The hype train that most fighters seem to ride upon is quite a dangerous vehicle. Many of the top stars in the UFC, including Ronda Rousey, Chris Weidman, and Shogun Rua, fell victim to being overly sensationalized and swept up in the storm of fame. It now seems that the hype train has claimed another victim in Sage Northcutt (7-1), but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The 19-year-old "Super" star was written up as the next big thing when UFC President Dana White signed him to fight at UFC 192. Every single one of Northcutt's seven wins came by flashy, highlight reel finishes. Even before his UFC debut, he earned 77 karate world championship wins by the time he was 12-years-old. Everyone in the MMA world began to hear the name Northcutt thrown around as the potential future of the sport. News teams from Inside MMA to Bleacher Report ran stories about him. His level of athleticism, combined with a genuinely amicable personality, seemed unparalleled in the sport. Northcutt was living up to the hype.
Enter Bryan Barberena (11-3), who replaced Andrew Holbrook on short notice to fight Northcutt at UFC on Fox 18. Barberena talked a big game in the week leading up to the fight, saying how he would be the one to knock Sage off of his pedestal. This words were not heeded, as Northcutt entered the fight a -269 favorite to win.
And then the unthinkable happened. In the second round, Barberena took Northcutt to the mat and submitted him with an arm triangle choke, handing Northcutt his first professional MMA loss.
Excuses were thrown around. "He's a lightweight and wasn't used to having to fight at welterweight." "He was sick leading up to the fight." "Barberena didn't sink in the choke deep enough." But it doesn't matter. The fact is Northcutt got taken to the ground, barely put up a struggle against his opponent, and, floundering and unable to fight or even defend off of his back, tapped.
And of course, the world quickly turned on him. Armchair critics around the world lunged to their keyboards and typed out posts, claiming that they always knew Northcutt wasn't the real deal. Even #5 ranked lightweight Tony Ferguson called Northcutt "a little Bitch". Grown men and women were viscously spouting vitriol against a polite kid who refers to his elders as "sir" or "madam."
Woo!!! Tapped like a little Bitch & Tried to tel the Ref Different!! @sagenorthcutt VonFlu/Got You @bryan_barberena pic.twitter.com/xO4jNshOtq
— Tony Ferguson (@TonyFergusonXT)
For some fighters, a fall from grace of this magnitude would mark the turning point in a career. But the opposite is the likely scenario for Northcutt, who has just begun training at the world renowned Tristar Gym, home to one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time, Georges St-Pierre. Perhaps the ever-humble Northcutt did, in some way, fall victim to his own ego and the hype surrounding him, but it seems as though he is taking the loss in stride. He is acting correctly in this situation by ignoring the venomous criticism, staying positive, and taking the necessary steps to change and improve his fight game.
The third youngest fighter ever in the UFC, Northcutt still has a long career ahead of him. Like the greats, he will face victory and defeat many more times inside the Octagon. But just as important as those wins and losses is how the fighter handles them. By training at a new gym, Northcutt has started down the path to sealing the holes in his style. Reporters will start leaving him alone, giving him more time to focus on fighting and less on fame. He could become the future of the sport, but for now, people will wait to see what happens. However, the future looks bright for Northcutt, and I have no doubt that we'll be seeing "Super" performing a victorious front-flip again, perhaps more deserving of his hype the next time around.