“I’m going to pressure him, and I’m going to break him - get in his face, pressure him and break him. That’s the game plan. I’m going to be in his face the whole time and make him uncomfortable.”
There aren’t many stories in the sporting world where a competitor revoices his difficult past in a language everyone can understand. A big part of Court McGee’s story was told during his run on The Ultimate Fighter 11, that he overcame drug addiction and a near fatal overdose to win the season and a UFC contract. In a reality television series, McGee represented reality literally, which took some getting used to.
But that McGee’s trajectory on the show mirrored his trajectory in life was almost storybook—here was a guy selected in the middle of the pack, who lost narrowly to the season’s favorite Nick Ring in the preliminary rounds, thought he was done, yet was hand-picked to fight again by Dana White when Rich Attonito went down. McGee, knowing exactly what to do with a second chance, beat James Hammortree. Then Brad Tavares. And finally Kris McCray in the finale.
When he dedicated that win to people out there struggling, everyone knew what kind of fighter he is—they also knew what kind of fighter he’s been.
“My job is to be in the place where I’m of maximum service and usefulness to others,” says the 25-year-old Utah native. “If I can help just one other person to make a good conscious decision to stop what they’re doing and change, then dude . . . my job is done here. All of this will have been worth it—all the going to the house, all of the tryouts, all the money I spent, all the pain and competition and sweat, it will have been worth it.”
Fast forward four months from that triumphant rear naked choke of McCray, and it’s right back to square one for McGee. He’ll tell you, even with all the extraordinary things that have happened to him, he hasn’t gotten anywhere yet. Though nobody can take away from what’s he’s already accomplished, if he goes in and lets his guard down, there’s always a chance that things could go from storybook to footnote.
That’s why when he faces Ryan Jensen at UFC 121 in Anaheim on October 23, he’s already embracing the new reality—that he is a prospect in the middleweight division who needs to prove himself whenever he gets in the cage. McGee understands it.
“I tried to be as well-rounded as I could before I got this opportunity,” he says. “I tried to come in and not be the guy who says, ‘Oh! I made it to the UFC! Now I’m going to grow and learn in the UFC.’ I will grow and learn, but I am bringing experience.
“That McCray fight was my 20th fight—my record on there said 9-1, but there were quite a few that weren’t on my record. So I am not new to it.”
And some of those bouts, like the ones against Jeremy Horn and DeMarques Johnson, were not local theater type of fights—they were the real deal. Though it’s been overshadowed, McGee has a lot more than heart going for him. Going back to Layton High School, he has wrestled for years, and he’s participated in over 140 Jiu-Jitsu matches. He practiced karate for a decade before that, and he has boxed for a long time.
Court “The Crusher” McGee—a nickname given to the one-time commercial plumber because he used to over tighten pipe fittings and break them . . . and that he once dead-lifted 617 pounds—has a pretty solid foundation.
To help prep for his first post-TUF fight against the Jensen, McGee spent a week training with Jake Shields in San Francisco, then a couple more with the guys at The Pit, including his TUF coach Chuck Liddell, John Hackleman—who will be in his corner come fight night—and Howard Davis Jr., to crispen up his boxing. Trusting that team in full, he intends to go through Hackleman’s belt system there moving forward.
McGee says he’s going into his fight with Jensen—as well as his UFC career—in a mindset to fight through obstacles with a gladness of heart, and to seize the moment.
“I’ve had some injuries, surgeries, a lot of bumps and bruises,” he says. “I broke my foot a couple of weeks before I fought in the finale, and I broke my sternum in my fight to get in the house. But I was able to fight through it and come out on top. But now, this is where it starts—this is my real opportunity. This is really the time for me to focus. It’s a good feeling to stick it through to the end and come out pretty much uninjured.”
Does he expect a rude welcome from Jensen (16-5), who himself is coming off a win of his own against Jesse Forbes at UFC 114?
Perhaps, but he says he doesn’t trust expectations.
“I thought Kris McCray was going to come and take me down and try and sit on top of me,” he says. “People thought he would outgrapple me, but that didn’t happen. Jensen’s obviously pretty well rounded. Most of his wins are by submission. His last two wins were with that arm-in guillotine with the leg over, so I’ve got to be careful for the submission. He’s well-rounded and he’s got good wrestlers in there—he says he’s got 10 wrestlers in his room that are better than me.”
“I’m going to pressure him, and I’m going to break him—get in his face, pressure him and break him,” he says. “That’s the game plan. I’m going to be in his face the whole time and make him uncomfortable.”
Coming from a guy who has made a cottage industry of uncomfortable and has learned to appreciate its merits, it makes sense. That is McGee’s world. He’s an underdog who makes his every obstacle an exercise of will and perseverance.
And McGee knows as well as anybody the hellish nature of perseverance. It’s a day-to-day prospect. It is ongoing.