The Public Trial of Sage Northcutt

Fightland Blog

By Peter Carroll

Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC

On Saturday night in Newark, 19-year-old ‘Super’ Sage Northcutt lost for the first time in eight professional outings as he made his maiden voyage to the Octagon as a welterweight, and judging by the international reaction to his defeat, it appeared as though the majority of the MMA world were waiting for the teenager to slip up.

The reactions to Northcutt’s tap from an arm triangle choke as he held his opponent Bryan ‘Bam Bam’ Barberena in half guard ranged from supportive to comedic. The submission is generally finished from side control with the attacker nearly getting perpendicular with his opponent to elicit the tap, and for some fighters, that gave them enough reason to publicly criticize the youngster following his first defeat.

Scores of fighters had similar views to lightweight frontrunner Tony Ferguson who posted a video of himself celebrating the teen’s defeat with along with some copy that claimed that Northcutt had tapped sooner than he should have. There were a lot of references being made to Northcutt’s “hype train” being “derailed” and general humorous anecdotes about the technique that finished the fight. The outpouring of delight was quite striking considering the mass vilification that came along with people who took to social media to rejoice in the downfall of Ronda Rousey in late 2015.

While there were plenty of professionals who were entertained by Northcutt’s loss, some high profile figures came out in support of him too. Whether it was partially an effort to promote his August 16 bout with ‘El Cucuy’ or not, Khabib Nurmagomedov claimed that Ferguson was simply “jealous” after he told him to “keep working hard.”

Lightweight champion Rafel Dos Anjos was another man who tweeted the beaten teenager telling him he would “be back strong” and that he had “nothing but time.” Although he usually doesn’t shy away from controversy, Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping reached out to Northcutt as well claiming that he “can be a world champion for sure”, following the submission win of Barberena.

There are some obvious reasons for the mass response to Northcutt’s loss. The first product signed off UFC’s latest reality venture, the world already knew quite a bit about the All-American super athlete before he made his bow in the Octagon. Even Randy Brown’s debut last Saturday night, another man plucked from the reality series, points to the fact that coming off the show can help generate a lot of interest ahead of debut. From Dana White and Matt Serra’s mocking of his appearance to his stunning performance, and his spectacular gymnastic celebration, Northcutt definitely left an impression on the audience in his segment.

When this new signee, who had won “77 titles in martial arts”, as mentioned on the Looking For a Fight episode, saw off Francisco Trevino in less than a minute in his UFC debut, there was plenty of excitement.

After his second, not so one-sided win against Cody Pfister, the fact that Northcutt was paid a relatively colossal fee of $40,000 show and $40,000 win for his second bout with the promotion made him a reference for several fighters who had been vocal about their pay, including surging bantamweight prospect Aljamain Sterling.

Another thing that has got a lot of people whispering is the fact that several online sources including Fightstate have alleged that Northcutt’s father, Mark, was “known around the State for being ‘the guy to talk to’ if you wanted some performance enhancing drugs,” as per an article that appeared in D Magazine 25 years ago. That information along with Northcutt’s superb physical condition have led to obvious speculation despite USADA reporting that the 19-year-old has been tested four times since signing for UFC.

Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC

The mass reaction to Northcutt’s loss was largely anticipated due to aforementioned issues like his upbringing, his elevated pay structure and his all-American luck. One person who definitely saw it coming was UFC president Dana White who likened Northcutt’s public image to superstars Ronda Rousey, Conor McGregor and Paige Van Zandt in the lead up to Saturday’s event from New Jersey.

“You find these guys and you have seen throughout the years, the people that I go out and find and bring in, they’ve got a target right on their back,” White told UFC.com. “Paige VanZant, Sage Northcutt, Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey. You are marked the minute you walk in, so they’re gonna have to deal with it.”

Rousey was alleged to have gone into hiding after her emphatic loss to Holly Holm, and while Northcutt made a public statement yesterday, the quirky nature of the video he posted online has only led to added to the intrigue surrounding the teen.

Appearing on a hoverboard, Northcutt spun a basketball on his finger, thanked everyone for “all the support”, claimed he would be “back soon” before missing his a shot at the hoop.

There is no doubt that the public trial of Sage Northcutt will continue as his progresses… or regresses in the sport of MMA. 


Check out these related stories:

How Sage Northcutt Came Apart

Sage Northcutt: What We Know So Far

Sage Northcutt and His Magic Flip Signal the End of an MMA Era