Jared Gordon Fights for His Life

Photographs by Mark Peterson

Special thanks to Church Street Boxing Gym

“To err is human, to forgive is divine.” – Alexander Pope

The last time Jared Gordon died was on Christmas Day of 2015. After his heart was restarted by an Emergency Medical Technician and he was resurrected from the dead, he remembered lying in a speeding ambulance and opening his eyes to see members of the New York Police Department looking down at him. The officers weren’t happy about responding to a drug overdose call on a frigid Christmas afternoon. There were presents to be opened, dinner to be eaten with family, sports to be watched on television.

“Am I going to jail?” Gordon asked the officers.

“No,” one of the officers said. “It’s Christmas, and none of us feel like doing the paperwork. We’re taking you to Mount Sinai Hospital”

“Where are my drugs?” Gordon asked?

“I think we’re going to hold on to those,” another officer said.

Gordon slept through Christmas night into the early afternoon at the hospital. When he rose again, he pulled the IV tubes out of his arm, and walked shoeless out of the hospital to get high. It was the third time that Gordon had come back to life after being clinically dead from an overdose, and he knew a fourth time would likely be his last. There would be no more divine interventions in his future. If Jared Gordon wanted to live, he needed to fight for his life.

The Church Street Boxing Gym is not the type of place that welcomes distractions. As you begin to descend the four flights of stairs to the sub-basement level gym, the sounds of fighters at work overpower any outside noise. There are no windows through which to check the weather or to peoplewatch. The only daydreams permitted are of championship belts.

Jared “Flash” Gordon begins jumping rope to warm up for today’s training session. As a UFC fighter and mixed-martial artist, Gordon has to work on a variety of physical disciplines to remain competitive in every fight he takes on. To neglect one would be the equivalent of playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, without ever being able to use paper. But in mixed-martial arts, the stakes are less forgiving. Your opponent will bash your scissors with his rock repeatedly until you are unconscious. Today, Gordon will work on his striking.

His coach, Jason Strout. watches from the elevated ring, as several of Strout’s fighters, including former Bellator light heavyweight champion, Liam McGeary, are warming up to prepare for their session. “Let’s go!” Strout shouts at his team. “You’re here! You might as well work!”

“Jason likes people to think he’s the grumpy boxing coach,” Gordon says. “But he’s a great guy. Without him, I wouldn’t be here. I might not even be alive right now.”

Growing up in Roslyn, New York, Gordon didn’t have to fight for very much. “My family lived a very comfortable lifestyle,” he says. “I went to school with all the rich kids. I wasn’t as rich as they were, but I was never wanting for anything.”

Though he had a loving, supportive family, the fighting spirit and the drug trade may have been part of Gordon’s DNA. His grandfather on his mother’s side, Salvatore Ferello, was a professional featherweight prize fighter with a record of 38-3-1. In December of 1952, Ferello was arrested for trafficking heroin for the Lucchese crime family. It was one of the biggest heroin trafficking busts in Detroit history. Ferello would serve eight years in prison, effectively ending his boxing career. “Even in prison, he still fought,” Gordon says.

Gordon’s Sicilian Catholic grandmother was also first cousins with the Raging Bull himself, Jake LaMotta, the iconic world middleweight champion immortalized in film by Robert DeNiro. “Her last name was LaMotta,” Gordon says, “so people would often call the house looking for Jake. I can’t tell you how many times I heard her say, ‘He’s not here!’ and then hang up the phone.”

Gordon’s grandfather, on his father’s side, a Jewish man from Great Britain, emigrated from England after World War II. Along with a partner, he purchased Long Island Hardware in Astoria, Queens in 1977. The hardware store had served the Astoria community since the 1920s. Gordon’s father, Robin Gordon, and uncle Randy worked in the store from the time they were teenagers. As adults, Robin and Randy Gordon would partner together to buy the store from their ready-to-retire dad with a much grander vision—The Long Island General Supply Company.

“When my grandfather ran the store, it was a very successful local store,” Gordon says. “People in Astoria went there for the things they needed. When my dad and my uncle took it over, they expanded it to sell materials for construction crews to work jobs all around the city. In a way, it was kind of like Home Depot before there was a Home Depot in New York. How they built that business was amazing.”

