This isn’t the first time we’ve blogged about Garrett ‘G-Money Holeve, a fighter out of American Top Team who has Down Syndrome. Every time he has a fight or is trying to get a fight, it’s going to make headlines. But this time there’s an added twist to his story: he’ll be fighting David Steffan, an opponent with cerebral palsy, on August 3rd.
Steffan, a former Special Olympian and current Paralympic Games competitor, is aware some will question whether their respective disabilities should rule out a fight, and he’s ready to prove doubters wrong.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for both of us to show the world that we belong in there just like everyone else,” he told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com).
Special Olympics Vice President Kirsten Seckler expressed support for the pair and wasn’t entirely surprised they pursued the bout, given that the sports organization doesn’t hold competitions in MMA. Even after she was reminded of the sometimes-violent nature of MMA, Seckler said they deserve to compete as much as any other person.
“If they choose to participate in an activity that’s outside of the Special Olympics, then that’s their choice,” Seckler said. “People with intellectual disabilities might read slower or learn slower than others, but they can run marathons, hold jobs, go to school, get married and have babies. One of the things we like to show is that there are no limits.”
“Watching Garrett’s special, I believe that everybody deserves a shot,” said the 28-year-old Steffan, who earlier this year fought in his first muay Thai bout and trains MMA in his native Nebraska. “Garrett’s trained as hard as I have, and he’s had a couple of exhibition fights. A disability, in my mind, is only one if you let it be.”
The fight is so controversial that the Florida State Boxing Commission wouldn’t sanction it, leaving the two to duke it out on Indian land at the Immokalee Casino in Immokalee, Fla. But that shouldn’t really surprise anyone – these commissions are all about minimizing liability, and allowing two fighters with complex medical issues to compete is pretty much the opposite of that.
And hey, above and beyond the obvious disabilities these athletes suffer and the potentially catastrophic complications they could cause, the match sounds like it will be pretty safe:
Garrett Holeve put on the bulk to accommodate Steffan, who competed at 155 pounds in kickboxing. They’ll compete over three, three-minute rounds at a catchweight of 140 pounds under modified rules that mirror amateur bouts, which require shin protectors and forbid striking to the head of a grounded opponent, according to promoter Shopp, who said the event will be staffed by medical professionals.
“If it makes them happy, why take it away from a person?” Shopp said. “It’s not like they’re doing it on the street; they’re doing it on a professional level.”
That’s a nice way of looking at it and certainly classier than ‘This little sideshow is gonna make me more money on my event.’ At this point we’ve seen a lot of strange stuff in mixed martial arts. Fighters missing a limb, fighters missing all limbs, women who used to be men fighting other women, and of course Garrett Holeve knocking down new barriers every time he fights. If it’s done in a safe and respectful manner (ie not like this) then who are we to make a big deal of it? Still…