UFC’s Jared Gordon: Escaping his own prison

Jared Gordon appeared to have the world on a string in 2015. He was an undefeated mixed martial arts fighter and he brought his 9-fight win streak back to the Cage Fury Fighting Championships. A win over Jeff Lentz would have not only given Gordon the CFFC featherweight title, but also a likely contract with the UFC.

Let’s skip ahead to 18 months ago, when Gordon was shooting crack and heroin at a motel next to the Queensbridge Houses in New York City. It was during a period when Gordon said he hit “mental bottom” and his MMA career, and more importantly his life, was now dangling by that same string.

“I started to smoke weed and drink alcohol when I was 8 or 9 years old, and it took off from there,” Gordon said. “I would experiment with friends, and I tried pain medications like Vicodin, Percocet and Oxycontin when I was 18 or 19. That led me to starting heroin, and when I went to rehab I met someone who was into IV drugs. We took turns shooting each other up, and I would shoot heroin or anything I could fit into a needle.”

Even though Gordon’s dalliances with drugs and alcohol started at an early age, he still managed to participate in football and wrestling growing up, especially when he moved to Queens, New York, while he was in middle school.

“At that time, wrestling wasn’t big in New York,” Gordon said. “It was more sports like basketball or handball. I graduated high school in 2006, when the UFC was just getting big with The Ultimate Fighter. I wanted to get in shape by either doing martial arts or wrestling, and I saw a boxing gym one day when getting off the subway. It had some guys who were on the first team of Frankie Edgar, so I started doing boxing and jiu-jitsu.”

Gordon won his first amateur fight at age 17 and immediately found his love and the career he wanted to do, and a career he thought he was well-prepared for.

“I loved the idea of fighting and being physical,” Gordon said. “I thought I had the best background to transition to MMA, and I pride myself on being a tough kid. My friends and I would box each other, and I took to it really well and become a two-time amateur champion.”

Gordon turned pro in 2011 and went undefeated for more than four years before his loss to Lentz for CFFC in 2015. The fight was stopped at the beginning of the third after Gordon broke his orbital bone following a knee from Lentz. That was where Gordon’s downward spiral began.

“They took me to the trauma unit and put me on IV painkillers,” Gordon said. “I went into a depression after the doctors thought I was going to lose my eye. I didn’t know if I would fight again for 5-6 months, and I hit a mental bottom. I was in a prison in my own head – it was a dark place.”

It was in that dark place where Gordon found himself in the motel room in 2015, just two days after Christmas, where he overdosed. Gordon’s overdose was the culmination of nine trips to rehab, an 18-month stint with sobriety and a relapse before getting clean again prior to his 2015 bout against Lentz.

After his overdose in the Queens motel room, Gordon was taken to the hospital instead of jail. He has since been clean and sober for the last 18 months and credits divine intervention for the police finding him unconscious, while adding that his overdose was a “blessing in disguise,” he said.

Since that night, Gordon has dedicated himself not only to sobriety but also to his MMA career once again, and has rattled off three straight victories, including winning the CFFC featherweight title last year. Gordon’s third straight win came in the presence of UFC President Dana White, who was at the event as part of his “Lookin’ For a Fight” reality series on YouTube.

“It put my anxiety through the roof,” Gordon said. “I was scared shitless and I told my coach that backstage, but I think it helped me win the fight. I beat the other guy’s ass for four rounds and Dana told me after the fight that he would sign me. My manager called me three weeks after the fight to come down and sign the contract. I knew I would be in the UFC eventually.”

Now that he is officially in the UFC, Gordon will make his debut at the UFC’s next Fight Night card on Sunday, June 25, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Gordon will face Michel Quinones (12-1), whom Gordon described as “definitely a tough, stand-up guy with good wrestling.”

“But I’ve been training my boxing and kickboxing 5-6 days a week,” Gordon said. “I’ve been grappling with Renzo Gracie and receiving instruction from the best coaches in the city. I’m working with the wrestling coach who works with Frankie Edgar, and I know I have the tools to beat this guy. I will walk him down and impose my will on him.”

Gordon expects his fight with Quinones to be the stepping stone to his ultimate goal – becoming a UFC champion.

“I truly believe I will be a champion in around three years,” Gordon said. It’s a goal Gordon may not have been able to achieve if the police hadn’t found him in that motel room 18 months ago, and Gordon wants others who are battling addiction to know that there is hope.

“You will hit bottom eventually, but tell yourself you can get through this,” Gordon said. “You can put your best foot forward, buckle down and stay clean and have a support network. But at the end of the day, it’s just you.”

Photo Credit: Manny Fernandes/CFFC

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Chris Huntemann
Chris Huntemann writes about mixed martial arts in the state of Maryland. He also opines on all things UFC, Bellator, World Series of Fighting and any other MMA topics he cares to bloviate about. You should check out his blog, or his Twitter. Or both. When he's not watching MMA, he's an avid fan of other sports, such as football, baseball and college basketball. He may or may not do other, non-sports-related things as well.

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