Even in a life that’s been as eventful as Court McGee ’s, the last month has to stand out.
It was one month ago this past Monday that the Utah native defeated Kris McCray at the Pearl at the Palms in Las Vegas to win the 11th season of The Ultimate Fighter. In one sense, McGee’s victory was the culmination of a long battle with drug addiction that nearly claimed his life five years ago. At the same time, in terms of mixed martial arts, McGee’s journey is just beginning, as his victory over McCray earned the Crusher a six-figure contract with the UFC, with reports circulating that his first post-TUF fight will take place this October. McGee and his wife, Chelsea, are also expecting their second child this fall.
The long-armed middleweight took time recently to talk with UltimateFighter.com and Bleacher Report about life since his victory.
For starters, can you give us some sense of what the last month has been like, since you won the show?
Completely nuts, man. I’ll tell you what: I’ve been on an airplane more in the last four weeks than I have in the last 15 years, and the numerous amounts of people who come up to me and congratulate me…I have fans everywhere I go, they’re super-nice, and everyone’s starting to pick up that I’m a fisherman.
I start to talk to somebody, ask them where they’re from – genuinely ask them where they’re from – and they say somewhere, like this one dude, he’s from Iowa, and it just so happens I’m leaving on a plane from Vegas to Iowa do some noodle and camp fishing for catfish, and do some bank fishing, rod and reel, and then some bass fishing. And he’s from Iowa, and it just so happens he’s 10 minutes away from where we were at. He was leaving and I was going and we met in the airport. So, people ask me about fishing, we talk about fishing.
Everybody’s so gracious and nice, and a lot of people can relate to my story. They either know somebody or have somebody close in their family, or they’ve been through it themselves. They have a good friend they grew up with who struggled with drug addiction. I think everybody sees me as just a normal dude, and that’s exactly what I am. I just fought and won in front of a whole lot of people, but I can relate to everybody, and they can relate to me, and so I think that’s what makes it different and cool, that they can relate to me.
And, I was able to get out of debt with that [Submission of the Night] bonus money. I was able to pay all my bills. It’s really cool.
It seemed like Kris was pretty happy for you despite the fact that you’d just choked him out. I don’t think I’ve seen one fighter as happy for the guy who beat him as Kris was with you at the finale.
Exactly, man. That was really cool. That’s what’s good about this sport. Even though you’re fighting each other, and you’re going in to win [against] the guy, both of you guys go through some struggles being a fighter. It’s not all as fabulous as everybody thinks. You’ve got to do it because you love it, because it’s a lot of hard work. If you make it count, it pays off, but a lot of times it doesn’t pay off. The top five percent are the people who make life-changing money, and are able to make a career out of it and retire off of it, but the majority of them aren’t, and to have somebody come in, train their guts out and lose, and still be as gracious as Kris was is pretty classy for him. That was really cool.
And I think he can relate to my story, too, because he’s struggled with some stuff too, moving all over the place and coming from a different background. It’s really been a cool experience, one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had, besides getting married and having my son.
And on top of that, how is this not my year? I make it on the show. I’m successful on the show. I’m able to carry the message to people who are struggling in front of a huge audience – which is what I went there for in the first place, secondary was to win – winning the whole deal, being able to get out of debt, I’m looking to buy a car for my wife, I’m looking to move into a house, and I’m having a son on top of it? Come on, man. Honestly, who could have a better year? I couldn’t be much more grateful. It’s absolutely amazing.
You talk about getting the message out there. Have there been a lot of speaking requests and things like that since you won the show?
There was one day, I think did 13 interviews in one day, and then two photo shoots. One thing, specifically, that I can mention, is that they’re starting a wrestling program around the area of Layton City, Utah, where I grew up. The Layton High School wrestling coach is the guy who’s the head of it. There was another program, and it’s relatively expensive – I wasn’t able to do it, because we didn’t have enough money – but by paying this couple of thousand dollars for a season, you can go out of state and wrestle, you can go to nationals, and they pay for this and pay for that. I wasn’t able to do it. So, they started a new program, and it’s going to be about half the cost, and they’re going to name it after me. All I have to do in return is come speak to the kids, which I have no problem doing at all.
From what you’ve told me, it sounds like you’re catching up on the travel you didn’t get to do.
Yeah. I’ve been all over the place. I was at the last UFC, and then I went to the Martial Arts Supershow, and that was pretty cool – I met a bunch of cool people there – I did a couple of different signings, I’m going to go to the next UFC event, and Friday, I leave to do a fight scene for Sons of Anarchy.
And you’re getting the fishing in, too. I saw that picture you put up on Twitter…” caught a monster ?”
Yeah. The little tiny one. [laughs] We got skunked that day.
The other thing that I got a laugh out of with that one is that you’re wearing the Nate Quarry “Rockhammer” shirt .
