This Saturday in Las Vegas, Court McGee's future is on the line as he takes on fellow Ultimate Fighter finalist Kris McCray for a six-figure UFC contract.
While for some, this would be the biggest fight of their life, Court has been fighting his whole life. Battling crippling addictions to drugs and alcohol, a near-death experience, and fighting through a long road back, the story of Court McGee is an inspiring one.
I had a chance to talk with Court and ask him about his time on The Ultimate Fighter , his addictions, getting sober, his fight this Saturday, and the time he died.
Ken Beckett, B/R MMA: A lot has been made of the fact that you were a pretty serious drug user in the past.
But it wasn’t always that way was it? You were a pretty good student in high school.
Court McGee: I was a very good student in high school. As a matter of fact, in my four years of school, I only missed three days, so I was really punctual. My mom and dad always instilled a good work ethic in me since I was a young kid.
Why did you get involved in drugs and alcohol and how did it all start?
My dad’s a beer drinker. And on Saturdays and Sundays he would have a few beers and go about his things. That’s what I wanted to grow up and be like. It just so happens I can’t have a beer or two.
I have to have them all.
We’d go on weekends to our family vacation spot in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. We’d partake in drinking alcohol, and I always had to drink the most. That progressively got worse after I graduated high school. I went to Weber State in 2003, and they didn’t have a wrestling program like all the other schools in Utah. So, I wasn’t able to continue wrestling after high school and that’s what I really wanted to do for the next couple years. So I got depressed, and my drinking got worse.
Your drug use got so bad, one night in 2005 you were declared clinically dead. Tell me what led to that night and the events that took place.
In 2003, I got injured messing around on a moped, and I shattered my collarbone and my left clavicle, and I got on painkillers. I had some surgeries and had some time off and started taking the pain pills and mixing them with alcohol.
Then from that point on I was hooked. I didn’t stop using or drinking for the next two years.
I had little short dry spells where I’d get a new job for a week and clean up. But then I’d be out running and gunning, using, staying out late, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and it got worse and worse. It went from painkillers and alcohol to crushing up the Oxycontin to snort it, and then into cocaine, and then into heroine.
At the time I had lost my family, I had lost my friends. I wasn’t employable; I just was not a good person. I shot up one night, it was a Sunday night. I just needed my last little fix and that was it. My body and my heart gave out, and I was revived by paramedics.
Following being revived by the paramedics after your heart stopped, you were in a coma for six days and had to go into an intense rehab program to re-learn basic motor skills, such as walking.
Did you ever think that you would not be able to make a full recovery?
I didn’t think about that too much. I just focused on therapy each and every day and what I could get out of that day. I can’t control the things that happen, years down the road, or even days down the road.
But I can control what happens today. And if I make better decisions today, then tomorrow will probably be a good day. As long as I don’t drink and use today, then today was a success.
In an episode of The Ultimate Fighter you told a story about having one drink in Vegas, which led to you waking up four days later in Iowa with no pants on.
Was that after you almost died and your time in rehab?
Yeah, six months later, I had some time where I refrained from drinking and using and that’s when that story happened. I wanted to see if I could have a beer and that’s what I tried to do.
And you heard the story. Four days later, I was in Iowa with no pants on looking for meth. And then I came back on April 16, 2006, and about a week-and-a-half later, I sobered up and got off the drugs and alcohol and got into recovery and haven’t had a drop or a drink since.
Who do you credit most for getting your life back on track?
Number one I have God in my life. He allows me to be the person I think he’d have me be.
I’ve got a good support group. I’ve got a good family. I’ve been able to make an abundance of friends over the last four years. True friends, and I credit a lot of that to my success now.
If you could send a message to anybody who is struggling with substance abuse like you did, and doesn’t know how to get out of it, what would you say to them?
Life is very amazing. There’s a lot of simple things that you miss out on when you’re using and drinking that I see now. Simple things like being able to have clean water, shelter, food, love, and friendship.
What I say to anybody is work hard and never give up on your dreams
How did the world of MMA and wrestling help with your recovery?
I donated time to the wrestling team at my old high school, Layton High School. That really got the spark back in me and I started training. I learnt how to box and started transferring my karate that I used to do into kick-boxing, and started doing jiu-jitsu and grappling and competing in tournaments.
I trained for nine months and then took my first MMA fight. Six fights later, I fought a legend in Jeremy Horn and quit my job to take it seriously, and here I am today.
You had been involved in martial arts from a young age and wrestled in high school. Was it a natural progression for you to get into MMA or did you find it difficult at first?
As soon as I started man, I loved it. So I had a love and desire for it right off the bat in all aspects. In boxing, jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, and wrestling, all those things. All of it, I don’t like any one of them more than the other and I enjoy all of them equally.
I train all of them as hard as I do, none more than anything else.
To start your MMA career, you put together an impressive five-fight win streak before losing a unanimous decision to former UFC fighter Jeremy Horn.
What did you learn from that fight so early in your career?
To not respect a fighter too much. To show up and fight and do what I came there to do and that’s win.
You tried out for a previous season of The Ultimate Fighter but didn’t make it on to the show. Why did you try out again and why do you think you were picked by the producers?
I went in open minded and just tried out. Told them who I was, and what I was about. Told them that I think it’d be a big opportunity, and if I was given the opportunity I’d take full advantage of it.