The new business model accelerated revenues into the millions. It allowed the Gordons to live a very comfortable lifestyle with their three sons in Roslyn. But as the world changed in 2001, so did the Gordon’s fortunes.

Gordon at home, with his family in Astoria

The fire that nearly destroyed Jared Gordon’s family happened almost three months before September 11th, on Father’s Day of 2001. It was a warm June day, and the family had no plans other than to be together at home. “I can remember lying on my bed when the phone rang,” Gordon said. “Almost immediately, my mom started screaming, ‘The store’s on fire! The store’s on fire!’ Me, my brother and father jumped in the car and ran every red light to get to the store.”

On the morning of June 17, 2001, a 15-year-old and 13-year-old boy reportedly tried to spray paint graffiti on the rear wall of the store. The teens were attempting to burn the graffiti into the wall by using gasoline, in order to make their artwork more difficult to remove. The 13-year-old boy knocked over a gallon can of gasoline, which rolled down the loading dock ramp to the back gates of the store. From there, a series of tragic events began to unfold.

Beyond the loading dock gate was a long 45-degree slope that led to a 1950s water heater that had been installed only two inches from the ground by the makers of the heater. By law, the heater was supposed to be installed at a requisite height of 18 inches. Because the store had received an A rating each year from the fire inspectors, the storeowners had no reason to believe there was any danger. When the gasoline found its way to the pilot light of the heater, the gasoline ignited. Soon, other chemicals from the various paints and other inventory of the store began to heat up, before a backdraft would cause the store to explode.

By the time the Gordons made it to the store, the explosion had already happened. Two firefighters of Rescue Co. 4 and a member of Ladder Co. 163 died that day in the line of duty. “The Father’s Day Fire,” as it became known, was one of the deadliest fires in New York City history. Unbeknownst to the firefighters who reported to the scene that day, several first responders from those companies would perish just a few months later on September 11th, 2001.

When the Gordons arrived on the scene, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was already there. Giuliani comforted the family, promising Robin Gordon that he would get to the bottom of what caused the fire. “My dad was crying in the street,” Jared Gordon says. “It took hundreds of firefighters almost 24 hours to put the fire out. Most of the inventory in the store was lost. Our insurance only covered so much of it. They lost millions of dollars. Every dollar my father saved, he had to put back into the business.”

The family built a makeshift store out of their warehouse, doing both wholesale and retail. “I had to go through the rubble to get our invoices,” Gordon remembers. “They were soaked with water from the fire hoses. I can remember thousands of invoices everywhere, drying out at my uncle’s house. The policemen and firemen were giving us dirty looks like the fire was our fault. Cops would steal stuff right off the property—axes, hammers. They would smile and take it right in front of us.  My father started drinking heavily. It was all too much. I thought he was going to kill himself.”

Eventually, the Gordon family would begin to rebuild at another nearby location.

“We had to build a new building, which took about eight years,” Gordon says. “We had to refinance loans. We bought a piece of property down the block that was a gas station. When they started to dig for the foundation, all the surrounding land was contaminated with gas. It took years and ridiculous amounts of money. By the time we got the building open in around 2009, the trial wasn’t even over yet. But we never stopped battling to bring the store back.”

Eventually the widows of the fallen firemen would receive $12 million from the heater company and $2 million from the store’s insurance. But the Gordon’s were still left to rebuild from the rubble of a terrible accident, having lost almost all of their savings.

With whatever money they had left being spent on rebuilding a new store, the Gordons were no longer able to afford their home in Roslyn. “We moved to my mom’s childhood home to be closer to the business,” Gordon says. “Leaving Long Island, I used that as reason to rebel. I started doing what I wanted to do, to be a knucklehead, not got to school. Me and my older brother, Dylan, we started drifting along. I was acting out at 13, fighting, smoking weed, drinking beers. We were running with the wrong crowd, but my brother and I were the ringleaders. As I got older, I started doing painkillers. I hurt my neck, so I started taking Vicodin on the street. By the time I turned 23, OxyContin was getting big, and I started doing that. Eventually, my brother and I both developed a heroin habit.”

