Imagine devoting your life to a sport, practicing it relentlessly and thinking about it often, and then not being able to find someone who will compete against you.
That's the predicament facing 23-year-old Garrett Holeve, an MMA fighter in South Florida who has Down Syndrome. Holeve trains six days a week and dreams of becoming a professional fighter, but he's never fought in anything other than an exhibition.
And it's unclear if he ever will.
Chris Sweeney, who recently profiled Holeve for the Broward Palm Beach New Times, writes that few abled competitors want to fight Holeve because they see it as a no-win situation: either they knock out a disabled fighter or they lose to one. And there are very few, if any, other MMA fighters with mental disabilities.
For the time being, Holeve continues working out at an American Top Team training facility in Davie, Fla., where he's trained since 2010. Holeve has worked with Rodrigo "Braga" Ramos, a professional fighter who has taught Holeve the intricacies of the sport. Ramos said he never takes it easy on Holeve.
"We didn't coddle him or baby him at all. After the first day, I didn't see him as a guy with Down Syndrome," Ramos told Sweeney. "Poor guy, my ass."
Even if Holeve does not find an opponent, the sport has provided him somewhat of a respite from the struggles of daily life. Indeed, it has even given him a new identity.
"The sport has allowed Garrett to reinvent himself — mind and body," Sweeney writes. "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."
Garett's father, Mitch, along with retired UFC fighter Stephen Bonnar have started a nonprofit foundation with the goal of getting kids with special needs involved in MMA. One day, they'd like to see mixed martial arts included in the Special Olympics.
Via Chris Strauss of USA Today, here's a 2010 news story about Holeve.
To read Holeve's full story, see here.
(H/T to Game On!)