Utahn and UFC fighter Court McGee had fellow welterweight Ben Saunders hurt in a fight last January, but fighting someone he’d trained with and had a “soft spot” for dulled his normal finishing instinct.

“It was more like a sparring match and not a fight,” McGee (19-6-0) said this week. “I hurt him once in the second round and maybe something inside held me back just a little bit and I didn’t cut loose.”

McGee went on to lose a decision to Saunders on top of suffering a torn labrum in his right shoulder. When he gets a chance to rebound Saturday against Sean Strickland (18-2-0) at a UFC Fight Night 120 event in Norfolk, Va., that slight bit of hesitation won’t be in his game plan.

“With this guy, there’s not that attachment or relationship,” McGee. “This will turn from a sparring match into a fight.”

Court McGee Courtesy | UFC

McGee, who lives in Provo and wrestled at Layton High School, was offered a short notice fight during the summer, but wasn’t medically cleared because of his shoulder. The first doctor he visited after the Saunders fight suggested surgery, but a second opinion led him to pursue two months of physical therapy and treatments usually used on baseball pitchers with shoulder injuries.

“I went through all that therapy and after I got done with that, I felt like I was OK, picked it back up and went on to the next thing,” McGee said.

He continued training and felt he had returned to full strength in the late summer, so he put in to be considered for another fight. Nine weeks ago, the UFC told him to prepare to face Strickland.

“My game plan is to go out, cut him off, put him in bad spots and finish him. But that’s my game plan every time,” McGee said. “Being that he’s a well-rounded fighter, on paper, it looks like it should be a very exciting, great fight.”

Strickland has only seven UFC fights to McGee’s 12, but the more experienced fighter isn’t taking him lightly.

“He’ll shoot. He’ll throw kicks,” McGee said. “He’s pretty quick and he moves, uses lots of lateral movement.”

In the ever-churning UFC ranks, McGee is aware that this and every fight is a “must-win” to keep him from sliding into a two-loss streak. But he’s focused on pushing to win, not avoiding a loss — channeling the pressure into a positive and challenging training camp.

“I can beat Sean, now I have to go out and do it,” McGee said. “That’s important to remember.”