After his fight in December, Sage Northcutt’s father and coach got some good advice from someone in position to give it. Someone Northcutt’s inner circle should have listened to.
The 19-year-old had just won his second fight in the UFC, and done so within weeks of his first. Northcutt seemed eager to get back into the cage, again, as soon as possible.
“As soon as possible — next month, two months from now. Whenever the next one is, I’m ready!” Northcutt told Jon Anik immediately after defeating Cody Pfister at UFC Fight Night Las Vegas in December.
As it turns out, he did. Saturday, in Newark, Northcutt fought inside the UFC Octagon for the third time in four months. Back in December, as the kid shone his megawatt smile at the post-fight press conference, his head coach and dad — the man who had groomed him for moments like this — got advice that was ultimately ignored.
I was within earshot of the conversation, at the time, and heard the unsolicited advice. It went a bit like this: How about you consider not booking Sage in another fight, so soon? What’s the harm in giving him a few more months to develop his skills before he gets in there, again?
It must be hard to heed advice to slow down when you’re skyrocketing through the scene with great initial success, however. Or, at least, when your son is.
Northcutt didn’t take time off to improve, rest, or do much of anything other than jump right back into training camp. Instead, he continued to balance a sudden UFC career with college, and rushed into a fight at a higher weight against an opponent he admitted to not knowing anything about, just weeks after his previous bout and training camp.
The kid showed powerful punches — specifically his straight cross — but when his more experienced opponent wouldn’t fade away, the teenager eventually found himself out of answers. Against top competition, Northcutt will end up on his back, a lot.
That’s a tough spot to be in for him because the Texan doesn’t yet have any answers off of his back for elite competition. There is no shame in that.
At just 19 years old, he’s 2-1 in the big leagues, with two finish victories. If it weren’t for a reality show, the model and fighter likely wouldn’t have been thrust onto the big scene so quickly.
There’s nothing wrong with taking opportunities that are presented to you, of course. It would be nice if those handling Northcutt didn’t outright rush him, though.
From the looks of it, Northcutt would be well-served by leaving his comfort zone and spend real, sustained time in Montreal with one of the men cornering him — Firas Zahabi, a well-rounded fighter himself, who also has a long track record of producing top fighters.
Right now, Northcutt spends most of his time training near home. It’s gotten him this far, sure.
However, the former karate champion is finding himself too often in situations that he doesn’t appear ready for, in the cage. Prospects who are coached and brought along at a good, productive pace, face their toughest tests back in the gym.
Once they’re in the cage or ring on fight night, they need to have encountered, become at ease with, and have developed answers for tough spots. Right now, Northcutt is doing his best and finding some real success, but he looks far too uncomfortable and panicked in certain places where he can’t use his explosiveness.
In short, he needs to become a much more technical grappler. In order for that to happen, he needs time with the right coaches and training partners.
That may have to come a bit further from home than he’s used to and with more time in between fights than he wants.