By: Shaun Al-Shatti
Jared Gordon's second life began much in the way his first life ended. Dazed. Desperate. Jonesing for respite. The right side of his body was numb, too, though that feeling was new, and fleeting enough. By the night's turn Gordon's arm regained life enough to peel the IVs from its veins. His mouth rallied from the droop of the nearly-dead enough to mutter out a few expletives. His legs drew strength enough to stagger from the sickbay and back to the familiar embrace of the needle.
It was an inauspicious enough start, this dark-eyed junkie shooting up the same night of his second overdose, the same night he died for two minutes and nearly cut this whole story short. Certainly a start fitting for a Gordon though. And perhaps in the grand scheme that's why he found fighting. Or really, why fighting stuck around when nothing else would. The cage is chaos incarnate, and Gordon was nothing if not a creature of chaos.
The 26-year-old son of a Catholic Sicilian and English Jew, whose Long Island roots show in the labored vowels of his Northeastern drawl, Gordon survives today as a 5-foot-9 reminder of how little weight the past carries. His dark fade tied to a close-cropped beard, with fast hands and ruthless finishing instincts, the undefeated New Yorker has become one of the most intriguing featherweight prospects throughout the Five Boroughs. That reputation will be on the line once again Saturday at CFFC 45.
But on this lazy weekday afternoon, Gordon is telling me about the T-shirt he found the night before.
"It says: ‘Discipline and perseverance prove people wrong.' And that's basically what these last couple years have been for me," he says. "One thing after another gets thrown at me. You're going to get hurt and you're going to get screwed. You're going to overdose and you're going to end up in jail. One thing after another, and even after I got sober, things are still happening.
"But that's just life on life's terms, you know? Things are going to happen, man, even if you're sober, even if you're doing the right thing. Your mom is going to die. Your girlfriend is going to cheat on you. You're going to get a flat tire. Even the smallest things could throw you off, man, and I just persevere."
Jared Gordon's first life began, for all intents and purposes, on Father's Day 2001, when a phone call broke the calm of a summer Sunday. It took thirty minutes to race across town to the two-story brick building his father inherited from his grandfather, the hardware store that doubled as the Gordons' livelihood. Long Island General Supply.
When the Gordons got there, the store was ablaze.
An inferno that ignited when two local graffiti artists kicked a gasoline canister underneath the building's rear door, the scene came to be known as the Father's Day Fire -- one of the most disastrous fires in New York state history. That errant gasoline canister rolled into an old-timey boiler, the flames eventually mingling with the myriad propane tanks and aerosol sprays stored in the basement, creating a backdraft once firefighters barged through the stairwell entrance. The ensuing massive blast leveled the walls of the store and sent shockwaves rippling through the street, injuring dozens and leaving three widows and eight children to grieve for their fallen heroes.
Gordon, then 13 years old, was uprooted to Queens as his father desperately tried to salvage the remnants of his family's life.
By then drugs were already a dangling strand just waiting for Gordon to give a tug. He first smoked weed at age nine, back when he and his older brother lifted a bag from their parent's hidden stash. He instantly took to the sensory calm of feeling outside of himself, the easy laughs and carefree thoughts that came with the chemistry.
After the fire, Gordon's move to Queens and transition to high school simply jumpstarted an inevitability. By the end of his first year, the brash youngster had kicked a short-lived Xanax addiction and was hawking cocaine on the side.
High school proved to be a blur. Bloated from partying and obsessed with the UFC, Gordon took up training after graduation at Rhino Fight Team, the original gym of his favorite fighter Frankie Edgar. He won his debut amateur fight later that autumn, scoring a three-round decision but badly injured his neck in the process, which opened the door for a new devil to waltz in and take hold of his addictive nature.
"At the time, painkillers were huge. They started coming out and everyone was doing painkillers," Gordon says. "My friend was like, ‘Yo, your neck hurts? I got some Vicodin.' So I took one. Turned into two. Turned into five. Turned into 20. Next thing you know I'm eating 40 Vicodins a day. 19 years old. Then Oxycontin comes around, and that's when it started getting bad. That's when I started ingesting them different ways, sniffing them instead of eating them. I was selling them. I would weigh-in, I would eat like 20 Percocet, I would jump in the ring, and I would fight and win."
