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Firas Zahabi: Sage Northcutt 'reminds me a lot' of a young Georges St-Pierre

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

With 19-year old upstart Sage Northcutt making the most of his spotlight at UFC 192 against Francisco Trevino, the attention has shifted to what comes next. On Monday it was announced that Northcutt will be facing Cody Pfister in his follow-up act at UFC Fight Night 80 on Dec. 10. That fight will happen in Las Vegas, as part of the UFC’s big three fight cards in three nights ending at UFC 194.

And, it turns out, he’ll do his training in Montreal, Quebec, at the home of his MMA idol Georges St-Pierre.

St-Pierre’s head coach Firas Zahabi appeared on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour and said that Northcutt will be joining the Tristar team.

"Yeah, that’s right," he told Ariel Helwani. "He’s going to be staying here for his training camp. He’ll be staying here at the Tristar dorms, and he’ll be going through the basics."

Northcutt needed only 57 seconds to dispose of Trevino in Houston, which only upped the wattage of the spotlight the UFC put on him after Dana White discovered the young phenom on a scouting trip down south. As a Texas native, Northcutt has trained since a young age with his father, and dreamed of one day fighting in the UFC.

One of the things that stood out during fight week — and after — was Northcutt’s demeanor. He was always smiling and refreshingly positive.

"I love the kid," Zahabi said in the interview. "The kid’s amazing. He’s super-amazing. He’s amazing in the practice room, he’s amazing outside. He’s super-hard working, he’s friendly, I couldn’t ask for more."

Asked if he recruited Northcutt, or if Northcutt came to him, he said it was somewhere in between.

"I was trying to talk to him, this was when he was in Legacy," Zahabi said. "I saw his fights in Legacy, I really liked the kid. I’m always looking for that type of fighter. He has good distance and footwork and karate and traditional stuff. So I looked up, and I couldn’t find his dad on Facebook. I don’t know if has a Facebook, but I wasn’t able to. And then I got a call from a friend who knows them, and he said hey, we can connect you guys. And we got connected. We tried training for a week together, and we both enjoyed it, so we’re going to be working together from now on."

Zahabi said that Northcutt’s father will remain part of his son’s development, and that career decisions will still filter through him.

"I think me and his dad, we’re just going to have discussions," Zahabi said. "At the end of the day, his dad has been training him his whole life. His dad should have the last say. But of course I want to be part of that conversation, I want to put in my two cents. Not necessarily publicly, but between us and all the coaches working together…what’s the next best fight? How long do we have to prepare? How do we feel we could do?

"We need to focus on what’s best for Sage, and give him time to expand. The kid is 19 years old. I think by the age of 21, 22, he’s going to have reached so many other levels it’s going to be scary."

Zahabi said that part of what caught his eye when watching tape on Northcutt in his Legacy day was his timing. He also liked that his father had trained him seriously from a young age, and now recreationally.

"Somebody had posted his fights and I saw that sidekick," he said. "I saw that kick and I thought for sure he’s into traditional martial arts. I saw his footwork, and I thought wow, this kid is something special. He’s got that technical style we do. The kind we cultivate and we work with, so I was like, wow, I’d love to go have this kid come in and see what he can do.

"Then he got picked up by the UFC and then I saw his debut, and I was like, wow, it’ll be hard to get in touch with him now that he’s in the UFC. Then I was getting these messages saying, hey, I want to connect you with him and we think he’d be a great fit. And it turns out everybody thought he’d be a great fit with Tristar, a lot of people were thinking the same thing. And it is. That’s the kind of fighter we like to look for — good, polite, kind, good attitude, hard working. And it’s working well."

Northcutt is still a freshman in college, and plans to continue with his education as he fights. Zahabi said that he’ll be traveling back and forth as necessary to continue with his studies.

Asked if he liked Northcutt’s humility in the fight game at a young age, Zahabi said his attitude felt familiar.

"I think he reminds me a lot of Georges," he said. "Georges is that type of guy — positive, good attitude, eager to train, always happy to go to practice. He’s always positive. I love it. That is the first step in being successful, having a good attitude."

As for facing Pfister in his second UFC fight, Zahabi said he liked the matchmaking.

"Cody’s a very aggressive guy," Zahabi said. "He moves forward, he’s a high-pressure guy. I think it’s a good test for test for Sage. Cody’s not going to give him an inch, he’s not going to back up. It’s going to be fun. I like the fight."

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