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Florida allows young man with Down’s Syndrome & Rheumatoid Arthritis to do MMA fights

By Zach Arnold | March 24, 2013

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If you click the picture, you can view a video feature that ESPN produced and aired on their Sunday night edition of Sportscenter. The piece is about Garrett “G-Money” Holeve, a 23-year old young man with Down’s Syndrome and Rheumatoid Arthritis, who is currently involved in amateur MMA fights in the state of Florida. The amateur MMA fights involving Garrett are being regulated by the International Sport Karate/Kickboxing Association (ISKA), one of the many approved sanctioning bodies that Florida’s beleaguered athletic commission allows to regulate bouts. Garrett currently trains at American Top Team in Weston, Florida and has many friends in Mixed Martial Arts, including Stephan Bonnar.

Garrett and his family have started a non-profit (Garrett’s Fight) to raise money for special needs athletes, especially those who want to be active in combat sports. Their goal is to get MMA as an approved sport in the Special Olympics.

The Broward-Palm Beach New Times did a profile article on Garrett last December. It’s well worth your time to read. One paragraph from the article stuck out to me:

“For someone with Down syndrome, Garrett is extremely high functioning. Still, his cognitive ability is roughly equivalent to that of a 12-year-old’s. His reading and math skills are at a third-grade level. He can’t tell if a cash­ier gives him correct change after he buys a slice of pizza, his mom says, and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to understand this entire article.”

BBC News just published an article in the last 24 hours talking about Down’s Syndrome being linked to brain protein loss. MedPage Today just published preliminary results from a new brain study regarding the effects of repeated blows to the head.

When you watch the ESPN feature on Garrett and his parents, it’s really well-produced and very honest. Stuart Scott did the intro and outro on Sportscenter. Tom Rinaldi, known in ESPN inner circles as the guy you get to narrate a video to make people cry(ask Mike Greenberg), did the voiceover on the feature. You couldn’t find two bigger names at ESPN who will treat MMA with respect than Stuart Scott & Tom Rinaldi.

When I watched the feature on Sportscenter, I was absolutely conflicted. My heart said that this was a great story. My mind said this story would cause major controversy and that there was trouble on the way. I could sense immediately that the way the story was presented, it would be the feel-good-story-of-the-year reaction on social media. However, I also knew that the internal reaction from those in the business — especially well-regarded regulators — would be sheer horror.

After the Sunday night feature, I made several phone calls to doctors, athletic inspectors, judges, and individuals with medical knowledge who are involved in regulating combat sports. The reaction from the people I contacted was unanimous and swift — they were absolutely terrified. Not one person supported the idea of allowing someone with Down’s Syndrome inside the ring for amateur or pro MMA. One respected athletic inspector said that allowing Garrett Holeve to fight in an MMA bout was exploitative, no matter if the audience cheered and gave Holeve a standing ovation after the fight. The concept of allowing someone with Down’s Syndrome (limited cognitive ability & brain issues) to take punches and get slammed drew a swiftly negative reaction amongst the people I interviewed.

What also drew my attention (and the attention of others) was that the epicenter of this feature was Florida. The fact that Florida’s commission (via the ISKA) allowed this to happen and that any doctor gave clearance for Garrett Holeve to fight. As Garrett’s father, Mitch, noted in the ESPN feature, he’s received negative feedback from people close to him who feel he is putting his son in tremendous danger.

The general public’s reaction to the piece is what I thought it would (touching). The reaction from those inside the business has been largely sour. Should Florida tell the ISKA to stop further sanctioning Garrett Holeve from fighting in the future? If Holeve applies for a professional license to do MMA in Florida, should Cynthia Hefren & Frank Gentile give him a license?

Exit questions: a) Would ESPN have showed the ending to Garrett Holeve’s fight if he got knocked out? b) if Holeve had gotten injured during the fight they aired, would they have spiked the feature because it wasn’t a heartwarming ending?

Topics: Florida, Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 25 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

25 Responses to “Florida allows young man with Down’s Syndrome & Rheumatoid Arthritis to do MMA fights”

  1. Megatherium says:

    He might be a good candidate, along with that big shouldered transgendered person, for a new ‘other’ mma category.

    • joe black says:

      It’s great he works out. It’s great he has an interested in this so called sport. It is NOT acceptable to let him fight. The Special Olympics has no interest in combat sports for special needs kids and adults. Sounds like his parents are perpetuating this fantasy that he can actually be a MMA fighter with a hard kicking, hard hitting real fight.
      He cannot understand the ramifications of potential injury or the impact any head trauma can have on his live. Perhaps his parents should consider a real job he actually can do like so many other special needs adults instead of this fantasy of becoming a MMA fighter.

  2. Cindy says:

    I am a deaf girl who happens to do some kickboxing at a local gym. You would feel inspired by the fighting spirit of the young man. However, I am rather conflicted with the decision made by Florida. It is obvious that we all have a disability that would limit ourselves in some ways. Our sports for the disabled mostly need some aids such as red flags for deaf runners, flashes for the blind soccer players, and carbon fiber blades for amputee athletes. That’s why we have Special Olympics and Deaflympics. I am not sure if it is safe for the young man to compete in combat sports and it is not easy for his opponents as well.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      The Special Olympics only has Judo. It does not have any other sort of combat sport like wrestling or boxing.

  3. 45 Huddle says:

    I am shocked that we haven’t seen the Ups & Downs Fighting Championship come out of Florida yet. Regular vs. Downs Fighters…. An entire card of it. If there was a place that I would expect to see fights like this…. It would be Florida.