His pace was unsustainable, and in Oct. 2010, at the age of 22, Gordon's haphazard house of cards collapsed with one gusty blow. After overindulging on the very same pills they peddled, Gordon's best friend and dealing partner mistakenly ended his own life in a fog of excess. Gordon held himself responsible for the overdose.
He wasn't the invisible force who shoved a cache of poppers down his friend's throat; that, Gordon knew. But he still played a pivotal part in the pills reaching their ultimate resting place. Blood was on his hands, and the guilt sent the fighter into a dopesick tailspin.
Everything reached a head when a 30-day stab at sobriety collapsed into relapse the same night of Gordon's first professional win.
"That night, in the casino, I started doing Oxycontin again," he says. "I was dopesick still, I couldn't sleep at all. I was sleeping like 30 minutes a night for literally a month. That's how sick I was. I won, and I didn't even care (about the drugs) because I figured I'll get off of it just like I did last time. But I wasn't ready yet. I wasn't ready to quit. I still wanted to get high. And I relapsed. That night turned into the next couple months of me going super, super, super hard. And I had lots of cash from [everything] I did, so there was no stopping me."
Jared Gordon's first life ended, fittingly, in a maximum security holding cell. Or at least it marked the beginning of the end.
After falling victim to another relapse and unsuccessful rehab stint in chilly New York, Gordon bolted down to the sandy shores and balmy vices of Boca Raton, Fla. The plan was to hook up with Rashad Evans' Blackzilian crew at Jaco Hybrid Training Center. But as fate would have it, several of Gordon's most recent rehab stablemates lived a hop, skip and bike-ride away.
They introduced the would-be fighter to heroin. Gordon started shoving needles in his arm. The blue mats of Jaco faded into memory.
Later that winter, police arrived under the moon's glare at a nearby Boca Raton residence and arrested Gordon and a friend for robbery home invasion and felony battery. The owner of the home, a drug dealer, accused Gordon and his accomplice of breaking into the property then assaulting and robbing him. Gordon disputes the charges to this day, though he acknowledges that he was there simply because "I needed money to feed my drug habit."
Prosecutors set Gordon's bail at $150,000 and took aim at 25 years to life.
"I had no way of contacting anyone. So I was just sitting there dopesick, sick as a dog. I'm the only white kid. I'm in a maximum security holding unit, with the armed robbers and the murderers," Gordon says. "But you want to know the truth, man? I didn't even care about getting out. I just wanted to get high. That's how sick I was. I was asking people, 'when I do go away to state prison' -- because I thought I was getting convicted -- 'when I do go away, are there going to be drugs there?' That's what I was thinking. People were like, ‘yeah, of course, man.' So I was like, alright, cool, as long as I can get high. This is the situation I put myself in, I might as well make the best of it, you know?"
Gordon rotted in that holding cell for three weeks, fending off brush-ups from Haitian gang members and barely surviving the queasy withdrawal-fueled nights. Finally he secured a bail bond and departed in the 2002 Ford Explorer he'd purchased with straight cash.
It was the moment he'd been fantasizing about.
Out on bond, his license suspended, driving a vehicle with no insurance or registration. Gordon only knew one place to go.
"I'm speeding to my dealer's so I can feel better, you know?" he says.
"I met up with my friend, I remember we met at the dealer's and he was like, ‘Listen, don't do this all at once, because four of my customers already overdosed.' And I was like, yeah, okay bro. I remember putting it in the needle and shooting it, and halfway through my shot, I knew something was wrong... and I said fuck it, I don't care. I just shoved the rest in my arm and I went to sleep."
Gordon woke up the next day at a nearby hospital, the right side of his body partially paralyzed. He'd been dead for two minutes.
It took another year and five more failed rehab flings for Gordon's eyes to open to what he had become.
By then the threat of 25-to-life had long fallen away, the charges dropped when the alleged victim failed to show up to court, likely because a warrant was out for his arrest as well. Gordon fled back up north, but he carried not a cent to his name and resorted to panhandling on the New York streets by day, sleeping in a homeless shelter by night, all the while shooting up wherever he could.
