Garrett Holeve is a Mixed Martial Artist out of Florida. He has talent, charisma, and the cool ring name “G Money.” Oh yeah, and he also has Down Syndrome. Garrett doesn’t let that define him, though, and he’s launched his own campaign for inclusion into the world of MMA. Although he’s faced plenty of opposition, his story is one that’s sparked a lot of interest on both sides of the spectrum. Before Garrett fights his first sanctioned match against David “Cerebral Assassin” Steffan on Nov. 8, I caught up with Garrett and his dad Mitch to learn a little bit more about his story.
ML: How long have you been doing MMA? When did you start?
G: I got started after, we were talking at a sports bar. It started five years ago. I have been training very hard.
ML: It looks like you have a fight coming up in a week or two?
G: Yeah I’ve been training. It’s November 8th. Next week. So I’ve been really focusing on that.
I’ve been focused on my training too. It’s what I’ve been thinking about.
ML: How would you say the sport has impacted your life?
G: It’s been very good. My career has been competing in tournaments definitely and I’ve been very good.
ML: What challenges have you had to overcome in the sport?
M: The biggest challenge has probably been getting you a fighter.
G: Just getting a fight.
ML: Would you say that has a lot to do with having Down Syndrome?
G: I think…do you want to jump in?
M: Do I want to jump in? I think that’s been the biggest challenge over the last year and a half, that he hasn’t been able to compete. And it’s probably held him back a little bit from his growth as a fighter. Him not being able to compete, and you know just facing the discrimination that happens behind closed doors and trying to get the fight. I think that’s been really the biggest obstacle that he’s had.
Why do you think that he’s running into so much opposition?
M: I don’t know factually why, I think my own opinion is that it’s ignorance. People will label him just based on a genetic diagnosis that they don’t know very much about. Either in Down Syndrome as a whole, or especially Garrett as an individual. And I think that’s really what it comes down to.
I guess this question is for either of you. What would you say to someone that doesn’t think people with Down Syndrome should fight?
MH: Again, the people that say that just label people with Down Syndrome. I mean, I don’t want to be, you know. It’s like saying that women shouldn’t fight. A few years ago Dana White said that women can’t fight, and I think that he’s eating his words now and he’d be open to admit that. So, for somebody just to flatly say that somebody is not able to fight is just wrong. I don’t care if they have Cerebral Palsy, have been injured in the war, or lost a limb due to a disease, they should be given that same opportunity. They shouldn’t have arbitrary limits put on them, basically get discriminated against.
ML: If rules change and mixed martial arts was accepted in the Special Olympics, do you think that’s good enough? Or do you think that more should be done?
M: We would welcome mixed martial arts in the Special Olympics. I mean I kind of know it’s not going to happen because we’ve spoken to them and they’re supportive of the sport, they just don’t feel…quite frankly I think it has more to do with numbers than anything else right now. I don’t think that they could field a complete tournament and what not with MMA fighters. So if and when that day comes that would be awesome, but in the mean time, you know, our hope is that more guys with adaptive abilities, more of the adaptive athletes, get involved. That there’ll be more and more opportunities for them to fight if they want to.
ML: So how does it feel I guess, that there’s this stigma that people don’t want to fight G because they either don’t want to step into the ring with him and hurt him or they don’t want to lose to someone with Down Syndrome? I mean how does he handle that?
M: I don’t, I don’t think that’s a stigma at all because first of all it’s not going to happen. I mean with MMA, Garrett’s not going to step into the cage and have a sanctioned match with somebody that is not of equal ability. And that’s really what the sport is all about, is about competing with people of equal ability, whether they’re an adaptive athlete or not. That would be the first criteria. So I kind of can’t even buy into that. And as an aside, we’ve had plenty able-bodied people contact us saying that they would be willing to do a match with Garrett on an exhibition level, acknowledging the fact that there’s a difference in ability, which happens, but that’s not really what he’s interested in. He wants to compete. He’s kind of had his fill of exhibitions, and that’s why this November 8th match is so important.
ML: Maybe a little bit of a lighter question. Where did he get the nickname G Money?
M: You can handle that one.
G: I got it by my friend Eric. I’ve known him since school. And I call him E Money, so he calls me G Money.
M: I think it started in high school actually. They were friends since middle school, right G?
G: Yeah, in middle school.
M: And they played basketball…it just kind of stuck with them through time.
G: I retired from that.
M: He retired from basketball.
ML: So where do you see yourself going? What do you hope to accomplish in your career as a fighter?
M: Answer it the way you’re going to answer because I know how you’re going to answer it. Tell her, right now what are you focusing on? (pause) Hey Maggie, right now, and it’s probably as much me and that’s one of the reasons I’m kind of giggling, he’s really focused on the fight. He’s 10 days out, and he’s really focused. That’s why I was laughing, because I was getting ready for him to tell you that he’s just really focused on the fight. And he really is. I’m sorry. I was just sitting here thinking to myself, too, it’s interesting to see his change in attitude the last few weeks because he’s really starting to put his fight face on. Let’s me try it this way. After this fight do you want to keep fighting? Or do you want to take a vacation?
G: I do.
M: Yeah, he wants to continue to fight, but we’re just going to kind of see where it goes. I will tell you that he has plans in April…We have a Jiu Jitsu tournament set up in New York City in April, so he’s going to compete in that for sure. I’ve been recently contacted by a promoter. We’re trying to get a fight here next year in Florida. I mean that would really be the next thing that we would like to do, whether it’s David or somebody else. Have a fight in his own backyard so his friends can see him fight. That would be the next goal for G.
Mitch went on to tell me that watching Garrett’s transformation over the past few weeks has been fascinating. As someone who has trained other athletes, living with one is a completely new experience for them both. Garrett’s story is an incredible one filled with tenacity and heart. His motivation is something that anyone can admire (and some students might need to call upon during finals week). Hopefully this is only the beginning of Garrett’s long and successful career. It was a real pleasure to do the interview, as Garrett and Mitch are two extremely nice people.
The Ranger News will keep everyone posted on the results Garrett’s fight. Do me a favor, Garrett, don’t forget about this small-time reporter when you become a big-time star. Good luck on Nov. 8, G Money.
Anyone interested in learning more about Garrett’s story can visit his website, garrettsfight.org.
Article by Maggie Lawler