Opinion: Now I Have Seen It All
By Jesse Heitz
A highly unusual story caught my attention the other day. It’s a story that seems to have garnered relatively little widespread public attention. The story is that a MMA promotion in Florida has booked a fight that pits two men against each other, yet under the most unusual of circumstances.
MMAmania.com and the USA Today reported on July 18th that the Florida-based King of the Casino MMA promotion had booked the fight for August 3rd, at the Seminole Immokalee Casino in Immokalee, Florida. The fight will feature a 140 pound catch-weight fight between Garrett Holeve and David Steffan. The former has Down Syndrome and the latter has Cerebral Palsy.
Kirsten Seckler, Vice President of the Special Olympics, in which Holeve has competed, commented on the upcoming fight by stating,
“If they choose to participate in an activity that’s outside of the Special Olympics, then that’s their choice. 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.”
Holeve’s father Mitch has described the inability, until now, to get any promoters or sanctioning bodies to support his son’s MMA endeavors. He even goes so far as to mention that the Florida State Boxing Commission has voiced their disapproval of such a bout. It is important to note, however, that this fight, while not authorized or regulated by any state or national athletic or boxing commission, does feature modified rules which include: three minute rounds, shin guards, and barring strikes to the head of a grounded opponent.
I don’t doubt that handicapped people can make tremendous athletes, but a considerable portion of me remains wary about such folks participating in MMA. As concerned as I am about an athlete with Down Syndrome competing in MMA, such sentiments are amplified when it comes to Cerebral Palsy, which the Mayo Clinic describes as follows,
“Signs and symptoms appear during infancy or preschool years. In general, cerebral palsy causes impaired movement associated with exaggerated reflexes or rigidity of the limbs and trunk, abnormal posture, involuntary movements, unsteadiness of walking, or some combination of these. The effect of cerebral palsy on functional abilities varies greatly.
People with cerebral palsy often have other conditions related to developmental brain abnormalities, such as intellectual disabilities, vision and hearing problems, or seizures. A broad spectrum of treatments may help minimize the effect of cerebral palsy and improve a person’s functional abilities.”
I’m by no means an expert on either Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy. I’m simply a medical layperson, and have no detailed knowledge of either Holeve or Steffan’s medical conditions. However, MMA is sanctioned by athletic commissions for a reason, to ensure the safety of the fighters. Fights are stopped for cuts and swelling that might impair vision. So, if no athletic or boxing commission is willing to endorse this kind of fight and some even warn against it, I have to imagine that it’s due to a significant safety risk.
If at some point a recognized athletic commission opts to sanction such a fight, and it becomes clear that the aforementioned conditions do not in any way alter a fighter’s ability to defend him or herself at all times, then I’ll wholeheartedly throw my support behind such a fight.