The Rickety Old Shack

The UFC Puts The 'Cut' In Sage Northcutt

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In some rather surprising news, it broke this week that the UFC has parted ways with Sage Northcutt. The 22-year-old was one of the organisation's pet projects over the past ~2 years, and seemed to finally be maturing into the fighter they seemed to expect him to be right out of the gate. Appearing on UFC Unfiltered — the company's in-house podcast / "state media" outlet — Dana White provided some elaboration on how this situation came to be:

His contract was up, so we let him go. We let Sage go. Sage is young and Sage needs some work. So let him get some work in one of these other organizations and we'll see where this kid ends up in a couple of years and maybe we'll pick him back up again.

White's comments are rather interesting, given how glaring Sage's faults were in his initial fights; if the issue was how green Northcutt's talents were, why was he even signed? Reading between the lines, one notes that Sage's disclosed pay was well above that of a vast majority of the roster, and that he now "needs some work" now that he's waited out his exclusive negotiation period with the UFC. Sage was also recently in Singapore, which incidentally is home to ONE FC, who have recently signed Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez. Dana White has never been able to resist the urge to bury someone who shows even a hint of disloyalty.

I'm not too worried for Sage Northcutt's chances of finding somewhere to fight, nor do I think that the claim that he has some glaring weaknesses that need to be address to be disingenuous. I am, however, surprised that: 1) the UFC actually let him walk, 2) Dana White couldn't just keep his mouth shut. The UFC is hardly strapped for cash, and retaining talents like Demetrious Johnson, Eddie Alvarez and Sage Northcutt wouldn't have broken the bank, or even come close. For those who've been around a while, there was a time when the UFC was eating up every organisation it could find, and signing anyone with a hint of potential and a couple of regional wins — and now they're people with name value walk?

I don't know how much the pending anti-trust lawsuit against the UFC plays into their decisions, if they've finally reached critical mass with their roster, or the company — specifically Dana White — simply doesn't know precisely what it's doing right now... I suspect there could be a mix of all of the above, but the last one could be the most significant. Dana White is no stranger to feuds with members of the roster, but in recent years the number of them has grown substantially. It's taken some time, but I think the sale of the UFC to WME-IMG, putting that 4.2 billion dollar figure out there, has finally sunk in. The company is obviously profitable and anyone with an ounce of leverage seems to be using it — as they should — and we're seeing Dana White's reactions and outbursts further fuelling the acrimony.

Sage Northcutt has a world of options before him: he's got a name in MMA thanks to a big push from the UFC, seems genetically engineered to be an Instagram celebrity, comes from a wealthy family and he holds a university degree. It would take a concerted effort or an extreme amount of horrendous luck for Sage to not find a way to make a boat-load of cash. Whether it's in ONE FC, Bellator, or he opts to change careers altogether, Sage will be fine. It's also not like the UFC can't afford him, they just don't want to at the moment — they could likely re-sign him whenever they want. I doubt any serious bridges were burnt, but this situation is a sign of the times. It feels like anyone could potentially walk away from the UFC, not only do there seem to be a lot more options now but fighters seem far less worried about making the attempt.

Sage does need to work on some things, as he still seems to react poorly to being hit, and his overall skillset is still developing. That said, he's got everything going for him and could very well continue maturing into an elite fighter. Whether Sage negotiated himself out of a job or the UFC really did decide to simply cut their losses on the Sage as a project, both are noteworthy. While I found his initial push a bit difficult to understand, I have grown to like Sage and I'm curious to see what he does next. Many have argued that Sage was overpaid and I completely disagree — everyone else was just underpaid. I can never begrudge a fighter for getting as much money from a promoter as they can, regardless of how favourably they get treated.

—by Derek

Published: November 28th, 2018.