. They lived in cottages. I dated a girl who worked as a "house mother" in the cottage that housed anti-social boys. There were occasional fights and I can tell you these boys were strong. They all seemed short. One thing though, was that when you dealt with them one on one, they were the sweetist kids you can imagine. Reaching into your gut, you may get the anger that these kids never had. I do not think the sport of MMA is right for them, but good physical education is very helpful in reaching them. Any sport would do them good, so they should stay in the gym, but I would hate to see any of them get hurt.

ThunderValleyKO
ThunderValleyKO

@benfowlkesMMA love it. As a father to a young boy with autism I take heart it anything that provides purpose & hope for special needs kids

drakemallard
drakemallard topcommenter

But I heard you can get killed at that Kumite.Why are the mentally challenged so physically strong?

mega_bytes
mega_bytes

I think it is wonderful he is passionate about this and the training is an added physical benefit. That being said I find the fact a person who has limited ability on an intellectual level to make the choice to have a “real” fight disturbing. People with Down Syndrome have other limitations physically or complications besides their intellectual capabilities. How can the punishment and risk of injury impact that as well? Perhaps there is a reason the Special Olympics does not have a punishing sport like MMA.

Decent_American
Decent_American

Finally America has reached the pinnacle of good taste  - Tard Fights!

MMABeatdown
MMABeatdown

No. RT @benfowlkesMMA Take a sec to read an interesting, well-written article about a man with Down Syndrome who wants to be an MMA fighter:

Metoproziva
Metoproziva

@benfowlkesMMA good read. Awesome to see he has a passion for something and enjoys training. Good for him.

mega_bytes
mega_bytes

@drakemallard  You realize that is a myth that mentally challenged people are somehow physically stronger. Some are strong some are not and there are many reason for that. In cases of Down Syndrome they are in fact less strong do to physical limitation they all share. Some people can who are mentally challenged can be strong but perhaps they come from a family where people are stronger. Some conditions affect the mind and not the body. Some like Down Syndrome which is a genetic disorder affect mind and body.

 
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