UFC 278: Jared Gordon proving it doesn't take a shiny belt to make one a champion

By all rights, Jared Gordon shouldn’t be in Salt Lake City this week, putting his body through torture to sweat it down to no more than 156 pounds by Friday morning so that on Saturday, he can fight Leonardo Santos at Vivint Arena as part of the UFC 278 card.

The fact that he’s alive at this point after the life he has led is, in and of itself, a miracle. Gordon was only 9 when he was raped by a camp counselor. That led him to a life of hard drugs and alcohol.

Gordon managed to turn his life around, and despite struggles, has managed to remain sober. But those who believe it’s just something in the past and easy to move on from don’t understand sobriety.

Gordon fights for a living, though the thought of stepping into a cage to fight another man with the world watching creates as many problems for him as it solves.

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He is, though, that rare kind of person who is trying to pay it forward. For those who helped him from the depths of addiction, who took him from the streets, who removed him from death’s door, he hasn’t forgotten. And so he uses the bully pulpit he gets as a UFC fighter to try to help others.

At Wednesday’s media day, he discussed the difficulties that fighting cause for him.

“MMA hasn’t helped me at all,” Gordon said. “Actually, it’s made my life worse.”

He clarified those comments in a video he later posted to his Twitter account when reaction to his comments started to increase.

“I love fighting, I love martial arts and I love competing,” Gordon said in the video. “I love the UFC. I love fighting for the UFC. It’s bettered my life, yes, but it doesn’t give me lasting fulfillment. I fight [and] three days later, I’m depressed. ‘What’s next?’ … It gives me anxiety and stress.”

There’s an easy solution, of course: Quit fighting. Gordon, though, can’t bring himself to walk away from MMA. And it’s because of the type of man he is, a guy who is appreciative of those who have been there for him and who is concerned about people he doesn’t know who are struggling in their day-to-day lives now.

It’s for those people, the ones who lack hope, who see only problems and despair, that Gordon continues to fight.

It might better Gordon’s mental health if he thanked UFC president Dana White for the opportunity and said goodbye to the UFC on Saturday regardless of the outcome of his fight. But he wouldn’t be alive today if there weren’t people who cared.

And he’s not so self-absorbed that he’s forgotten that. So he continues to fight to spread a positive message to the downtrodden among us, the ones society most often overlooks.

“The only thing that fills my void is God, my family, my wife, my relationships and helping other people,” Gordon said at media day Wednesday. “That’s the only thing that gives me fulfillment, helping other people. So I need the UFC and this platform to help others.

“You know, if Logan Paul or Jake, whatever his name is, and Floyd [Mayweather] and Conor McGregor — no offense to them, I’m not trying to put them down — but if they were preaching about mental health and addiction, how many people would listen? I don’t have the platform like they do. The goal is to get there.”

Gordon spoke from the heart, and delivered a message well worth hearing for anyone. It’s great to earn a lot of money and have fancy cars and a boat and jewelry and whatever else they want. Material things can’t deliver the fulfillment people need in their lives. He held up his left wrist to show he was wearing a Rolex watch.

An expensive watch does nothing for one’s self worth, he pointed out.

“All my shiny s*** doesn’t do anything for me,” he said. “My car, I’m wearing a Rolex right now. I’m wearing this just for this [appearance at media day]. I like it, but it’s a burden on my life. I’m still paying it off. I’ve owned it for a year. It’s a burden on my life.

“Fighting, I love martial arts. It’s my passion. I love competing, but now it’s not for me. None of this is for me. It’s for the people I’m trying to help.”

He works in the field of addiction and said he sees young kids die every day of drug-related issues. So he fights to gain the ability to sit on a dais and address the media about the issues that drive him and have shaped his life.

He desperately wants to fight on Nov. 12 in Madison Square Garden at UFC 281 because he was born 30 blocks away. He wants that mega-platform to spread his gospel. So he needs to win on Saturday to get the time on the mic in the cage afterward.

Here’s the thing, though: Gordon could never win another fight and he’d still be a champion.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 30: Jared Gordon warms up prior to his fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 30, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Jared Gordon has been using the platform provided by the UFC to help others. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)