When UFC President Dana White first saw Sage Northcutt (an encounter featured on the pilot episode of Dana White: Looking for a Fight on UFC FIGHT PASS), he made fun of his surfer dude good looks and his tan. Yet by the time the Texan executed a double-leg slam takedown en route to a rear naked choke finish, White wasn’t laughing anymore.
“No one so that coming,” White said.
The 19-year old Northcutt has known who he wanted to be before he was even 10 years old. At nine, he was the youngest person to ever be featured on the cover of Sport Karate magazine. This Saturday, he will be the youngest on the UFC roster when he makes his Octagon debut against Francisco Trevino.
“They asked me what my goals were, and I said I wanted to be a UFC champion,” he said, laughing. “My parents knew I would be in this situation. It was the greatest call I ever got in my life.”
Northcutt laughs a lot. He laughed throughout this entire interview. For a UFC newbie, he acted like he’s done this a million times before, and in a way, he has.
“I’ve fought on the world stage,” he said. “Ireland, Croatia, all across the States, I was a 40-time world champion in the karate organization I fought in. When Bruce Buffer announces my name, that will be the coolest thing to ever happen to me. I’ve heard it in my mind a million times.”
There are no easy fights in the UFC, and Trevino is no exception, but Northcutt doesn’t know too much about his opponent, and to hear him tell it, that’s par for the course.
“I never train for any one particular person,” he says. “I’ve never had a traditional training camp. There’s so much I need to learn, so I just work on me. I am constantly training my stand-up, my grappling and my wrestling. I don’t know Trevino besides a few YouTube fights. It is what it is.”
After five professional fights and six amateur ones, Northcutt has only been out of the first round twice, having knocked out or submitted some nine opponents along the way.
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“MMA is an evolving thing,” he says. “I’m honored to be fighting for the UFC, but rest assured I’m here to win. My goal is to finish Trevino quick, take zero damage and get on another card as soon as possible. The more I fight, the faster I will win a belt.”
While many have made similar proclamations, when this kid says it it’s hard not to take him seriously. Whatever he’s put his mind to, he’s been exceptionally good at.
Northcutt started training karate at age six, and went 15-0 as a kickboxer. He joined his high school wrestling team as a senior and took fifth in the state of Texas after just two months on the team, and he’s a three-stripe purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Northcutt says his favorite UFC fighter is Georges St-Pierre, the former welterweight champion.
“I like his fighting style, his charisma and his work ethic,” he said. “If I could fashion my career after his, that would be just fine.”
Sage will cut to 155 for to make his UFC debut in the lightweight division, and says he feels pretty good just days ahead from weigh-ins. In a sport that is constantly evolving, Northcutt is one of the true new breed of fighters that longtime observers of the sport thought would one day take over. In the Royce Gracie era, just being adept at jiu-jitsu was good enough to win. In Matt Hughes’ day, being a strong wrestler could get you by. But in today’s UFC, no one discipline is good enough to win. One must be well-rounded.
“I see that,” says Northcutt. “I understand all the disciplines, and I think that’s why Dana White is giving me this opportunity. I am not one to lay on my opponent or pin him against the cage for an entire round. I am very explosive and I’m always looking for a finish. I will take the fight to whomever I am up against and I will do what it takes to win.”
They say fatigue makes cowards of all men, and Northcutt doesn’t lack anything in the cardio department, but then again, that’s just being nineteen. Inevitably, he will fight one of his heroes, but that’s something he’s prepared for.
“Look, once those lights are on and that cage door closes, I don’t care who is standing across from me,” he said. “Do I want to hurt one of my heroes? Not really, but at the end of the day this is a business and I’m here to do my job. Presumably so is he. So we will duke it out and put on a great show, and one of us will walk away with a W and the other with a loss, but we will both know that we did our job and the fans will know that they got their money’s worth.”
Spoken like a true vet. A 19-year old vet.