MMA fighter refuses to let Down syndrome keep him out of the ring

Garrett Holeve, a Mixed Martial Arts fighter with Down syndrome, is fighting for the right to compete in sanctioned events. (Stian Roenning photography photo)
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A 24-year-old Mixed Martial Arts fighter with Down syndrome, Garrett Holeve says he’s ready for a fight, but to him, his fiercest opponents aren’t in the ring: They’re the people stopping him from climbing into it.

“I can (do it). Don’t mess with me,” Holeve told “I’m a blue belt.”

Holeve is backing up his fighting words with actions. Armed with a lawyer and the support of family members and fans, he's taking on the Florida State Boxing Commission and other organizations he views as standing in his way. Last August, minutes before the opening bell, the boxing commission ordered the cancellation of a bout between Holeve and David Steffan, a Special Olympian with cerebral palsy.

Holeve’s father, Mitch, said “ignorance” led to a cease-and-desist letter that’s preventing his son from competing in sanctioned events.

“This is a fair match-up,” he said of the bout between his son and Steffan, emphasizing that amateur fights have built-in rules to protect fighters. “We think that their limitations kind of offset themselves.”

With multiple soft-exhibition events under his belt, Holeve — whose nickname is G-Money — has spent four years training at the American Top Team martial-arts academy in Weston, Florida. Although his father acknowledged that Garrett has a slower reaction time than most fighters, he said he believes it's all about the matchup.

"He’s not trying to take on [three-time UFC welterweight champion] Georges St-Pierre,” Mitch Holeve told

At least not yet. “I want to,” Garrett said.

In February 2013, Holeve took on “Monster” Mike Wilson in a three-round bout. The match opened with Wilson’s haymaker to Holeve’s head, but Holeve remained on his feet and fought on, going the distance. At the end, the ref declared both combatants winners.

“It makes me feel pumped,” Holeve said.

The August fight with Steffan was meant to be a follow-up to Holeve’s bout in February.

In response to critics who call Mitch Holeve irresponsible for allowing his son to fight, the dad replied, “They’ve never met my son. If they were in my shoes, and they did anything different, then I think they’d have to do deal with the consequences of not doing what he loves to do.”

His son added, “My dad’s not crazy. They’re the ones who are crazy.”

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