Sage Northcutt Gets Smashed In ONE FC Debut
It's been almost a week since ex-UFC protégé Sage Northcutt suffered a quick, brutal loss in his ONE FC debut. His opponent, Cosmo Alexandre, had not competed in MMA in almost 3 years — as his main occupation has been kickboxing thus far — needed just 29 seconds to render Northcutt the victim of a highlight reel, faceplant knockout. The MMA community was almost immediately abuzz with speculation about what this sudden, devastating loss means for Northcutt and his prospects in the sport. I hesitated to give an opinion, opting to take some time and reflect on this outcome.
Obviously this is a tough loss; everything happened so quick, Sage didn't get a chance to show anything before being separated from consciousness. By any measure, this was a terrible debut, and one that is made only worse due to the nature of MMA fans and the ease with which they turn on a fighter for the slightest failing. While there is no way to spin this as a good outcome, I don't think it warrants a gloom-and-doom assessment either. There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered, but the final results aren't in yet. Those questions will need to be answered soon, but we're not quite there yet.
This was also a very bad matchup for Northcutt, not that I really expected ONE FC to do much to protect him. Eddie Alvarez, likewise, lost his ONE FC debut to Timofey Nastyukhin, and in both cases I believe the loss speaks more about the qualty of ONE FC's roster more than being a strike against the ex-UFC fighters in question. It's 2019, MMA has truly become a global sport; there is so much talent out there that the UFC certainly does not lay claim to all of it at the elite level. The UFC is still the world's largest MMA promotion, but organisations like KSW, ONE FC, Rizin and Bellator all lay claim to top level fighters.
Sage Northcutt does have a lot of experience under his belt, despite being only 23 years old. He's had 8 UFC fights, even if several of them were against low calibre opponents. Still, Sage looked to be improving and, in his last fight for the UFC, he dispatched a fighter who would have easily dispatched him had he been a complete fraud. Sage may have been protected with weaker match-ups — something the promotion almost never does — and suffered a setback in his losses to Bryan Barbarena and Mickey Glass, but did look to be improving. The consistent concern noted throughout his career seemed to be interruptions to his training and accusations of interference from his father.
Cosmo Alexandre, as stated previously, was a bad match-up for Sage, who has not dealt well with fighters who can close range on him and pressure him. This last fight was the most extreme example of it, as Alexandre needed precious little time to KO him, but it's been a consistent problem. Another concern is that Sage didn't seem at all interested in grappling / wrestling, despite facing an opponent who is a striker by trade — why risk a stand-up battle and play into their strength? The notion that Sage is some sort of elite striker should be dispelled at this point, and his karate style seems to be more of a weakness than a strength.
What we need to see next is whether Sage can learn from this and improve his overall game. He needs to get consistent with his training, find a team he can work with consistently, and shore-up the holes in his game. There is no guarantee he can even do this, but the ronin method he's employed seems to have reached the limits of where it can take him. ONE FC is under no obligation to coddle Sage; he either lives up to his billing as a top UFC talent, or some ONE FC fighters will bolster their resumés at his expense — the promoter wins either way.
There is also the matter of whether or not this is really, truly what Sage wants to do. The reality of the matter is that he doesn't have to fight for a living, in fact combat sports seem like the least lucrative pursuit he could be invested in. He comes from money, has a degree in chemical engineering, and could probably become a full-time Instagram star. He doesn't need to do this, but that's not always sufficient to dissuade people from chasing the dream of being an MMA star. Regardless, the clock is ticking and his next couple of fights will let us know whether or not this whole MMA thing is going to work out or not.
Personally, I am not ready to dismiss the idea that Sage Northcutt could drastically improve as a fighter just yet. He's a talented and athletic young man, he's got access to some of the best fight camps in the sport, and I think he could improve by leaps and bounds if he dedicated himself to the process. However, if he continues to be distracted and inconsistent in his training partners and time, then I expect him to flame out spectacularly and the UFC will look like geniuses for cutting their losses when they did. At the higher weight classes (middleweight and up), freak athleticism can carry a fighter a long way, but at welterweight and below it's just not enough — the talent pool is just way too deep to skate by like that.
The jury's still out, but expect a verdict soon.
Published: May 25th, 2019.