Jared Gordon, aka “Flash,” is scheduled to face Leonardo Santos this Saturday at UFC 278, but whether he is victorious on the night, or not, he’s finally winning at life.
The UFC lightweight’s world went into a tailspin at 19 years of age when, battling mental and physical pain, the MMA star became addicted to heroin. Regular drug misuse, and overdose, would plague the fighter until he fully committed to turning his life around in 2015. It’s a cautionary tale that Gordon takes ownership of, and he hopes to use those troubled experiences to lift himself and others who may be facing similar demons.
The 33-year-old talks exclusively to M&F about his darkest moments and the important factors that have helped to turn his life around.
As we sit down for this Q&A, Jared Gordon has been in the news again. This time the headlines were generated by an Instagram post that “Flash” made on August 8, appearing to show an altercation where the former Lightweight and Featherweight Champion had to subdue a man attempting to attack him with a baseball bat. This seems like as good a place as any to begin our chat.
A lot of people on social media seemed surprised that you showed great self-control when restraining your attacker. What went down there?
No one got hurt. [If] you start hitting people, you’ll probably get involved with the police. I was on vacation in Chicago. I was with my parents who are in their 60s, and I was with my cousin and her husband, and I wasn’t about to start beating someone’s face in, in front of them. (laughs)
He was at a pull-through ATM machine, and on his bumper sticker it said “I love crack wh**res,” so I saw the bumper sticker and I thought it was funny, so I took a picture of it and he got out of his car … and went into his trunk and I’m thinking: what if this guy pulls out a gun or like a machete or something, but he pulled out a bat and that was that.
He picked the wrong guy to front up to, that’s for sure! Of course, you were already a highly experienced competitor before joining the Kill Cliff Fight Club (formerly Sanford MMA) in 2019, but what has that move been like for you?
I’ve known Henry Hooft, the head coach, for quite some time, since I was in my early 20s, so I circled back to him in 2019 and its just more like my style at [this] gym. The wrestling, the way that they hold their practices, the push that we get every day, everyone is good there. The level of training partners is really high. I’m learning a lot, I’m still learning every day and it’s just a really good fit for me, so that’s why I ended up back down here.
How is life in your 30s different from life in your 20s?
I actually feel better now than I ever did. Also, when I was in my 20s I was a raging drug addict, so that didn’t help. But I feel stronger, and more spiritually fit than I ever did. I think I’m the best version of Jared Gordon than I’ve ever been.
Now that you have turned your life around, do you feel like your toughest opponent was actually yourself?
My worst enemy was always me. I always self-sabotaged. Any time that I took the steering wheel or did what I wanted to do “Jared’s way,” I crashed and burned. I’m married now … when my relationship is healthy with her, everything else is much better, so it takes a lot of work and if I’m not mentally fit, and I don’t love myself, how could I love anyone else and give them the attention that they need?
Your wife Christina has obviously been a great support to you. We also thank you for the work that you do, to try and reach out to others who may be going through their own mental health struggles.
One of my best friends took his own life a little over a year ago and I had no idea that he was hurting so much. He would talk to me like everything was ok, and that’s my goal now, to use my platform to help other people. I was an I.V. heroin, cocaine addict. I couldn’t keep a needle out of my arm for years. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about everyone else that is sick and suffering, that needs help. You know, I’m a sexual assault victim, I’ve tried killing myself and I was a terrible drug addict so if I can help people, that’s my goal now. Sometimes I feel like a broken record but I know that this is what my mission is. That’s what God wants me to do, is to help others. I need to win, to have that platform.
You are definitely not a broken record. You only have to reach one person who needs to hear your story and it could make all the difference in the world. Support systems are so important and another person that has been a positive influence in your own life is Jason Strout . How would you describe the bond that you guys have?
I met Jason Strout when I was like 23, back in New York City and he saw me go through it all. I would show up to the gym with track marks on my arms. He never stopped trying to help me. So, he’s like my older brother now. He’s cornered me in close to 20 professional fights. He’s made me the fighter that I am now, and I owe him so much. He gave me what I needed to hear and it would give me a lot of motivation and drive to better myself. Jason is a huge part of my network. And I have so many other people. I have a sports psychologist, I go to a therapist; a trauma specialist. I have my family, my wife … my parents have been the backbone of my life. I would one hundred percent be dead right now or in prison [without that support].