I kept it short and sweet and they liked it. They said "I remember you, I remember you! You’re the guy with the heroin!" And I said "Yeah, that’s me. Still sober, man. Still the same spread" And they said "Yeah, we like you! Get the f**k outta here." And that was it.
What did you expect from your time on the show and inside the TUF house? Did it live up to your expectations?
I didn’t have any expectations going in. I questioned myself before going in if I was going in for the right reasons, and I was.
I was picked to go in because of my story and a little bit because of my record (8-1). It was a great experience. It was definitely challenging at times, but it was worth it.
I tried to stay relaxed, stay calm, keep humble, keep out of trouble and make sure to listen to the coaches on the show. I was able to learn an abundance of stuff. A lot of things, small things. That makes a world of difference and I was able to put it together and relax, take it easy, and not over-think things and show up and fight.
That’s really all it is. If you minus all the people, if you minus the money, and the fortune and fame, I’m a fighter. I was born a fighter. I’ve been a fighter since I was a little kid. Ever since I can remember, I always liked fighting.
Early on in The Ultimate Fighter , you were one of Chuck Liddell’s last picks and then you had a controversial first-round loss in a fight with Nick Ring that most thought deserved a third round.
Did that hurt your confidence at all? And at any point did you think your UFC journey might be over?
No, I didn’t think it was. I thought I deserved a third round. It didn’t happen like it did in the show, but less than five minutes after I got done fighting, Dana White brought us in and said "Court, you’re back in."
I think there was a lot of controversy on that. A lot of people, half the country, thought I deserved a third round, if not won the fight. I didn’t know if I’d won the fight, but I did win that second round and it should’ve went to the third round. Dana White saw it the same way, so they gave me another opportunity and I took full advantage of it.
You then went on to beat James Hammortree and Brad Tavares to face Kris McCray at this Saturday’s Ultimate Finale . Between the end of filming on March 3rd and now, have you been training non-stop for your upcoming fight, or were you able to take some time off?
I cracked my sternum in my first fight to get in the house against Seth (Baczynski), so I had to let that heal when I got off. I had a busted-up foot, and my knees were sore. My elbows were sore, I had a cut on my nose, and had some cauliflower ear. All the little things that happen when you fight four times in six weeks against game opponents.
So I had to relax for a couple of weeks, but I got right back into it and put in about a 10-and-a-half week camp.
How do you think you match up against Kris McCray in arguably what will be the biggest fight of your career this Saturday?
Every fight’s the biggest fight of your career, including your first one. I don’t take this one any lighter or anymore than my first one.
I’ve had great training, I’ve worked to my utmost ability, and I’ve done everything I can do to ensure that I’ll do well on Saturday. The rest I leave up to God.
Your coach on TUF, Chuck Liddell, lost his recent bout at UFC 115, and it is being rumored that he will retire.
How much did you learn from Chuck during your time with him on the show and what did it mean to have one of the biggest stars in UFC history as your coach?
I didn’t know what to think, and I didn’t have expectations coming in for the coaches at all. I got the opportunity to meet Chuck Liddell and to find out who the real Chuck Liddell was, and he’s a good human being. I did half my camp for the McCray fight with Chuck at The Pit.
I stayed at Chuck’s house for almost a month. He’s definitely a cool guy, and I have a newfound respect for Chuck. The guy has a solid gold heart, he helps a lot of people, and he utilizes what he’s done and what’s he got from this sport to help a lot of people, and I don’t know if a lot of people know that or not.
Regardless of what happened in his fight, he has nothing left to prove and I’m 100 percent behind him if he decides to retire or not.
Coming up through MMA, was there any great fighter you aspired to be like or who you could compare your style to?
I have kind of a different style, but I always really enjoyed watching Randy Couture and I always idolized him. Out of anybody in this sport, that’s who I idolize the most.
If you could fight anybody in the UFC, who would be your dream opponent?
You know what, I’ve never really thought about that. I’ll fight anybody they put me up against that’s a challenge. I got in this sport to fight the best guys in the world, and I train to fight the best guys in the world. That’s what I want to do is just challenge myself.
Who have you met in your time on the show or in training for your fight that has meant a lot to you. A person that makes you step back and think, wow, I can’t believe I’m here?
That’s (Team Liddell boxing coach) Howard Davis Junior. You can just put this in the interview that he has a way with words.
What is your message for Kris McCray going into your much-anticipated fight on Saturday?
He watched me fight, and I watched him fight. He knows I’ll show up and be ready to fight. I don’t have anything to say to him other than he knows I’ll be ready, and I’m coming after him.
If you minus everything, it’s just me and Kris inside the cage. And I still want to fight him, and I still want to beat him. Regardless of the outcome of anything else, that’s exactly what I’m going in there to do. To figure out how to beat Kris McCray, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
I’m going to step into the cage, and I’m gonna figure out how to beat Kris McCray.
Court McGee and Kris McCray will do battle for a six-figure UFC contract this Saturday on The Ultimate Finale from the Pearl at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event can be seen live on Spike TV (US) and on Rogers Sportsnet (Canada) at 9pm ET/6pm PT.
For up-to-the-minute MMA news, stats, and updates, be sure to follow Ken Beckett on Twitter @KenBeckett