Trying to get himself clean, Gordon had an ex-girlfriend who had moved to the Palm Beach area of Florida. A friend of hers knew someone who was opening up an MMA gym down in Boca Raton. A team of successful MMA fighters known as The Blackzillians were training there, including at that time, the recently-crowned UFC light heavyweight champion, Rashad Evans.

“Now I finally had a plan for my life,” Gordon says. “I’d go down there, hang out with my ex-girlfriend at her house and train to become a UFC fighter.”

But Gordon was struggling with his newfound sobriety. When his ex-girlfriend had her wisdom teeth removed, Gordon found it impossible to resist taking her prescribed painkillers. When she discovered Gordon had used all of her painkillers, she asked him to leave. But before she did, she would make one more shocking revelation to Gordon’s family.

Jared Gordon never actually told his parents that he had been sexually abused as a nine-year-old boy. It was his ex-girlfriend who was asking him to leave her home that would tell his mom. “My ex-girlfriend wanted to leave me, and so I told her,” Gordon says. “I don’t even know why I did. Maybe I wanted a pity party and wanted her to take me back. Maybe it was time for it to come out. I really don’t know.”

When Gordon was nine, his parents sent him to a sleep-away camp in Pennsylvania. It was there that a camp counselor lured Gordon away from the group and sexually assaulted him. “At that age, I wasn’t even sure what had happened,” he says. “I didn’t know what I was or wasn’t supposed to do. I was confused. I knew it was wrong, but It didn’t make any sense to me. Any time I thought about it afterward, I would try to forget it. A few months later, I would be sitting in my fifth grade class, and I would relive it in my mind. When that happened, I would imagine a guillotine coming down on my neck, and the thought would go away.”

As a teenager, Gordon would fantasize about tracking the man down and killing him with his bare hands. As it would turn out, Gordon didn’t have to look for him. The FBI would find him.

“The guy was arrested in a child pornography bust,” Gordon says. “While I was getting drug treatment, once my mother knew, she tracked the guy down and found out he had been arrested. The FBI wanted me to testify against him, but I didn’t want to see him at all. They asked me to write a letter that they would present to the judge. The guy is in jail now serving an eight-year sentence.”

Gordon has talked about the encounter extensively in therapy sessions. “I don’t think that experience is what made me want to fight,” he says. “I do think it made me a more physical person though. I was much angrier when I was younger, much more physical. I’m so far past that now, which is funny, because now I’m a much calmer person who punches people in the face for a living.”

In the short term, however, Gordon was now homeless and 1,000 miles from home in Florida. “I called my mom and dad, and they told me to call Rich, my brother’s sponsor,” he says. When Gordon’s older brother, Dylan, had his own bout with heroin addiction for seven months.  Rich Davis was the sponsor who helped get Dylan clean again.  Desperate to find some traction in sobriety, Gordon called Davis.

Unbeknownst to Gordon, it was Davis’ wedding day.

“You know I’m getting married today,” Davis said.

“No, I didn’t, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you,” Gordon said.

“No, stay right there, I’ll come and get you.

Before his wedding ceremony, Davis picked up Gordon and took him to Behavioral Health in Palm Beach to get clean. When he left rehab, he started going back to the gym to train. Not knowing anyone in the area, Gordon began to hang out with the friends he made in rehab.

“When I got out, that’s when my new friends started showing me all kinds of things,” he says. “That was the first time I started using needles. I started shooting OxyContin and Dilaudid. They introduced me to crack, so I started smoking and shooting that as well.”

Despite his accelerated drug use, Gordon still managed to find his way to the gym to train and pursue his MMA dream. One afternoon, Gordon was wrestling on the mat with UFC featherweight Michael Johnson, when Johnson stopped grappling and looked up with a puzzled face.

“What’s wrong?” Gordon asked,

Behind Gordon were two detectives, who had walked onto the mats, suits, shoes and all.

“Are you Jared Gordon?” a detective asked.

