In the toughest fight of his life, Jared Gordon's faith helped him battle addiction

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports

Jared Gordon suffered a loss on April 30. A person he once associated with died at a young age. It wouldn’t be right to call this person a friend, because as Gordon will freely admit, this person’s actions nearly cost him his own life.

And indeed, when a reporter noted the person’s death to Gordon, his initial response would indicate that, yeah, this person was not a friend.

“Good for him, that piece of s---,” Gordon said.

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But no sooner are the words out of his mouth than he starts to go in the opposite direction. And he tells a story of how, only recently, this man’s actions saved his life.

It’s a complex tale, but Gordon has led a complex life. The message from the UFC featherweight, though, is a simple one: Faith.

“At this point in my sobriety and where I’m at in life, I’m just kind of giving it to God and trusting Him, having faith in Him,” Gordon told Yahoo Sports. “I’m not thinking about the past. I’m not concerned about the future. I’m just trying to stay in the moment and do what I can every day to move forward and get to the next one, you know?”

The UFC featherweight, who was supposed to fight on May 16 in Jacksonville, Florida, only to see his bout get canceled, owes his life in a way to a guy who nearly killed him.

The person who died at a young age a week and a half ago in New York was a drug dealer. More specifically, he was once Gordon’s drug dealer. After Gordon was raped by a camp counselor when he was only 9 years old, he turned to drugs and alcohol.

First, it was marijuana, which is no big thing except that it’s not usual for a 9-year-old to be using it. Eventually, he found himself addicted to Xanax and cocaine, and drinking heavily.

When that stopped having an impact upon him, he turned to heroin.

And this drug dealer was there for him when he needed a fix.

When Gordon finally got sober — he recently passed 52 months of sobriety — he developed a dislike for the man. Gordon, though, couldn’t harbor the hate for too long. He’s an introspective person and as he thought about their lives and how they were intertwined, it dawned on him that he saw a lot of himself in the man he so despised.

“What this guy was doing, selling heroin and cocaine to people, is pretty s----y,” Gordon said. “Basically, selling them poison that you know is going to ruin their lives in one way or another. I used to hate him. I really did. But you know what? Let’s be honest: I did that also. I sold drugs that hurt people. But I hated him so much, because toward the end of my addiction, when I was barely scraping by and whatever money I did have I was giving it to him, I’d meet up with him and he’d be in this BMW with a big, gold chain on. I realized at that point, ‘I’m paying for all this guy’s s---.’ ”

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 29: Jared Gordon gets his hands wrapped backstage during the UFC Fight Night event at the Target Center on June 29, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 29: Jared Gordon gets his hands wrapped backstage during the UFC Fight Night event at the Target Center on June 29, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

That was a small step on the road to recovery for Gordon, who has turned his life around and, despite an up-and-down record in the UFC, still dreams of winning a title and using his platform to inspire others.

And so that’s why his emotions were so up-and-down when he heard of the dealer’s death. He was angry because he nearly ruined his life, nearly killed him, by providing him with drugs.

But as he thought about his hate, he remembered a moment from not too long ago. He was in the UFC. He had many fans who looked up to him because of his outspokenness about his addiction and his willingness to share his story to help others.

Sobriety, though, is a battle, and if there is anything in this life that Gordon has excelled at, it’s fighting hard and refusing to give up.

A public person like Gordon who speaks of his personal travails gets a lot of attention. What people don’t see, though, is how difficult it is to stay clean and not give in to the pressures that everyone faces in life.

“My first reaction was ‘[Expletive] him, he deserved to die,’ but when I stepped back a little, I realized he was just as sick as me,” Gordon said. “He was a drug dealer who was supporting his habit at the same time, and I did the same thing. Who am I to call the kettle black? It’s sad, because he’s dead now and I see all these kids from my old neighborhood posting pictures of him.

“He actually was a decent human. I know this because about four or five months ago, I was really close to … I was going through some tough times. I was very close to relapsing, actually. I actually called him to try to buy some drugs. He said, ‘Nah man, I’m not going to give you anything because you’re doing so well. I’m not going to be that person. Sorry.’ And he hung up the phone on me.”

Personal problems were plaguing Gordon, and at a weak moment, he turned to help from a familiar place. But the dealer saying no and refusing to sell him anything may have saved his life.

Gordon called his sponsor to tell him what had happened.

“I was able to stay clean and I told my sponsor everything,” he said. “I was able to come out of this whole three-week thing, this hole, that I was dealing with. And so after that, I actually feel stronger than I ever have.”

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 29: Jared Gordon celebrates after defeating Dan Moret in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at the Target Center on June 29, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 29: Jared Gordon celebrates after defeating Dan Moret in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at the Target Center on June 29, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

He’s 31 now and has been drug- and alcohol-free since he was 27. He began using after he was raped, and for years, he could never bring himself to tell anyone what had happened to him.

But when he was 23, he was finally forced to confront the awful truth from his past. He was a full-blown addict and his girlfriend was fed up and was about to leave him. He told her his life story and of being raped. But he didn’t tell her because he wanted help. At least not then.

“I told her because I used it as a way to get her to feel badly for me and to get her to stay with me,” he said. “Basically, I used it as a tool to get pity.”

It worked. But she went to his parents. He went away for treatment for his issue for six months and told his parents the story. While he was in therapy, his mother cut an article out of the paper and sent it to him.

“She called me and said she wanted me to read this article she was going to mail me because the guy who raped me had gotten caught in a child pornography ring,” Gordon said. 

His mother called the FBI, and authorities reached out to Gordon and asked him to testify against the man, who was also a swim coach at an all-boys Catholic school.

Gordon couldn’t bring himself to go to court and relive the nightmare of his youth, the day that changed his life forever. But he did write a letter detailing his ordeal that was used in evidence at the man’s trial. He was convicted and sentenced to eight years.

It allowed Gordon to seek a solution to his problems. He’d become sober, but would soon relapse. The painkillers he took as a result of surgeries he needed from injuries he suffered in his athletic career would end his sobriety.

“I’ve had two surgeries in the last four-and-a-half years, and I’ve been fine, and I came to the conclusion that only a higher power could relieve me of my addiction,” he said. “Whatever I was doing wasn’t working, clearly. Once I gave my life over to God, I was able to clear my conscience and put all the burden on him.”

He’s a different man now, and able to use all of his abilities. He’s dropped to featherweight from lightweight after a loss to Charles Oliveira in his last fight, and feels his future is unlimited.

He’s not putting pressure on himself to achieve anything, he said.

“I don’t believe I’ve shown anywhere close to my full potential since I’ve been in the UFC,” he said. “There is a lot more there, believe me. Since I’ve turned my life to God, I’m living the life I need to live to [succeed] as a fighter. And I’m really confident that you’ll see a lot of great things from me in the not-too-distant future.” 

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