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Sage Northcutt wants to beat Jon Jones’ mark, become youngest UFC champion ever

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LAS VEGAS - Jon Jones was 23 years old when he melted Mauricio "Shogun" Rua under a hailstorm of knees and elbows in March 2011 to become the youngest champion in UFC history.

By contrast, Sage Northcutt is 19 years old, a bonafide child of the mid-90s and a lightweight prospect readying to make his second UFC appearance this Thursday at UFC Fight Night 80. But despite his relative inexperience, Northcutt has lofty goals in mind for this sport, and he hopes to do Jones one better before all is said and done.

"What I am looking at is a long-term thing," Northcutt said at Tuesday's open workouts. "I'm trying to have not only as many fights as I can right now, because you don't know when the end of your career could be, but also to be able to hopefully be the UFC champion one day, and I'd like to be the youngest."

As Northcutt prepares to face Cody Pfister in the first of three back-to-back-to-back UFC events this week, he does so very much in the public eye. His 57-second victory over Francisco Trevino earmarked him as a fighter to watch in the stacked 155-pound division, and already he has begun experiencing the effects of what happens when the UFC decides to put its sizable hype machine at one's back, as he has drawn callouts from a litany of his divisional stablemates in the aftermath of his Oct. 3 debut.

But rather than taking offense, Northcutt prefers to see those challenges as a positive.

"That's very awesome actually," Northcutt said. "I guess the more people who want to fight, that's very nice, that's great for me, because I want to be able to have as many fights as I possible can and be able to fight as soon as possible, and obviously be well prepared for my fights. I'm just very thankful that anybody wants to mention me or be able to fight me. I've only had one fight in the UFC, so that's an awesome compliment."

The congenial answer should surprise no one by now, simply because that's just how Northcutt is. The teenager is rarely seen without a smile, and still refers to many of his elders with a precursory Mr. or Mrs., as he did when revealing that Tristar head coach Firas Zahabi -- or Mr. Zahabi -- will be in his corner once Thursday rolls around.

Northcutt's politeness even extended to his opponent Pfister, who has not only referred to the youngster as Dana White's new "lap dog," but also publicly wondered whether Northcutt was abusing PEDs.

"That's funny, and I just want to tell my opponent thank you for saying that, because that's a huge compliment to me," Northcutt said. "If he thinks so, then that's very nice that he says that. I've actually been tested four times already, drug tested. Three times by USADA and one time by the Texas boxing commission for the UFC, and actually USADA came to my house at six o'clock in the morning and took blood from me and urine, along with being tested throughout high school and sports all the time too. So that's a big compliment."

For Northcutt, this whole ride is an experience to be treasured. He vowed to be a UFC fighter when he became the youngest athlete to ever grace the cover of Sport Karate magazine at age nine, and merely a decade later he fulfilled that goal, following in the footsteps of his childhood idols and even training alongside many of them when he visited Montreal's famed Tristar Gym for the first time ever during this fight camp.

"Watching GSP mostly, growing up (watching) all the other awesome fighters, it's like, who doesn't want to be able to fight like these guys?" Northcutt said. "They're so incredible, they're so talented. You look at them, they're ripped up, athletic, and they're just machines. So it's not just only the guys, but the whole sport itself, it keeps growing and growing and getting better."

Northcutt's schoolwork at Texas A&M, where he is studying petroleum engineering, cut the fighter's trip to Tristar short this time around, but Northcutt plans to continue making periodic trips to the gym as his schedule permits.

His immediate future, though, falls against Pfister, a hard-nosed veteran of two UFC fights. And though Northcutt's debut win against Trevino left him a hard act to follow, the young karate champ is up for the challenge.

"I think [my debut] went just perfectly, as planned, how it should've gone, and it don't think it really could've gone any better than what it went," Northcutt said. "[But] there's always something to correct in your gameplan, even if it's just, let's say your left big toe is not moving as fast as your whole foot or something. There's always little things to correct, so I'm always looking to correct those (things) and make myself better. Hopefully I can show that this Thursday, too."