“Yes, why?”

“You’re under arrest for home invasion and felony battery.”

In front of all of the other fighters and coaches, the detectives cuffed Gordon and took him to jail. He had been accused of home invasion and felony battery for allegedly robbing a drug dealer’s home. The charges carried a prison sentence of 25 years to life.

Gordon’s father hired the best attorney he could afford to represent him. By this time, he had his new store up and running again. “I’m going to help you this one time,” he told Jared, “but after this, you’re on your own.’”

Gordon’s mother, Stephanie, came down to Florida to be there for the sentencing. “I remember walking into the courtroom while I was cuffed, wearing an orange jumpsuit,” Gordon says. “After they announced the charges and the sentence of 25-to-life, I turned around and saw my mother bawling. It was devastating. All I could do is turn back around and walk right back to jail.”

The case against Gordon would eventually be dropped by prosecutors. “The guy who accused me had several warrants out for his arrest,” Gordon says. “He knew that if he showed up to testify against me, they were just going to lock him up right there. Without his testimony, they had to let me go.”

With a second lease on life and no reason to stay in Florida, Gordon decided to move back to New York to drive away his demons once again.

Gordon sits alone in his bedroom in Astoria

In MMA, there is a saying that many fighters use—you are either winning, or you’re learning. Unlike boxing, where a loss can immediately send a promising fighter into an opponent status, losses are almost expected for even the best of fighters.

Despite some of the setbacks Gordon had taken in his personal life, being sexually abused, the near destruction of the family business, drug addiction, narrowly escaping prison, MMA was the one place where life seemed fair to him. You step in the octagon with someone of a similar weight and the best man wins. At that moment, your background doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the work and the preparation that brought you to this moment. And Gordon was a black belt in survival.

When Gordon came back to New York in 2012, he met up for the first time with Jason Strout, the boxing coach of Church Street Boxing. Strout was more than just one of the most well-respected boxing coaches around. He was a former International Kickboxing Federation and International Sport Karate Association light middleweight champion, and a former World Kickboxing Association world champion. He knew what it would take to thrive in cagefighting.

“A friend of mine, Jerry Boyle, brought him down the gym,” Strout remembers. “He said, ‘I’ve got this kid with a lot of potential.’ I saw things that I liked in Jared. He had a good foundation. He was durable. He wasn’t afraid to get in there and fight. He was game. Not everyone is like that. You can do a lot with that.”

Strout began to refine Gordon’s technique and mental game for the octagon. With Gordon having only one pro fight on his resume, Strout was the steadying influence he needed to reach the next level as a pro.

“Before I met Jason, after I won my first pro fight at Resorts International in Atlantic City, I went on a ridiculous bender,” Gordon says. “It was the wrong place, wrong time. I wanted to celebrate, and Atlantic City is an easy place to celebrate.”

Gordon’s drug usage lasted an intense three months. “I was in extreme mental pain,” he says. “My best friend had died that October. It was a huge moment in my life. I wanted to get high, because my best friend died and I’m an addict. But I also wanted to get myself clean to prove to everybody that I could make something of myself. I want to get clean for my friend. But I fought and won, and thought I deserved to get high. I relapsed on Opana—they were really strong opioids.”

Now clean and ready to fight, Gordon was receptive to Strout’s instruction and was learning quickly. In February of 2013, for his second pro fight, Gordon would share a room with Strout in Atlantic City to minimize the distractions. Strout helped him to understand the mental aspect and gamesmanship of fighting. Before Gordon stepped in the cage to face Robert Fabrizi, Strout instructed him on how to handle himself in the cage.

“You’re unsure of what’s going to happen in there,” he told Gordon, “but so is the other guy. So you go and confirm that feeling for him. Go over to the entrance of the gate and stand there. Make sure that he has to walk past you. Make him feel like you’re the one that belongs here and not him.” Gordon’s confidence rose immediately. He would go on to win by TKO in the second round.

