As fighters continue to find success under the bright lights of the UFC and their profiles rise in the realm of public perception, it's easy to lose things in the shuffle. For recently turned, yet ever-scrappy, welterweight Court McGee, the potential to be led astray by the chaos is tempered by his ability take things one step at a time.
If that sounds simplistic, that's because it is. And that is the only way it can be for McGee as he moves forward through his career in mixed martial arts.
"The most important thing for me is to not look too far ahead," McGee told Bleacher Report. "Sometimes you get caught up in what could happen or what may happen. But if it hasn't happened yet, then I'm wasting energy just thinking about it. What I can do is show every day and do my best and that ensures the next day I'll be ready to go. People ask me all the time what I want to do next or who I want to fight, but the most important thing for me is right now. I keep things simple and look at it one day at a time because you never know what is going to happen.
"I was cornering somebody on a card once and during the weight cut, a guy slipped and hit his head while cutting weight in the sauna. You never know, man. If I'm sitting here thinking about fighting a top-10 guy then I'm not focused on what I have directly in front of me. I can't be thinking about what is potentially down the road when I haven't even fought this fight yet. I haven't even made weight yet and I have so much on my plate that needs my attention that I can't waste energy on thinking about what could happen down the line."
"I have a lot to focus on right now and I have a lot of great things in my life," he added. "I have a beautiful wife and I have two great boys. I have a career in the UFC and the most important thing for me is to stay focused on today because that gives me the ability to show up when it's time to show up."
The Utah native and Pit-elevated fighter jumped out to a solid start after winning the 11th season of The Ultimate Fighter. After defeating Kris McCray to earn the six-figure contract, the 28-year-old picked up two more wins and began to establish himself in the middleweight division in the process. But setbacks in his next two outings would force McGee to take a look at how he was approaching things. It would lead him to pull the trigger on making a move he had been thinking about since early 2012—making way for the welterweight division.
The decision proved to be a wise one as McGee picked up victories in his first two outings at 170 pounds. He defeated veteran Josh Neer in his divisional debut at UFC 157 back in February, then followed up that performance by edging out fellow TUF alum Robert Whitaker at Fight Night 27 in Indianapolis. While earning those victories proved McGee could be successful in his new weight class, the intensity of his performances also served to show his gritty, grinding style could be just as effective in a new division.
"Every fight is a learning experience whether you win or lose," McGee said. "I had thought about dropping to 170 back before I fought in Australia in March of last year. I had been thinking about it before but some things do cross your mind because you're carrying a little bit of extra weight, are going to have a little bit harder of a weight cut and you wonder how that is going to affect your gas tank. I just had to make sure I stayed really focused throughout my camps and in-between training on my diet.
"I'm getting more used to it but it's definitely difficult. The portion sizes are a lot smaller but I have a good variety of food to choose from. I also have some great help from Perfecting Athletes. They've helped me out quite a bit and given me tips and hints on how to eat. It's really made a huge difference and has made a difficult process a lot easier."
With back-to-back victories under his belt, his focus now turns to his upcoming bout against Ryan LaFlare this weekend at UFC on Fox 9 in Sacramento. Where he was originally slated to face Kelvin Gastelum on Saturday night, the TUF 17 winner suffered an injury and was forced out of the fight. Recent promotional newcomer Laflare stepped up to take the bout on short notice, and McGee had a new fight on his hands.
While the last-minute change of opponent could have been a hectic situation, McGee's outlook and perspective are custom-made for the unpredictable nature of MMA.
"I don't know, man. I don't watch a lot of video and I don't research the guy I'm fighting because I never train for one specific guy. And it's partly for the purpose we are talking about. You never know what is going to happen. That's why I look at things the way I do. If I train for one specific guy and style, then I go out there and lose because I was only focusing on one thing; how is that going to make me a better mixed martial artist?
"I gear my training so that I get better at every aspect of the game. I try to constantly improve all the time so if there is a wrench thrown in, it doesn't screw up my entire game. I try to keep it as simple as possible where I try to constantly improve and always be learning. It's worked out pretty good for me so far. Then when these things do happen, and this guy is a little taller or he's better than the other guy at this or that, I don't have these big huge changes to make. When you prepare for anybody and everybody, things of this nature aren't a huge shocker other than being unfortunate for the person that got injured."
If McGee can continue his streak of success and defeat LaFlare on Saturday night, he will take a definitive step towards establishing his footing in the welterweight division. A win at UFC on Fox 9 won't catapult him into the top 10 of the weight class, but it will certainly provide the type of momentum he will need to travel further into what is arguably the UFC's most stacked division.
While there are certainly other talented collectives under the UFC banner, no weight class boasts the amount of potential title contenders that the welterweight division currently enjoys. McGee knows he's a few steps away from getting to the deep end of the pool, but he's willing to run through whoever the promotions put in front of him to get there.
"Here I come," McGee said in regard to the talent-stacked welterweight division. "If you are going to be fighting in this sport you have to be ready to do whatever it takes. You only get one shot at this thing, and whether it is in this weight division or another, it doesn't matter. They might as well line up the tough ones for me.
"There are no slouches or easy fights in the UFC. You always have to be on top of your game and be improving just to compete. But I didn't come here just to compete; I came here to fight and win. I came here to do the best that I can and I'm grateful to have the opportunity."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.