Down Syndrome MMA Fighter Garrett Holeve: What I Learned From Him About Being A Man

down syndrome mma fighter

Garrett Holeve is a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. He also has Down Syndrome. When you look at him, what do you see? Watch this video, and you’ll see what I learned about being a man from Garrett Holeve.

Who’s Garrett?

Garrett Holeve is a 5’0”, 135 pound, 23 year old man who’s life was changed by martial arts. It makes him happy, has given him purpose, and has helped him tear through a label.

Some people may question his father’s sanity letting his son train and take a fight as a Down Syndrome MMA fighter. If you are, you haven’t watched the video, have you?

Garrett has Down Syndrome, a chromosomal condition that’s commonly associated with a delay in cognitive ability. But he refuses to be identified as such. Despite what people have said to him, about him, and his ability to learn, he doesn’t care. In school he took as many mainstream classes as he could. He played basketball. And when his father challenged his three sons to try mixed martial arts, he was the one who stepped up to the plate.

Garrett Holeve learned quickly, and a brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt quickly took a liking to him. But his instructor knew that life is hard, and people will not be fair. So he did not go easy on Garrett but treated him like any other student. This provided the perfect arena for Holeve to continue to grow, be challenged, and to see his personality confidently emerge.

What I learned about being a man from a Down Syndrome MMA Fighter

1. “I took that punch as man.”

ESPN interviewer Tom Rinaldi asks Garrett Holeve if after he was hit, did he think about quitting.


Garrett continued, “I will never back down from a fight. I will keep going.”

Stopping just isn’t even in Garrett’s mind. Fighting through a disability, fighting through another man with gloves on, fighting through pain in training, it doesn’t matter. He’s going to keep going forward.

2. His training helped him overcome perceived limits

Have you ever felt scared, not because you couldn’t do something, but because you weren’t ready?

Garrett’s mom was in the crowd watching him fight. So was his dad. And his coaches in the corner. But he didn’t turn to them for help when he took his first real punch to the face. He kept going.

When you take a punch to the face, it’s not wrong to ask for help. But here’s what Garrett did: he trained and prepared to absorb that punch. And he kept going forward.

3. Garrett decided to share his knowledge.

Holeve is now an instructor at his father’s gym. His father having invested in one after he saw how much Mixed Martial Arts is an outlet for other’s to discover who he his.

Garrett teaches another Down Syndrome student at the gym as well as children’s classes.

4. People may put limits on you, but you can’t put limits on yourself.

Whatever limits people put on you, you can’t accept them. As a Down Syndrome MMA Fighter, he literally “fought” them off. And you can do that without ever having to throw a punch.

Maybe someone mocked you when you were young, or in high school. Or someone at worked spoke their limitations of you. It’s likely that at first you refused to believe it-you denied it. But it’s possible that over time those words sunk in.

Maybe through losses, disappointments or unmet expectations you’ve questioned your “manliness”, or your ability to live up to the challenge.

Take a cue from Garrett. Trust me when people told him he couldn’t learn at a mainstream school. But he took as many mainstream classes anyways. There is no doubt people stated he couldn’t pick up Mixed Martial Arts as someone with Down Syndrome.

It didn’t matter. He blew those limitations from others off. What’s the key thing he did? He would not allow himself to perceive himself as someone with limitations.

If you’ve doubted yourself, what do you do now?

Refuse to perceive yourself with unreal limitations. Whether they were from failures, within yourself, or spoken to you by others, it’s time to shed them. Identify them, and what you feel about them. Look at them, think about them, and identify what’s not real.

Those little voices that cut at you and make you question if you can make, set them aside, tell yourself the truth until you believe, and keep taking steps forward.

Become a man, and face your fears, like Garrett Holeve.

If you learned something from Garrett Holeve, you’ll like this lesson about Chuck Yeager: Overcoming Fear And Never Giving Up. Check it out by clicking here.

[Photo courtesy of ESPN Video]


  1. You have to let people make their own decisions, but I always feel a little upset when someone puts ideas into the heads of somebody with a reduced cognitive ability. I have a cousin with Down Syndrome. He’s 45, but he has the mental state of a 12 year old. But someone, somewhere along the line decided that, since he was physically old enough to drink, they should introduce him to beer. Now, at all the family events, there’s Billy getting drunk.

    • Oh my, I can imagine. Sounds like he’s having a good time!

      I agree there’s a difference of being aware of a learning difference, and suggesting to someone they’re defeated before they even begin.

  2. WOW! Breath taking to say the least, thanks for sharing this story I never heard of Garrett.

Speak Your Mind