Burgeoning star Sage Northcutt lives up to hype in UFC debut

Dave Doyle

HOUSTON – At the end of a debut week unlike any other in UFC history, Sage Northcutt was ready to do it all again.

"I'm ready right now," the ever-enthusiastic Northcutt (6-0) said after blitzing Francisco Trevino in 57 seconds Saturday night at UFC 192. "If I could get two fights right now, I'm ready."

At 19 years, seven months, and one day, Northcutt, a resident of nearby Katy, Texas, became the youngest competitor in UFC history to win his debut fight.

One week ago, only the most hardcore fans knew of Northcutt, who made his pro debut last November. But Northcutt started going viral after Wednesday's open workouts, when he wowed the crowd with quick striking and flashy backflips.

If it wasn't already clear this kid was something out of the ordinary, it became more evident during his interview after the workout, in which he addressed reporters as "sir," called Dana White "Mr. White," and repeatedly referenced what an honor it was to simply be included in the festivities.

Sage Northcutt (R) takes down Francisco Trevino during their UFC 192 fight. (AP)
Sage Northcutt (R) takes down Francisco Trevino during their UFC 192 fight. (AP)

Add in a boy-band haircut, impossibly chiseled abs and a cheerleader's demeanor, and it's no wonder Northcutt has already been referred to as "Sage VanZant" – a reference to Paige VanZant, the breakthrough star of similar age bracket and demeanor.

"I know people say I don't have that much experience," Northcutt said. "I don't have 20 pro MMA fights, so hey, Sage Northcutt maybe shouldn't be fighting in the UFC. Well, I've been fighting my whole life and this is what I've been training for my whole life."

While that might not sound spectacular coming from someone not yet legal to drink, Northcutt has indeed been training in martial arts since about the time he could walk. His father is a karate black belt and his older sister, Colbey, is a Legacy FC kickboxing champion.

Beginning around age 6, Northcutt competed all over the world in various martial arts competition. This benefits him in two ways: For one, since he doesn't come from "the MMA bubble" (Saturday night was the first time he ever attended a UFC event), he's going into the UFC with a blank slate of expectations. For another, he's long since gotten used to performing in front of crowds.

"It gets you pumped up, so much of your adrenaline is going, I was pumped up a lot but it was very calm," Northcutt said about his impressions of his surroundings. "When I got out there in the ring, I could count people's heads, see everybody out there in the audience. Then once the fight started, it was almost like slow motion pretty much. It was incredible."

Let's be clear: Northcutt didn't exactly beat Donald Cerrone or Anthony Pettis at the Toyota Center on Saturday night. If you were going to power rank the entire UFC roster, Trevino, who missed the lightweight limit by four pounds on Friday, very well might come in dead last or close to it.

But Northcutt can only fight the person the UFC puts in front of him, and what fans saw was an impressive show of raw potential. Northcutt used blinding speed, frenetic energy, and a dazzling array of strikes to overwhelm Trevino.

Herb Dean waved off the bout in under a minute. Trevino, who likely won't fight in the UFC again, was so angered by the stoppage that he shoved Dean, but Dean was doing him a favor by waving it off.

"He might not say it was legitimate, maybe because he's on the wrong end of it," Northcutt said. "I don't, but Mr. Dean knows what he's doing. He's the official ref for the UFC, so, he knows how to stop the fights and when to let them go."

UFC president Dana White, who no doubt saw Northcutt as a walking bag of cash the moment he laid eyes on him, was predictably enthusiastic about his latest find.

"He looked unbelievable," White said on Fox Sports 1. "I love that Trevino was saying, 'I'm going to smash this hype train.' [Trevino was] 12-1, and Sage looked unbelievable tonight. The crowd went crazy. It was a really fun fight."

How quickly will Sage Northcutt move up the UFC lightweight ladder? Time will tell. (AP)
How quickly will Sage Northcutt move up the UFC lightweight ladder? Time will tell. (AP)

Northcutt knows what comes next: Haters. Sad little trolls who get their jollies tearing down the successful, and they're already queuing up in comments sections and message boards to deride him as a UFC-created hype job.

But Northcutt, a petroleum engineering major at Texas A&M, is clearly ready to parry his critics as effortlessly as he did Trevino.

"It could be the hair," Northcutt joked, when asked why some don't like him. "I don't know, maybe it's the hair? Maybe it's because I'm smiling all the time? Maybe that's not intimidating. I don't know, but I like being happy. I like smiling. I'm just a happy guy doing this. I'm a bubbly, happy guy. I think this is fun. I know people want to get out there and they're all tattooed up and they're all serious and stuff and ready to fight. I'm ready to fight, but I still have a smile on my face at the same time."

Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter: @DaveDoyleMMA