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Holding Court: UFC fighter spent two years away giving speeches about his addiction, recovery

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It was going to be another hard recovery, another comeback story in a lifetime of them for Court McGee.

Doctors told the UFC middleweight almost two years ago now that he had a detached scapholunate ligament in his right hand. That's the ligament that essentially binds the wrist and hand, allowing a person to grip things. McGee was going to be out of action for at least a year. Probably more.

"I was just devastated," McGee said.

One day in the middle of last year, McGee was leaving a physical therapy appointment in his hometown of Provo, Utah, when a car pulled up right next to his. A man got out and looked incredulous.

"Holy sh*t," the man said, according to McGee. "Are you that fighter guy?"

The man had seen McGee compete in the UFC and, more importantly, knew his story, the one of heroin addiction and recovery chronicled by ESPN in a 2012 documentary. He asked McGee how much he charged to speak. The man, McGee said, ran a youth correctional guidance facility and thought the fighter could pass along his experiences to the troubled kids.

With nothing but rehab in front of him, McGee did it -- basically for free. And he liked it. Over the last year and change, McGee has done somewhere between 40 and 60 speeches, he said, at places like detention centers and drug rehabs and high schools. He's even talked to youth baseball and wrestling teams.

Court McGee the cage fighter has all of a sudden turned into Court McGee the motivational speaker. It's even become a part of his website.

"It's important to share that story," said McGee, who returns to the Octagon after two years away against Marcio Alexandre at UFC 194 on Saturday. "I didn't want to tell anybody, because I was embarrassed of my past. I've been arrested. I've done things that I never would have imagined myself doing. And I never thought that would be the key."

McGee's tale is well-known in MMA circles. An addict through high school into college, McGee overdosed on heroin in 2005. He was legally dead after paramedics tried CPR and a defibrillator and failed. It was only until after they saw the syringe and administered an opioid antagonist that McGee was resuscitated.

He's been sober now since April 16, 2006. McGee's message to kids and even adults is one of hope. He started training in MMA during his recovery, won The Ultimate Fighter and has been a UFC fighter since 2010. If he can do all those things after cleaning himself up, they can too.

McGee, now 30, didn't come from a broken home. He had loving, working-class parents and an educated brother. He just liked to drink in high school and started mixing booze with pain pills after an injury in college. McGee continued to follow that path until it was nearly too late.

"The reason why I drank was I was uncomfortable with myself," he said. "I wanted to try and fit in. There was nothing wrong with me. I didn't need to change myself. I didn't need to take pills to fit in. I didn't need to drink or do cocaine or try ecstasy to fit in. I didn't need to do those things. I was just fine how I am. Let me tell you, you stand in front of 2,200 high-school kids and say, 'Why do you feel the need to change yourself on a Friday or Saturday night?' half of their f*cking heads go down and they start talking. Because they know what I'm talking about.

"I speak their language. A kid tells me, 'Oh, I have a lot of anxiety.' As soon as they tell me that, I'm like, 'How much weed are you smoking? Are you taking benzos? Are you taking klonopin?' They'll talk to me, because I'm not there to bust them. I'm there to tell them I did the same thing and this is what you're in for if you have the same problem I have."

McGee might as well have been telling himself those stories about overcoming, because rehabbing the scapholunate injury was physically and mentally taxing. After losing to Ryan LaFlare in December 2013, McGee had procedures on both wrists. A few months later, while trying to rehab, there was some swelling in the right one and he had a hard time gripping things.

McGee knew something was wrong, so he contacted UFC doctor Jeff Davidson. Immediately, McGee said, Davidson knew it was a scapholunate. He had lost almost four months thinking it was something else and then had a year of recovery ahead.

"I learned a lot and had a lot of opportunities, but it's been a tough, tough couple of years," McGee said. "But a good couple of years. Some of my best learning experiences have been in the hard times. I learned a lot about myself and my training, focus and why I'm competing. Why I do what I do."

In those hard times, McGee remembered the almost impossible times. Not that long ago, McGee was sitting in a coma after overdosing. All of a sudden, having some pain and not being able to lift up a coffee cup with his right hand wasn't so bad.

"I just thought, man if I can make it through that, I can make it through a wrist injury," he said.

McGee (16-4) said he only started feeling like himself as recently as August. As soon as he did, he went through a six-week test training camp to see if he was all the way back. And he was. McGee called UFC matchmaker Joe Silva and not long after he was booked against Alexandre.

McGee wants to speak more in the future and maybe even make it a career at some point. But, formerly a middleweight, he's very serious about a run in the UFC's welterweight division. He doesn't just want to compete with the best in the world.

"Beat them," McGee corrected. "I want to beat them."

He's beaten much more difficult odds in the past and lived to tell about it. There's a good chance he'll be telling a whole lot more people that story in the future, too.

"I get nervous when I get into the cage," McGee said. "Very nervous. You have fears and this and that that you go through. But it's similar standing in front of 2,000 high-school kids telling them your deep, dark secrets. But the one kid that you may affect positively makes it worth it."