The story of Garrett Holeve is rousing discussion throughout the “www” community, especially those affected by disability. Garrett is a 23-year-old, aspiring mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter whose goal to compete has made national headlines in recent days, most notably, a 13-minute piece by ESPN chronicling his accomplishment of said goal. Holeve, or “G-Money” as he prefers to be called, was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth.
Since Holeve first got involved in MMA in 2010, he trains six days a week and relishes the time he spends sparing with the guys at American Top Team gym where, as one team member, Chris Haddican put it “…we don’t treat him any differently.” Garrett was first introduced to the American Top Team training facility and lead trainer, Rodrigo “Braga” Ramos by his father, Mitch. Ramos and the rest of the crew accepted Garrett into the fold and began his training as they would with any other novice in the sport, but it was Garrett who took it to the next level.
He not only learned the punch combinations and grappling techniques but changed his diet, slimming down from 175lbs to a muscular 135lbs. “When someone respects you, you respect yourself a lot more,” Mitch told the Miami New Times. Garrett not only trains at the American Top Team facilities, he runs, swims and weight trains on his own on a daily basis. He is dedicated to this regimen and, while he cannot prepare his own food, Garrett strictly adheres to the meals his dad prepares for him.
Garrett has learned that people put limitations on him not his Down syndrome, and since learning this lesson, he is less captivated with fighting and more invested in the art. At the American Top Team facility, Garrett assists in kids’ classes and hands out fliers offering free classes for children with disabilities
“Fighting is something we do only once in a while,” former UFC fighter Stephan Bonnar said in an interview. “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.”
Presently, Mitch sees growth in Garrett. In the past, Garrett wouldn’t have too closely associated himself with anyone with Down syndrome; now he faithfully trains D.J. Barclay—a young man whose Down syndrome is more severe than Garrett’s. Garrett’s dream of becoming an MMA fighter will not come true (he has only fought in two exhibitions) but he is attempting to change the sport in other ways. Mitch and others have started garrettsfight.org to encourage kids and athletes with special needs to participate in MMA, and to lobby for the sport’s adaption and inclusion in the Special Olympics.