"I was disgusted with myself. I couldn't believe it," he says. "I had no wiggle room left. There was no wiggle room left. It was either death or prison, and I didn't really want that. I come from an amazing family and my parents are amazing people. I have an older brother and a younger brother who are both amazing people.
"I took years off their lives. My mom would say, ‘Jared, every phone call late at night, what do I think? That it's you. Dead.' They were just waiting for that phone call. But they're amazing people who backed me 100 percent. They were always there for me. Through everything I did, they never turned their back on me."
At the urging of a family friend, Gordon finally enrolled himself into a intensive rehab facility known for its unconventional methods. Gordon lived there for six months, experiencing the first true sobriety he'd known since he was nine years old. That following February, nearly two years to the day of his grief-stricken casino relapse, Gordon earned his biggest professional finish, avenging his only amateur loss with a murderous second-round TKO over Robert Fabrizi live on AXS TV.
Gordon laughs now when doctors marvel at body's insistence on staying alive. He's still undefeated, both by life and in the cage, and he's 1,012 days sober. Though his resolve was tested stronger than he could have ever imagined in mid-2013, when an unexpected opportunity to compete in a four-week, 16-man The Ultimate Fighter style tournament wriggled across his ledger.
Duelo de Gigantes, Duel of the Giants; a reality show shot high in the Mexican mountains that aired weekly on Mexican national television. Four fights in four weeks, headed by boxing producer Mapi Montero, all for a life-changing grand prize of $100,000. Gordon was dubious, but WSOF welterweight Brian Foster emerged the victor of the first season and he confirmed the veracity of the competition.
So Gordon flew to Mexico, a barely-sober longshot injury-replacement with a paltry 2-0 record and no realistic chance to win a competition packed to the gills with veteran talent.
Manicured plants twisted in the shapes of elephants and towering giraffes, stretching across the production grounds. Every week Gordon labored to cut from 173 to 155 pounds, running laps around the track while dreaming about a nonexistent sauna.
"I was drained by the end of the month," Gordon says. "I broke a bone in my foot. I tore my right quad, like on the top part of my quad. I tore my labrum in my shoulder.
"They gave me this huge check at the end. $100,000. They gave me this big, humongous belt. It was so heavy. I was so happy, dude. They met us there, in middle of nowhere Mexico, and I fought this fight. And I had won."
Nearly two years later, Gordon still hasn't received his prize money.
He went through the usual emotions at first. Outrage. Righteous fury. Phone calls to Montero were never returned. The show's website shut down and its Twitter account grew barren. Gordon's family eventually hired lawyer Greg Bloom in hopes of, at the very least, getting all four fights recognized on Gordon's professional record. Mexico's athletic commission signed off on that caveat, but little could be officially done without first tracking down Montero, and that hunt has proven to be fruitless.
Through all the tears though, Gordon takes pride in knowing that he never once slipped back into his drug-addled fog.
"I felt like it was almost like I was still getting punished for all the bad things I did in the past," Gordon says. "God was like, ‘You put in all this hard work? I'm still going to make you work harder to get to a better point.' But I look at it this way: man, if I got that 100-grand, who knows what I would've done? I could've gotten complacent and stopped training. Who knows what would've happened. It got me hungrier. I'm so hungry right now, dude. My goal is UFC. That's it. And it always was UFC, but who knows what would've happened if I got paid that cash. I just think that everything happens for a reason at this point."
The guilt of Gordon's past still creeps up on him occasionally, especially when time slows and the weight of it all drifts back.
"I know that I have sold drugs to people that have died from my drugs that I sold them. And that's [hard], man. I'm probably going to hell unless God has another plan for me," Gordon says. "I actually got baptized in August. I'm not a Bible thumper, but I definitely pray every night and I give it to Him, man, because at this point, I don't have any other explanation for why I'm still alive or doing what I'm doing.
"My story is a very typical story. A lot of people overcome the disease of addiction, but a lot of people don't. A lot of my friends are dead. So I don't think I'm really all that unique. Anything can happen at any time. I try not to take things for granted. Nothing good has come without hard work and sacrifice."
The hard work continues on Saturday when Gordon meets Jay Coleman at CFFC 45, set to broadcast live online at GFL.tv. Another win, and a trip to the UFC could very well be knocking soon.
After 17 years of haze, Gordon has never been sure of anything more.