The wins began to pile up for Gordon in the Caged Fury Fighting Championships (CFFC). With a 9-0 record, Gordon would face Jeff Lentz for the CFFC featherweight title at The Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City. Ahead on all of the scorecards in the third and final round, Gordon got caught with a vicious knee to the face by Lentz. The impact shattered several bones around Gordon’s right eye. Doctors stopped the fight and awarded Lentz the victory.

“Everything was going my way,” Gordon says. “I was ahead on all the scorecards. I was going to win the belt. I had a UFC contract lined up. And in an instant, it was all gone. Now I’m in the hospital. My eye is swollen shut. The doctors are telling me I might never see out of that eye. My career might be over.”

Doctors explained to Gordon that the nerves of his eye were trapped between the broken bones. They couldn’t be sure if they were damaged permanently. They told him they could wait until the swelling went down, or they could pry his eye open to find out. Gordon insisted that they pry the eye open. “There was no way I was going to wait,” Gordon says. “It took two doctors, one to pry the top and the other to pull open the bottom. When they did, I could see well enough, so at least that wasn’t an issue. They did have to insert a steel plate in my face to fix the fractures though.”

The doctors prescribed an IV of Dilaudid, the powerful opiate that had helped hook Gordon on drugs previously. Gordon told his doctors that he was a recovering drug addict. His doctor told him, “If we don’t give you this, you are going to be in unbearable pain for a long time.” Gordon relented and took the IV. Thus began his next relapse and descent into drugs.

The last drug bender that nearly killed Jared Gordon began out of depression and boredom. “It was a summer night, and I was home alone on the couch,” Gordon recalls. “It was 98 degrees in July, and I was miserable. My parents had gone upstate to their summer house. I had nothing to do. I couldn’t train. My eye was still swollen shut. My UFC dream was gone. So I decided to go to go get high. I went out and bought as much cocaine and heroine as I could find, and I started shooting it.”

When his parents discovered that Gordon was using, at the advice of his sponsor, they kicked Gordon out of the house. The police would make regular appearances at the house. “We would put on quite a show for the neighbors,” Gordon says. “My dad would ask me to leave, and I would say, ‘No I’m not going. Are you going to make me leave? I’m a professional fighter. Go ahead and try.’ That’s when he’d call the cops, and they would escort me out of the house.”

It wasn’t uncommon for Gordon to be out in the streets in the snow. Now effectively homeless, Gordon would frequent shelters and occasionally sleep on a friend’s couch on a good night. His constant cocaine usage brought with it major bouts of paranoia. He would often think that people were following him.

“I ended up robbing a drug dealer for several thousand dollars,” Gordon says. “That allowed me to stay in motels and keep doing drugs and not have to sleep on the street or in a shelter. So I would bounce around from motel to motel. But the cocaine paranoia was still there. I would be screaming in my room, because I thought people were out to get me. Eventually, they would ask me to leave, and I would go check into another motel.”

Despite his drug usage, Gordon was still managing to train for his upcoming fight with Bill Algeo in Atlantic City. “At that point, you never knew if he was going to show up at the gym or not,” Coach Strout says. “That period of time when he was using, I knew something was wrong. But you don’t know. Maybe something else is wrong. What if I accuse him and he’s not using? His eyes were weird. He started getting bitchy during training. I’d come home and say, ‘What the fuck is wrong with this guy.’”

Then Strout, the toughest guy amongst the toughest guys at Church Street Boxing began to tear up. “I’d be so upset, because I didn’t say anything. I felt like I should confront him, but I didn’t know how. Part of me wanted to bash his head against the wall and tell him to stop.”

On Halloween weekend of 2015, In the days leading up to the Algeo fight, things got even scarier. Strout and Gordon checked into a hotel prior to the fight. When Gordon was soaking in the hot water of the room’s bathtub, trying to make the final weight cut, Strout found the conclusive evidence he needed to confront Gordon. Now stripped bare in the tub, the track marks along Gordon’s arms from the intravenous drug use were exposed. Gordon tried to convince Strout that the scars were remnants from past needle usage to no avail.

“Do you think I’m going to let you get into a cage in this condition and get yourself killed,” Strout screamed at Gordon. “I’m pulling you from this fight! I don’t condone this at all! You need to get yourself clean! I’m not going to watch you get killed, and I’m not going to watch you kill yourself either!”

