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The cult of Sage Northcutt is a little disarming, and a lot of fun

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS – At some point it might get a little (beyond) strange, watching Sage Northcutt comport himself like Buddy from Elf. But right now his innocence in a hardened game is a little refreshing. Sometimes you don’t need complexity in your cast. Sometimes you welcome Happy for the sake of Happy.

On Thursday night, after Northcutt overcame his first bit of adversity when Cody Pfister spent a couple a minutes on top of him, the 19-year old Northcutt came into the post-fight presser beaming with bright-eyed wonder. He was asked about his very enthusiastic endorsement of Fight Pass, and, you know, if he wouldn’t mind being the face of Fight Pass for a few fights going forward.

This is a question that would be asinine for anybody else. But for Northcutt, it was like somebody unlocked the candy store and told him to build cavities.

"It’d be awesome, I wouldn’t mind that!" he said, smiling real big. "UFC Fight Pass is amazing, so happy to fight for UFC Fight Pass and the UFC in general."

"Mr. White," whom most just forego the formalities and call "Dana," chimed in with, "did you think he was going to say anything negative?" Everybody laughed. The answer is no. Nobody thought he’d say anything negative.

Negative isn’t a side of Northcutt we’ve seen in his two UFC fights so far. It’s slightly disarming for us who are used to ulterior motives, posturing and agenda. It’s a little strange when he’s sitting next to Dana, who can be a world-class grump. And it was a very odd juxtaposition when Paige VanZant came in wearing fresh stitches after her loss to Rose Namajunas and sat down next to Northcutt. UFC Fight Night 80 was billed as the Sage and Paige Show. It’s too bad shows like these don’t have happier scripts for the stars.

While VanZant was fighting back tears in explaining that she simply needed to get better techniques, Northcutt got very serious, in the way kids might around adult trouble they don’t have any real part in. A few minutes later somebody asked him if it was true that he wasn’t allowed to use the Internet, and Northcutt laughed.

"That’s funny," he said. "I can use the Internet. I have to use it for my schoolwork too!"

What’s not to love about Northcutt at this juncture of his career? He’s 19, he’s 2-0 in the UFC, and he was discovered by accident down in the Louisiana swamps by Dana White, Matt Serra and Nick the Tooth. Maybe he has a closet full of vices back there in Katy, Texas, but the only thing the public has seen so far is a kid with a superhuman physique, spiky blonde hair and pearly white teeth, floating along on Cloud Nine. He cuts a mean gif, too, when he does his acrobatic flips in victory. When somebody (like Pfister) infers that he might be using steroids, Northcutt lights up like he has been paid the best compliment possible.

‘Steroids? Wow, thanks!"

Of course, the backlash for all of this, too. It came out a little bit in his fight with Pfister, who was stood up — inexplicably — while still actively ground-and-pounding Northcutt in the first round. From that point on it was Northcutt annihilated Pfister, saying it took him a minute to get his bearings in the smaller cage. But there were plenty of people who wanted to hold it against the happy-go-lucky college student who beats people up in a cage.

"I think the referee is very smart, and all of the referees, they know what they’re doing," Northcutt said afterwards. "It wasn’t my fault, so the referee made a decision, and it worked out good. I took my opponent down right after that and then went to the second round and finished him."

Mr. White jumped in and said the stand-up was ridiculous. Northcutt didn’t disagree. Of, no way sir. He was just happy to be there, and happy things went his way. That attitude is a little infectious. Who knows how long it will last — probably not long, as innocence is the first thing to go in the fight game — but it’s fun.

Right now, the cult of Sage Northcutt is a breath of fresh air.