It just so happens that my agent is Nate Quarry’s agent, so I’ve had the opportunity to meet Nate and hang out with him a little bit. He’s a pretty cool guy, and I followed him too, a little bit. He was a pretty cool guy to follow.
Have you got some sense of what you’re going to do with your training, now that you’ve gotten some distance from the show? I know you spent some time out at the Pit when you were training for the finale. Is that going to continue?
Same thing, yeah. John Hackleman’s going to fly in here, and our gym might actually become a Pit affiliate, the Academy in Orem. It’s a huge, nice gym, and it’s got world-class wrestling and jiu-jitsu, and our stand-up’s good too. We’ve got a world champion kickboxer that’s in here, and we’ve got a guy who toured with the U.S. team as a boxing coach. So, we have plenty of guys. I have about six guys that are my weight or a little bit heavier. Two of them are relatively new and the other ones have got a couple of fights, but I’ve got the bodies to work with here. But the other thing is, I like having Hackleman as my coach and Howard Davis, so what we’re going to do, is basically, half my camp’s going to be at the Pit, half’s going to be here. Of course, I’m expecting a son around October 7 – that’s the due date – but our last son was two and half weeks early, so I’ve got to plan around and make sure I’m not gone when she goes into labor. Otherwise, I’ll be freaking out and trying to fly home. So, I’m going to do my first couple of weeks, Hackleman’s going to come here, and worst case scenario is I’ll fly him out here, have him stay for a week or two, and Howard Davis as well. But I’m going to keep the same coaches - Jason Mertlich, Howard Davis, John Hackleman – and then, I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think Jake Shields will be fighting about the same time as I am, so there’s a good possibility. I went and helped him get ready for his fight against Dan Henderson for a week and a half, so he’s going to either come down here – there’s a fighter house that they’ve purchased – or else I might go out there and train with him for a week or two.
I meant to ask you about that, with Jake’s signing officially being announced this week. People who follow the sport know that he was there and was one of Chuck Liddell’s assistants on TUF 11, but we didn’t see a whole lot of him. Is there anything that we really missed with Jake as an assistant coach?
We knew there was a possibility of him signing to fight Henderson, so he had started his training, and he trains year-round anyway, so he really doesn’t take much time off. When I was there, you know you’re going to go with some people. My main partner was Josh Bryant, but I grabbed Jake every day, so, for pretty much 37 days, I trained with Jake. We’d go live, 45-minute rounds, and I’d judge myself based off of that.
I’ve done well with everybody that I’ve trained with and fought with. I step it up in the cage, but I like to work on things when I spar and stuff. I knew that if I could hang with him, I was going to do good on the show, so I grabbed him. We like doing jiu-jitsu here. I’m not primarily a jiu-jitsu, but I do have over 10 competition jiu-jitsu matches, which is not a few, in three and a half years. The guy’s been in the top 10 for three years in two different weight divisions. He may not be the most exciting fighter to people; I think he his, but I enjoy all aspects. I don’t care if it’s on the ground the whole time. I’ve competed in jiu-jitsu and wrestling. I don’t care if it’s a striking match the whole time. I enjoy boxing and kickboxing. It’s exciting for me because I’ve trained with him, and gotten to know him, and I’m a friend of his. Hopefully I get another couple of weeks with him.
Given the story that you’ve gotten to share and the way that things have built up, it probably hasn’t been much of a problem finding sponsors, either.
I’d worked all my own sponsors for a couple of years, so I had a basic idea. I just was trying to land six-month, one-year, and two- to three-year contracts, because I was so sick of not making money. I had a couple set up, but I just didn’t have the publicity that I needed, and now, I definitely do. A lot of people Googled my name last week. It’s a pretty big deal, and I’m able to negotiate. The next one we’re going after is Cabela, Sportsman’s or Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops.
What has surprised you the most about what’s happened in the last month since you won the show?
I sat and thought long and hard before I came, if I was coming for the right reasons before I went on the show. The number one reason I went on the show was to carry the message and make sure that I was in the place where I was of maximum use to others. That was No. 1. I knew my story, and I wanted to tell it, to an extent, how bad it was then and how good it is now, even though I’m not rich and famous or anything like that – you can say I’m starting to get a little bit of fame and people know me – but the thing is that they know me not because of the antics I pull, but they actually know me as me. They portray me as me on the show: quiet, and I kind of stick to myself, but I get along with everybody, is the thing. I fight because I enjoy fighting.
I didn’t really realize that there would be this many people. It’s a shock, man. Everywhere I go, people are like, “Are you Court McGee?” That’s pretty incredible, dude. The biggest shock has been the sheer mass of people who are so kind and willing to come up and say, “Hi,” and “Hey man, I followed your story and you’re a great fighter.”