Garrett Holeve, an MMA Fighter With Down Syndrome, Is on His Way to Changing the Sport

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About 18 months later, in 2010, the family was watching a night of UFC fights on television when Mitch asked if any of his sons wanted to give MMA a shot. He himself had been a boxer, but he didn't expect a response.

Garrett, however, perked up and a few weeks later walked into an American Top Team training facility in Davie. "I was like, 'Fuck, how do I teach someone with Down syndrome?' " says Rodrigo "Braga" Ramos, a barrel-chested 36-year-old professional fighter who runs that facility.

Garrett's training followed a similar path as it would for anyone just starting in the sport, albeit a bit slower. He learned the basic grappling techniques and then perfected them. He studied punch formation and then weave combinations. He changed his diet and built muscle mass.

Ramos matched Garrett with people of the same skill level. He wasn't great, but he was dedicated.

"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 says. "Poor guy, my ass."

Stretching in his driveway, Garrett gets ready for his morning run. His parents are at work — his mom is in jewelry sales, and his dad is a financial planner. Six days a week, Garrett trains. Usually it's a combination of running, swimming, and weight training, capped off by sessions at an American Top Team facility.

Before embarking on the run, he holds up a stopwatch that's paused on 13 minutes. Not fully understanding how the device works, he says it means he ran 13 miles yesterday.

As he jogs slowly along the sidewalk, he lays out his dream: Become a professional fighter, move to his own place in Weston, buy a boat, and get an MTV2 reality TV show on which he interviews fighters and other celebrities. He doesn't want any kids because "they're a pain." As for a wife, his top choice is Tatyana Ali, the stunning actress best-known for her role as Ashley Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

After a cool-down, he takes out his stopwatch and pauses it on 34 minutes. "Thirty-four miles," he says and then lets out a satisfied sigh.

As he opens the door to his house, he tears off his shirt, drops his shorts in the living room, and strips down to a pair of silver spandex shorts to check his weight. Next it's a quick shower and a breakfast of a single protein pancake that his dad premade. When a song by 50 Cent ends on the radio and the DJ announces a Chris Brown track, Garrett looks up midchew and says, "I'll beat the shit out of him," referring to Brown. Why? "Because he beats women."

He swigs from his glass of Arizona diet green tea with ginseng and douses what's left of his pancake in organic blue agave. Next he heads to a barbershop around the corner to get a flattop. Before the talcum powder settles, he's posing in a fighter stance — shoulders squared, fists raised — and handing the barber his iPhone to snap a picture.

He immediately tries to post the image on Facebook but encounters problems. He explains he just got the phone for his birthday and hasn't figured out the finer points of the application. Growing increasingly frustrated, he takes out an older smartphone that he's more familiar with and uses it to snap a picture of the picture, which doesn't work. After 20 minutes and one video call to his dad, the photo is online with the caption "Tv mma fighter."

The rest of the day passes as it would for most dudes in their early 20s who don't have jobs (because of his disability, Garrett receives $450 in social security each month as long as he doesn't work). He has pizza for lunch and spends some quality time playing an Ultimate Fighter videogame while listening to the radio.

Garrett's denial of his condition hasn't made it easy to find friends or land a girlfriend. He dated a young woman with Down syndrome, but it quickly fizzled after some drama involving public displays of affection at school.

When pressed on the subject of girls — ones who haven't starred in sitcoms or posed for Maxim — Garrett becomes flustered. "I don't do drama anymore," he says. "I got tons of girls right now... I'm hot and sexy." Then, like a media-savvy celebrity, he quickly steers the conversation to how he'll shed pounds for his next fight.

"He thinks he can date typical girls his age, but that's just not going to happen," his mom says. "I tell him that I wanted to marry Brad Pitt and I got your dad, so you have to lower your standards somewhere."

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Chris Sweeney