You can hear it already: why isn’t the UFC giving Sage Northcutt a top-ten ranked opponent? It’s bound to be uttered within one or two more impressive wins for the nineteen-year-old. That’s why my plea to the UFC is, rhyme-intended, please don’t bite.
Sage Northcutt, who was now-famously ‘discovered’ on Dana White and friend’s newest reality show undertaking entitled Looking for a Fight, made his UFC debut on Saturday night, battering Francisco Trevino on the preliminary card at UFC 192: Cormier vs. Gustafsson. Despite being just 5-0 in professional mixed martial arts before his fight on Saturday, the Northcutt hype-train was already boarded and ready to leave the station. Since securing the win, that train is steaming along.
I’m not saying it’s without warrant. He looked incredible on Saturday night against a tough and fairly-experienced fighter, albeit limited technically and physically, but he did what needed to be done, and done it very impressively. Not to mention he’s a marketer’s dream.
We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, though.
Can Sage Northcutt be a top-ten level fighter in the UFC? Even with the limited amount of concrete data that we have, I will go out on a limb and say he can, but I’m certainly not betting my house on it. However, what I am certain of is he has an enormous amount of room to grow.
At just nineteen years young, he has already proven that he can handle, with relative ease, the bottom tier of fighter the UFC has offer by beating Francisco Trevino within 60 seconds. He should now be moving steadily to the next tier, which should be still ways away from the top twenty, and even top thirty fighters in the division. He should be given room to breathe and progress; throwing him into the proverbial shark-tank that is upper-tier of the promotion’s 155 pound division won’t benefit anyone at this juncture, or any time soon for that matter.
With immediate rise of Northcutt’s popularity, many comparisons have been drawn from Paige VanZant. It would be disingenuous to pretend that both VanZant and Northcutt’s popularity wasn’t somewhat based on how they look. While both fighters shouldn’t really be pitted against their divisions premiere fighters inside the cage yet, even though VanZant is preparing to do so right now, in a beauty contest they might be front runners.
This isn’t a jab at VanZant or Northcutt, or me suggesting that their heavy exposure is purely based on their looks. It’s not. Northcutt showed on Saturday that he clearly belongs in the UFC, and showed more than enough skill and athleticism that makes me want to pay close attention to him. VanZant, who is actually ranked number six in the UFC’s official rankings, has shown plenty of skill blended with often unmatched aggression has already proven that she is not just a pretty face.
The difference between how VanZant and Northcutt should, and probably will, be pushed up the division ranks of their respective weight class’ comes down to divisional needs. In an ideal world, VanZant shouldn’t be competing against someone of the calibre of Joanne Calderwood this early into her UFC tenure, but she is indeed scheduled to face her on December 10th in Las Vegas. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a winnable fight for VanZant, who is actually ranked ahead of Calderwood in the UFC’s official rankings, but, despite hitting some road bumps early in her UFC career, Calderwood at her very best can be a terrifying prospect for anyone in the strawweight division.
With that said, it’s completely understandable that the UFC matchmakers have given VanZant this level of opponent, because who else is she to face? The UFC’s female strawweight isn’t deep enough for VanZant to have a gradual and natural assent up the rankings – she is, incredibly, ranked sixth inthe entire division. With a win over Calderwood, she will be in the conversation for a title shot against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, which could be detrimental to her development as a fighter.
That shouldn’t be a hand that the UFC will be forced to play with Sage Northcutt, however.
The lightweight division, as a whole, is probably the most thoroughly stacked division in the UltimateFighting Championship, and in the whole of mixed martial arts for that matter. For example, based on Tapology’s lightweight rankings, which are admittedly flawed, just like any array of rankings, Ireland’s Joseph Duffy is ranked number 51. Flawed rankings? of course, but that gives you an broad idea of how deep the lightweight category in mixed martial arts is.
The top of 155 pound division doesn’t need Sage Northcutt right now, or any time in the immediate future for that matter. It’s perfectly healthy at the moment. There is no need for Sage Northcutt to thrown into that mix just yet; whereas it’s difficult to keep Paige VanZant away from the division’s best due to the divisional needs of the strawweight division. The lightweight class, thankfully, doesn’t have those needs.
That’s my plea to the UFC brass: give him the time and the platform to harness his potential into the full product before being convinced that he needs to take that huge step up. The division has more than enough stylistically different opponents for him to compete against. They won’t be fights to protect him, because he will be thrown into the deep end eventually, but they would be fights which would be meaningful, and incredibly tough, tests which will pay dividends in the end if he does prove that the potential that we can all see is for real.