Well, thank goodness you had that support. And there will be people watching your fights that are in similar situations, wondering if they can make positive changes. What would you say to those people?
I would say that if I can do it, you can definitely do it, too. I wasn’t just like smoking pot and drinking a couple of beers here and there. I was panhandling, I was homeless. I was a real drug addict to the core, you know? I was in and out. I just didn’t [quit drugs] in one shot. I was in and out of treatment centers, psyche wards, homeless shelters, therapeutic communities… jails. It wasn’t east for me. It took me years. So, I would say you need to find a purpose, find your higher power whatever it is, it could be anything… if you have children, or a sick parent that needs your help, you could use that as your bigger reasoning. You gotta get professional help and it can be done. I’ve seen people come back basically from the dead and live a beautiful life.
When did you realize that you had to make changes for yourself?
I had my last overdose on Christmas Eve, 2015. I had been living on the street. For 4 or 5 months I was really hitting it hard, and you know, when I woke up in the hospital on the 26th of December I’d just had enough. I was just sick of doing what I was doing and I checked myself into a detox, and I just started listening to people that had been though what I had been though, and they told me what I needed to do and I said ‘alright, I’ll do it.’ I gave it a shot and then slowly things started coming back to me. I started getting healthier again. I got back in the gym, I continued doing the things that they told me to do and then I got into UFC a year later and I recently bought my first house. I have the trust of my friends and family again, which is priceless. I want to help other people, which is also priceless. I literally had nothing and now I have everything that I need. Staying in the moment is the only thing that matters. Right now, what can I do to make my chances at surviving, and being a better person, higher? That’s where I’m at now. I have to work at my life every day.
Do you use any of the Kill Cliff products?
The CBD drinks, we drink them. We have them in the gym, stocked up all the time. The Joe Rogan flavor (the Flaming Joe), the pineapple is one of my favorites. They are really, super clean with lots of vitamins and nutrients that we need, to recover to stay fueled through the day. Kill Cliff has got a good thing going, for sure.
You’ve had some issues with making weight at 145 pounds. Now that you have moved up to 155 pounds does this remove some of the pre-fight stress? Do you have to train differently for heavier opponents?
It’s not necessarily that they are stronger, but [maybe a] longer [reach], or taller. So, I definitely had to make some adjustments. But there’s a lot of guys in that division that are my height. What I’ve learned is, it’s not necessarily about being bigger and stronger, but just being better and more technical.
Making weight now is a lot easier than it was at 145. I feel stronger, healthier, and I’m not so focused on the diet and cutting the water weight. So, I get more out of my training sessions and I can focus more on technique, instead of like ‘Oh, I need to lose weight’ which is very stressful, you know? I’m not 22-years-old any more. I’m 33 now, so it’s harder and harder to cut weight, especially if you are cutting a lot. So, I’m healthier, I’m fitter. Less injuries. Better for me in general.
Do you have any preferred methods of recovery?
I do a lot of ice baths, and I do a lot of saunas. I also use Epson salt baths. But I also do a lot of breathing stuff. Meditation and [controlled] breathing really brings me down to a restorative, regenerative state. I get the most gains when I’m training really hard and then I focus on my recoveries. I do [meditation] in the morning, early afternoon and then night time. I won’t look at social media before noon … I live in Florida so I just go in my back yard and I’m in the hot sun. I think it’s really important when you first wake up to get that vitamin D, drink some water and get going for the day.
Yours is such an inspiring journey and we wish you continued success! Speaking of right now, you are still training hard and doing these fight camps and sweating it out. After all these years and the ups and downs, do you still enjoy the process?
Oh, I love it. So, martial arts is my passion. I love competition, I love challenging myself. Even though fighting will never give me fulfilment, just like the shiny stuff, it’s my passion; learning and then also being of service to other people in the gym like younger guys, my teammates; if they need my I’m there for them. It’s a brotherhood and that’s why I love it. I don’t get sick of it. Sometimes, I get like ‘oh my gosh, I’ve got to train again’ but I’m so used to it. I love the grind.
Jared Gordon (18-5-0) faces Leonardo Santos (18-6-1) at UFC 278 on Saturday. Available to stream on ESPN+.
Follow Jared Gordon on Instagram @jaredflashgordon.