ESPN featured 23-year-old Garrett Holeve on the Sunday edition of Sports Center. Holeve has Down Syndrome and trains at American Top Team. He makes his amateur debut in the video.
Zach Arnold had a thoughtful review of the segment at Fight Opinion:
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.
Holeve was featured in the The Broward-Palm Beach New Times in December:
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.
But Garrett has found salvation in MMA, a combative sport that John McCain dubbed "human cockfighting." Though it was once banned in a dozen states for its gruesome brutality, nowadays jujitsu black belts of the umpteenth degree battle Olympics-grade wrestlers in refereed yet still-violent face-offs. This more polished competition has been masterminded by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, the largest and most profitable promotion company in the world.
The sport has allowed Garrett to reinvent himself - mind and body. At the gym, he's not Garrett Holeve, the guy with Down syndrome. He's G-Money, an up-and-coming fighter with big ambitions.
I'm personally very torn about Holeve. I'm not sure he's got the cognitive abilities to be making the decision to risk this kind of brain trauma. At the same time, Holeve has agency and a life to live and this does seem to be what he wants to do.
What do you think?