    Just like with the Transgender discussion…. We like to pretend that everybody is equal and everybody can do everything. That just isn’t true. I think it is wonderful that this guy wants to train MMA. Probably puts his confidence through the roof and helps him with his disability. But he has absolutely no business competing.

    Shame on him for doing it. Shame on the promoter for putting it on. Shame on American Top Team for telling him he should do it. And shame on his parents for allowing it. They all deserve equal blame here.

    But sadly, I don’t expect anything more from the citizens of Florida….

  4. winston says:

    Cant wait to see this retard body slammed onto that ridiculous mohawk

    • Zheroen says:

      Some real winners have really come out of the woodwork on the comments section, ever since the Fallon Fox articles.

    • bluerosekiller says:

      “retard”, really?!
      Yeah, you’re a real barrel of laughs aren’t you?
      However, the jokes on you, as YOU’RE the one with a retarded sense of humor, a retarded lack of sensitivity & a retarded level of maturity.

  5. Mark says:

    Yeah, it should certainly make people question if a person with downs syndrome can be allowed to sign waivers for such a dangerous profession. After all, they aren’t allowed to do other dangerous jobs like join the military, or police force, or do dangerous power company work.

    But, as to whether it’s fair for him to compete in a sport so heavy on strategy…..well, it’s not like MMA is full of aspiring rocket scientists exactly. He probably has a higher IQ than several UFC fighters we could name. So I don’t think he’s in danger. But if he applied to an AC I worked for, I wouldn’t allow him on the moral issue of whether he knows how badly he could get hurt or not.

  6. Kyle says:

    No one should be suprised…humans are the masters of self destruction at any intelligence or functionality level.

  7. 45 Huddle says:

    Speaking of something that is mind blowing…. That oriental guy…. The Korean Zombie… Is complaining that the Frenchie…. GSP…. is wearing offensive symbols to the octagon…. So another oriental sounding company… Hayabusa…. Is no longer selling the gay attire….

    Is that offensive enough for some people?

    • Chuck says:

      Not offensive enough for me my man. There are WAY worse things to call an Asian person than “oriental”. You know what words I mean!

      And GSP? C’mon! Frog. 51st Stater. Wine and cheese breath. Moose jockey. Being French AND Canadian.

  8. Jay B. says:

    Strange, MMA is not just a physical sport, there are thinknig aspects to it. Just cant go out there and beat someone into oblivion without any skill. You have to think to stop takedowns or how to get out of a submission. Does this kid have the functioning motor skills to slickly move out of an armbar or a leg bar or toe hold? No. He becomes an easy target for a wrestler or a BJJ practitioner because he would have zero clue how to get it out of it.

    Its a nice story, but reality is he just cant compete at a full level.

    • Chuck says:

      To be fair, I don’t think Brett Rogers or Lavar Johnson has the skills to avoid mot submissions.

      • Jay B. says:

        Yeah while thats true, they are not diagnosed with having mental capacity of a 12 yr old. And They have or had more of a chance to get out of a submissions than this kid could.

        This is also puts the opponent in a strange situation, does he go hard against the kid or does he just take it easy and go soft on him. Which of course isnt very competitive. People have conscious for this type of stuff.

        • Mark says:

          I don’t know if it’s true or not, but there are claims people with autism have a higher pain tolerance. So that’s something else to take into account if true.

        • Jay B. says:

          Well mark if thats true, there are alot of people with mild autism who function very highly in public. Some people might have autism or a form of it and not even know.

    • tim says:

      I disagree- a lot of things in jitsu are intuitive movements based on practice, same as in wrestling, and it looks like he had a real aptitude in those two areas. In response to the person who below about someone ‘actually trying to hurt him’ it didnt look to me like his opponent was pulling his punches, quite the opposite. i do think it was important that they wore larger gloves and its important that he doesn’t move into professional fights in the same way that we wouldnt let a 12 year old move into professional fights, but i think there is scope for him to compete and apply what he’s learned in exactly the sort of less competitive match up he was in (both fighters get their hands raised at the end).
      In the future, moving towards more evenly matched fights between equal ability fighters might be the ideal, if the participants are mentally 16 and up. In the mean time: i have the feeling that he needs some experience in things more closely approximate to ‘fights’ so he can carry on teaching at his gym which is the real standout element of his story to me.

      • Jay B. says:

        Majority MMA world believes the guy has no business fighting full fledge MMA fight. He shouldnt even be in the ring/cage of a MMA fight. He doesnt know the complexities or strategy of fighting. You could go over it with him 100 times he still wouldnt understand the game plan to a fight.

  9. Manapua says:

    They will never let him fight someone who actually has the intention of hurting him. You could tell even the little guy that fought him was pulling his punches for the most part.

  10. […] On Sunday night, we posted the following item: Florida allows young man with Down’s Syndrome & Rheumatoid Arthritis to do MMA fights […]

  11. […] Zach Arnold had a thoughtful review of the segment at Fight Opinion: […]

  12. j says:

    So, what exactly puts him more at risk, physically than any other person who has trained as hard as he has?

    You can say that he doesn’t understand the risks of fighting, but there are refs that look out for fighter safety. Plus there are many men with machismo issues that feel they can never be hurt, but are allowed to fight.

    I don’t get it. What are they scared of? MMA is a safe sport if ran correctly.

  13. […] Anderson. Nobody wants to be known as the second athletic commission in the nation to sanction a fighter with a mental disability. Come on War Machine. Even your girlfriend uses the ‘s’ word when describing your […]

  14. Sam Piazza says:

    I think MMA and UFC is not good for people like us to have a disability to do that that’s not the way we do things here in this world


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