UFC Austin: Out of the highlight, Sage Northcutt finally getting a chance to develop

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Sage Northcutt showcased his kicks and flips and motion hero physique at an open exercise session prior to this UFC debut in Houston in October 2016.

On one hand, it made sense as the spiky-haired teenager hails from close by Katy and was the main man on the pilot episode of the UFC’s newest net enterprise, Dana White’s On the lookout for a Battle simply a few weeks earlier. On the different hand, he was a UFC neophyte set to compete towards Francisco Trevino on Struggle Move and he was being showcased to the media, whereas veteran contenders Juliana Pena and Joseph Benavidez, each set to compete on the pay-per-view primary card, weren’t.

He immediately turned a most popular callout goal for different lightweights and a whipping boy for the MMA group who didn’t like that the blonde-haired, blue-eyed 19-yr-previous was getting a sizable push and vital paycheck from the UFC proper out of the chute. When he suffered a submission loss to Bryan Barberena in his third Octagon look, individuals rejoiced and piled on.

Over his first 14 months on the roster, Northcutt went three-2, with every victory being framed as layups that he completely ought to have gained and every setback positioned as proof that this inexperienced child had no enterprise being on the roster, but alone being given major card actual property on community tv.

He was the male aspect of the “Paige & Sage” combo that lots of individuals appeared to love to hate and needed to see fail. Each time he did stumble, it was became far more than simply a younger fighter nonetheless figuring issues out and touchdown on the incorrect aspect of the outcomes.

After being in the highlight each step of his first yr and alter on the roster, Northcutt obtained a bit of a reprieve in 2017, receding into the background a little as sickness and accidents restricted him to simply a single look in the cage.

When he was prepared to return in November, Northcutt did so in a preliminary card struggle towards Michel Quinones on the Battle Night time occasion in Norfolk, Va. that had the distinction of happening instantly following UFC 217 in New York Metropolis.

Whereas everybody was nonetheless speaking about Georges St-Pierre’s return, Rose Namajunas’ knockout victory and T.J. Dillashaw turning into a two-time bantamweight champion, “Tremendous Sage” dealt with his enterprise with out a lot fanfare, delivering his most full and professional efficiency to date.

This weekend, Northcutt makes a speedy return to the cage in the opening bout of Sunday’s fundamental card in Austin, Tex. towards Thibault Gouti. Though preventing shut to house will make sure that a giant, vocal contingent of supporters will flood into the Frank Erwin Middle to cheer on their boy, it seems — at the least proper now — like Northcutt goes to be simply one other fighter on the card this weekend.

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That’s precisely what the 21-yr-previous wants and the way he ought to have been dealt with from the outset.

I perceive why the UFC hustled Northcutt into the highlight and continued to give him each alternative to shine early on — he’s an motion determine crossed with the dreamy, late 90s boy band member with a little bit of Tim Tebow combined in for good measure — however he was additionally a 19-yr-previous child who hadn’t crushed anybody, wasn’t preventing anybody of nice consequence in the UFC and was clearly inexperienced, which ought to have out-weighted his apparent marketability and upside.

Nevertheless it didn’t. When you can’t undo the previous, you can also make changes for the future and after failing to achieve this with Paige VanZant, who suffered her second straight loss earlier this yr towards Jessica-Rose Clark, the UFC appears to have determined that easing up on the Northcutt push is a good concept. I couldn’t agree extra.

The quickly-to-be 22-yr-previous has monumental potential, however he has to be given time to develop. That’s far simpler to do if you’re not additionally shouldering the burden of expectations and weighed down with media obligations.

He made the determination to put his scholastic pursuits on maintain final yr and moved to Sacramento to practice with Workforce Alpha Male. Now it’s time to simply sit again and see what sort of influence these two selections may have on his improvement.

Assume of it this manner: if his first 14 months on the roster have been his cup of espresso in the majors late in the season, this ought to be the yr the place he will get to play daily at Triple A and solely get an prolonged look with the huge membership if he actually begins raking. (Are you able to inform I’m wanting ahead to pitchers and catchers reporting this week?)

Though Northcutt has dealt with the whole lot that has been thrown at him with aplomb thus far, he’s nowhere close to rivalry. The UFC wants to begin focusing its promotional muscle and advertising power in the direction of making a greater deal out of some of the unheralded contenders and unknown rising threats on the roster.

At the similar time, Northcutt wants to be afforded the alternative to make errors, have sluggish performances and perhaps even take a couple extra losses alongside the method with out being at the middle of a referendum on how the UFC sucks at figuring out prospects and choosing what fighters to push — as if he’s one way or the other culpable for accepting the alternatives which were introduced to him and doesn’t have the potential to develop into a contender down the line.

Rafael dos Anjos went four-four in his first eight UFC appearances. Max Holloway, who debuted as a rail-skinny 20-yr-previous, went three-three over his first six outings. Robert Whittaker struggled to a three-2 report at welterweight earlier than deciding his future was at middleweight and Amanda Nunes cut up a pair of outings in each Strikeforce and Invicta FC earlier than matriculating to the Octagon.

All 4 got time to determine issues out and have blossomed into champions.

Might Northcutt do the similar? Perhaps, perhaps not. I might argue that his possibilities would improve if he have been in a position to stay out from underneath the microscope and afforded the time to study his craft, develop as each a fighter and a man and progress like the overwhelming majority of the fighters on the roster, relatively than being thrust again into the highlight.

Hopefully, the UFC and MMA followers will give him that chance.