(Photo via Facebook.com/Garret.Holeve)
Back in March, we passed along the inspirational/controversial story of Garrett Holeve, a young man with Down syndrome who trains and competes in mixed martial arts. Last month, Holeve was booked to fight David Steffan, a former Special Olympian in golf who suffers from mild cerebral palsy, and who has also worked hard to transition into combat sports. The “full speed” MMA fight was supposed to go down at a King of the Casino event at the Seminole Casino in Immokalee, Florida, on Saturday. Unfortunately, it was stopped at virtually the last minute. As WINK News reports (via BloodyElbow):
It was a fight that was supposed to be a first of its kind. One both Garrett Holeve, 23, and David Steffan, 28, had been dreaming of, but five minutes before the first punch, the state presented the promoter with a cease and desist letter.
“He cried. It genuinely upset him,” says Mitch Holeve, Garrett’s father. “He’s worked eight weeks in a training camp, training four and a half hours a day for eight weeks getting mentally and physically prepared to do this.”
Garrett has Downs syndrome and his opponent David has cerebral palsy. The fight was supposed to happen because the match was being held on tribal land, but a letter from the DBPR says the scheduled bout between the two amateur fighters is unsanctioned and against Florida Law.
“He’s upset because he knows he’s being told he can’t fight because he has Down syndrome and that hurts his feelings and that angers him” says Holeve…
Holeve says his son got medical clearance and show have been able to fight. “I think their decision was pretty arbitrary, discriminatory,” says Holeve.
“We have two guys with disabilities and we don’t want them to fight here. This is his life and they’re stopping him. As his dad I am just going to make sure he can do it safely and his rights are infringed upon and I’m not stopping anywhere until that happens.”
Holeve is talking to the Boxing Commission and he says he has also reached out to the National Down Syndrome Society.
The Florida State Boxing Commission had already tried to discourage Mitch Holeve from booking his son to fight in Florida, which is why the fight was arranged on tribal lands, where state regulations theoretically wouldn’t apply. The fact that the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation went out of its way to block the fight suggests how unpopular Garrett’s MMA career might be among regulators in the state.
Clearly, the state of Florida is spooked by the possible fallout related to a cage-fight between two young men with disabilities, and aware of how exploitative it might look to outside observers. But for Garrett and David, it’s not exploitative — it’s a chance to compete, and to prove themselves in a sport that’s known for inclusion. Shouldn’t they be allowed to do that? As David Steffan put it during a follow-up report on WINK, “I believe that anybody, no matter whether they’re disabled or not, should have a chance to go after their dreams.”
What do you think?