A trip to Las Vegas in 2006 served as a test for Court McGee.
The Layton, Utah, native had been sober for 5½ months and wanted to prove to himself that he could handle having just one drink while on vacation in a city renowned for excess.
McGee woke up four days later with no pants on, searching for meth in Iowa.
Two weeks later on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006, McGee began the sobriety he maintains today.
He returns to Las Vegas on Saturday night for another test a main event bout against Kris McCray for The Ultimate Fighter: Season 11 title on a UFC card at the Palms.
From where I was four years ago to where Im at today, theres no words to describe the feeling and the gratitude. I worked very hard to get here, McGee said. Not that everyone else didnt, but I was given an opportunity, and I took full advantage of it.
The ill-fated trip to Las Vegas was only part of a downward spiral that constituted McGees life as an addict.
McGee, 25, was a model student in high school and a stellar wrestler. His athletic career ended upon graduation, however, as wrestling had been eliminated from just about every college in Utah.
He enrolled at Weber State but quickly fell in with the wrong crowd. Before he knew it, he was abusing alcohol, pills, cocaine, heroin and practically any substance he could lay his hands on.
He was in and out of jail and alienated from his family. His longtime girlfriend left him and went to Russia to teach English.
One day, McGee overdosed on heroin and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
I lost everything. I had no friends. I had no family, and my life was meaningless, he said. I didnt know what I was doing. I didnt know where I was going. … I was just done mentally and physically. Spiritually, too. April 16, everything turned around.
He had gotten sober before but admits to a few slip-ups, including the Las Vegas incident. This time it was for real.
McGee got a job as a plumber and began helping his high school wrestling coach. Sessions in the gym sparked his competitive spirit, and he began training in mixed martial arts.
Less than a year later, he had his first pro fight.
McGee rebuilt his relationship with his parents and brother and even reunited with his girlfriend, now his wife, Chelsea. The couple has a 3-year-old son, Isaac, and another child on the way.
He credits his support system with driving him to succeed personally and professionally.
A win Saturday would change things for him financially, but McGee says he is content.
Im grateful to wake up and see (my wife and son) every morning. Im grateful to wake up every day and have a house. I have a (expletive) little three-bedroom apartment, but its my apartment. I pay for it. I work for it. I have a (expletive) little beat-up car, but its mine. Its mine and my wifes, and I pay for it.
Ive got friends today. Ive got family. Ive got an opportunity to better my career.
The test on this trip to Las Vegas is not an easy one, but the goal is much more defined: beat McCray and secure a future in the UFC.
McGee promises one thing: Hes not going to quit on achieving his dream.
I never give up, man. If Id have given up, I would be dead today. Im not. Im here and getting ready to fight, he said.
McGee says he will leave the octagon a winner.
Regardless of the outcome, I feel as if Im winning anyway because I could go right back out there and be (messed) up again using drugs, he said. As far as Im concerned, Im winning the battle.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509.