LAS VEGAS - Geographically, the journey from Philadelphia to Las Vegas is about 2,177 miles.
Metaphorically, Eddie Gordon's trip from being a fan in the stands at UFC 101 in the summer of 2009 to fighting for a UFC contract in "The Ultimate Fighter" finale Sunday is measured in light-years.
"I think I can compete with these guys," Gordon, a former defensive lineman at Fordham, thought that night in Philly.
So, he tried. Again and again.
"Out of everybody, he had the weakest start," trainer Ray Longo said. "What I love about him, the determination, never quits. He could barely get his leg off the floor in the classes."
Five years later, he spars with UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman and UFC light heavyweight Gian Villante on a regular basis.
But that first day in the cage at Longo's gym would be less than memorable. It did, however, set a tone of things to come for the man called "Truck."
"I got my butt kicked," said Gordon, of Freeport. "I'm not even going to try to tell you there was even a glimmer of . . . I got my butt kicked."
Demoralizing, right? Not for Gordon. He came back the next day, smiling and happy. He finally found something to fill that competitive spirit lost when football ended for him.
"For a while, that's who you are," Gordon said. "People knowing you as Eddie the football player, Eddie the wrestler. Now it's Eddie . . . the office manager?"
Gordon put in the time. He did the work. Never complained. "TUF" coach Frankie Edgar noticed as much in his six weeks working with Gordon.
Gordon works fulltime as a sales consultant for a home remodeling company. He's recently divorced and raises two sons.
"He doesn't have it as easy as some of the other guys that aren't working and they can train 24/7," Longo said. "He's gotta have a positive mindset just to do that. I really am impressed to where he's gotten, I really am. I think he's had to work double as hard as everybody else. And he does it with dignity and honor."
Gordon, 30, is hours away from the biggest moment of his athletic life. He will fight middleweight Dhiego Lima (9-1) in the "TUF" Season 19 finale. They were roommates on the show. The winner gets a guaranteed contract with the UFC. The loser is promised nothing.
All Gordon asked for was an opportunity. A chance to spar, to learn, to make something of this MMA thing and support his family and his competitive nature.
In the beginning, those chances looked slim.
"Eddie Gordon's first sparring session, I don't remember, but what I do remember about Eddie Gordon is that he was about 300 pounds," Longo said. "Eddie, right now, is the biggest transformation I've seen. Based on the way he came in to the way he is now, I think that's the hugest transformation I've seen. Physically, technically."
Gordon (6-1) began as a heavyweight fighter. He won the Ring of Combat light heavyweight title before appearing on "The Ultimate Fighter" as a 185-pound middleweight.
Gordon's dedication has not gone unnoticed in the gym, even if sometimes with the way he goes about his work, other fighters may not even know he's in the actual Power MMA building in Garden City.
"To come in here and work as hard as he does every day, with everything he goes through, he's an inspirational story to see where he's at now," Weidman said.
Gordon credits Weidman for getting him into MMA. Six years ago, Gordon ran into Weidman at a fitness center during a workout. They knew each other from their days as top-level Long Island high school wrestlers. Weidman told Gordon he started training in MMA and that Gordon should try it, too. He did. It started slow.
"Ninety-nine percent of the people don't come back," Weidman said. "Eddie was different. When you're getting manhandled by people, it's hard to get back up and come back into the gym the next day when you're not as experienced yet. He's been through all that. Now, he got to the point where he's doing the manhandling."