Nearly two months later, in the depths of his depression, on December 23rd, 2015, Jared Gordon checked himself into the 7thfloor of the Best Western hotel across the street from the Queensbridge housing projects. No longer welcome in his home because of his drug usage, Gordon continued his own holiday celebration with heroin and cocaine. Two days later, on Christmas Day, a guest in an adjoining room heard a thunderous thud and called the front desk.

“I was shooting heroin,” Gordon says. “I plunged the needle half way into my arm, and I knew something was wrong immediately, and I pushed it the rest of the way in anyway.”

The shot sealed Gordon’s fate. He had overdosed. As he toppled to the ground, he pulled a lamp and nightstand with him. When the front desk couldn’t get a response from the room, they called the police.

After EMT’s restarted Gordon’s heart, he woke up in the ambulance. Taking mercy on him on Christmas, the police confiscated his drug stash and checked him into Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens. The next day, Gordon awoke in his hospital bed. No one knew where he was or that he had almost died. And all he could think about was getting high again. He pulled the IV tubes out of his arm, and walked barefoot out of the hospital on a winter afternoon to find salvation in another fix. Later that evening, finally realizing that he couldn’t find his sneakers, he would show up at his parents’ home.

“I told them I didn’t want to stay,” Gordon says. “I just needed my sneakers. I absolutely destroyed my parents that Christmas, I completely ruined their holidays. Everyone thought for sure I was going to die, and I pretty much did. Somehow I survived. It was the third time my heart had stopped and they brought me back to life. That day, I checked into detox. I’m sitting in there, and the guy next to me crapped his pants. Everyone around me is nodding out, and I couldn’t be happier. Thank God, I’m here.”

The Best Western Hotel in Queens where Gordon suffered a near-fatal overdose

Forty days later, Gordon left rehab sober. Coach Strout told him this was his last chance for redemption, not just in the ring, but in life. “Jason has taught me so much more about being a fighter,” Gordon says. “He’s taught me how to be a man. I see how he handles himself, how he is around his wife. He was the type of person I wanted to be. He’s been like a second father to me.”

In July 2016, for Gordon’s return fight in CFFC, he faced Anthony Morrison, a fighter to whom he lost in the amateur ranks. Gordon’s swift head kick sent Morrison to the canvas and ended the fight by a first round knockout.

The following month, Gordon took a fight with Dawond Pickney on short notice and defeated him in the second round via a rear naked choke submission. Fighting and staying busy suited Gordon. The training, the looking ahead to the next fight, it all felt right.

In February 2017, Gordon faced Bill Algeo, the fighter he was supposed to face before Strout pulled him from the fight. Gordon went to shake Algeo’s hand before the fight, and Algeo pushed him away, disrespecting him. As Algeo began to talk trash, Gordon turned up the heat with his fists. Gordon would win by unanimous decision. Dana White, the president of UFC was in attendance filming his show, Looking for a Fight. On the telecast, White says that Gordon was the fighter he was looking forward to watching the most that night. After the fight, White offered Gordon a UFC contract on the spot.

“What do you think, you want to do this?” White asked.

“I was born to do this,” Gordon said.

“You want to do this?” White asked again.

“I need to do this.” Gordon answered.

Gordon’s first two UFC fights went according to plan. Against Michel Quinones in Oklahoma City in June of 2017, Gordon won in the second round by TKO. In October of 2017, Gordon went to Rio De Janeiro and defeated a very experienced Hacran Dias in his own backyard by decision. He was on his way to living his dream.

In February of 2018, Gordon would head to Austin, Texas to face another very experienced Brazilian fighter, Carlos Diego Ferreira, who was coming off a two-year layoff. “I thought I was going to walk right through him, just like I did the other guys.”

But the tempo was off for the entire fight. Early in the first round, Ferreria caught Gordon with a kick below the belt which temporarily halted the fight. A minute later, Ferreria delivered a second kick below the belt, which also paused the fight. No points were taken away by the referee, nor did Gordon take the permitted five minutes to recover for each kick.

When the first round resumed, Ferreria caught Gordon with an overhand right, which sent him down to the canvas. Ferreira pounced immediately. As Gordon tried to spin away, Ferreira grabbed Gordon’s right hand and pinned it behind him as he continued to land blows to Gordon’s head. Unable to shield himself from the incoming punches, the referee stopped the fight and awarded Ferreira the victory.

As they went backstage, Gordon and Strout were stunned. The night went from triumph to tragic far too quickly.

“Fuck this, I’m going to join the Marines,” Gordon told Strout.

“Yeah, that sounds like a really good idea,” Strout replied.

Gordon struggled to find the lesson to be learned. “I was beginning to wonder what the point of all this was,” he says. “I just lost to a guy I know I’m better than. Now I have to face all the other fighters backstage, all my friends and family that came to the fight. Everyone back home. You feel like you let every single person down. I let myself down. I don’t want to be Joe Schmoe, MMA fighter. I want to be Jared Gordon, UFC Champion.”

That night, Gordon decided to sleep in his parents’ hotel room in Austin. The next morning, Strout went for a run. When he came back to the hotel, Gordon was gone.

“Where did he go?” Strout asked Gordon’s parents.

“I think he went to meet a girl,” Gordon’s dad replied,

“Did he take a shower before he left?” Strout asked.

“Yes, why?” Gordon’s mom said.

“Because who bothers to take a shower to go shoot dope?”

Though Gordon was back in the gym near his home in New York working out the very next day, he couldn’t bear to come back to Church Street and train with Strout just yet. The pain and disappointment was too fresh for both of them. The following week, Gordon went to Milwaukee to help his friend and fellow fighter Paul Felder train for his upcoming UFC match. “I didn’t want to get too far away from training,” Gordon says. “I wanted to work on what went wrong.”

For several weeks after the loss, Strout called Gordon every day to make sure he wasn’t going to fall backward. If he did, Strout was determined to make sure he was there to catch him. “This game is tough,” Strout says. “It’s filled with highs and lows. With Jared, his highs are very high, and his lows are unfortunately very low. But after everything he’s been through, everything he’s survived, a loss is so inconsequential. All the greats have lost. Ali lost. It’s what you do after that loss that matters.”

Gordon works with his coach, Jason Stout

Nearly every day, Gordon receives messages, often from people he doesn’t know, via text and social media who are fighting their own battles in life. One text reads:

As Gordon sits at the gym at Church Street, I ask him if after the loss, he even thought about turning back to drugs. After surviving so much in his life: sexual abuse, drug addiction, his family’s own tragedy, would he be able to survive a loss and a setback in what has been a steady recovery. “That part of my life is done,” he says. “Of course I want to be champion, of course I want to make the money that comes with that, but for me it’s about helping other people now. I’m fighting for the people who are where I was.”

In the loss, Gordon found the reason he was really fighting. As his private battles have become more public, and he’s become more comfortable sharing his story, what has really driven him, beyond the glory of the octagon, is wanting to help other people who are struggling with their own demons. For those people, Gordon’s story isn’t a tale of sadness. It’s an example of hope and resiliency—that if one man could stand the relentless punishment life has given him and fight back, perhaps there is hope that they can beat the odds as well.

“Winning the championship would be most satisfying because it would give me a platform to help people,” Gordon says. “When you are a champion, everyone listens to what you have to say. Every single day, I get messages from people I don’t know, people who have gone through some of the things I have. They’re rooting for me, but I’m rooting for them as well. Everyone always tells me, ‘Your life is a movie! You should write a book!’ I don’t see it that way. To me, this is normal life. I don’t see the things that have happened to me as extraordinary. Do you know how many people have stories like mine? How many people were abused? Overdosed? Lost everything they had? The difference is that I’m a UFC fighter and someone else may be a supermarket cashier, or another job that isn’t as popular. They’re fighting to survive too. I know that if I become champion, I can help those people. I have more of a chip on my shoulder than ever before. I still don’t have a doubt that I will become a UFC champion. I’ve come too far not to be.”