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Zak Ottow: It will be ‘back to the drawing board’ for Sage Northcutt after UFC Boise

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Zak Ottow faces Sage Northcutt at UFC Boise.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

For the first time since joining the UFC, Zak Ottow will be heading into a bout as the more experienced fighter. Coming off of a win against Mike Pyle, an MMA lifer who began his career in 1999, Ottow’s matchup this weekend couldn’t be cut from a more different cloth.

Ottow meets 22-year-old Sage Northcutt in the welterweight co-main event of UFC Boise at the CenturyLink Arena on Friday. The pairing is somewhat of a curious one given that Northcutt is 0-2 competing at 170 pounds and undefeated as a lightweight, but that’s no concern for Ottow, who was happy to sign on the dotted line when the offer came along to test the UFC’s prized prospect.

After all, he gives Northcutt the majority of the credit for their high placement on the card.

“I’m not stupid, I know that we wouldn’t be that high up if I was fighting somebody else,” Ottow told MMA Fighting. “It’s not because of me, it’s because of him and his following and that’s great. That’s a big opportunity for me to go in there and show my skills and show the threat of violence and create some new fans. He is on a winning streak so a loss isn’t gonna set him back too much, he’s gonna be around for a while, he’s gonna continue to grow and get better, but I think this fight is too much, too soon for him.

“I think they’re out to test him a little bit and see how he’s developing, and I don’t think he’s ready for this one. Back to the drawing board after this.”

In Ottow’s five UFC fights, none of which have come against an opponent with less than a decade of experience, he has gone 3-2. Ottow’s UFC debut came against 15-year veteran Josh Burkman, a bout that “The Barbarian” won by split decision despite accepting the fight on less than two weeks’ notice. His next two outings were also split nods, a loss to Sergio Moraes followed by a win over Kiichi Kunimoto.

Ottow, who turned pro in 2012, finally got his first UFC finish with a first-round TKO of Pyle in March, and though his record inside the Octagon might not jump off the page, the quality of opponents has been crucial to his development. It’s this strength of schedule that he believes will be a major factor when he locks horns with Northcutt.

“I think it’s more the caliber of fighters he’s been fighting in the UFC so far,” said Ottow, when asked for his opinion on why Northcutt has failed to find success at welterweight. “I think at 155, it’s been all-bottom-of-the-roster guys, and I think at 170, it’s been middle-of-the-road kind of; and as soon as he starts getting to that middle-of-the-road UFC caliber fighter, he’s been having some major issues getting finished. And now matched up with me?

“I think I’m by far the toughest opponent he’s ever had in MMA. But he’s not my toughest opponent I’ve ever had.”

Both of Northcutt’s pro losses have come by way of submission, which would appear to play perfectly into Ottow’s skill set. The proud Milwaukeean owns 10 submission victories, though he’s yet to earn a tapout in the UFC.

It’s not something he’s hunting for either, as he’s been working to emphasize his standup as well as his expertise on the mat. Ottow expects to get the better of Northcutt in every phase of their contest and doubts that the judges will be involved.

“I feel like I can finish him, but yet I can beat him up for 15 minutes,” Ottow said. “I can beat him up on the feet; if it goes down to the ground, even better. I don’t need to force a game plan on this one. I can just go in there, free flow, use my experience. I have a lot of finishes. I’m very good at figuring people out and capitalizing on opportunities.

“So I’m just going to keep the pressure on him, be relentless, ready to work my ass off for 15 minutes, and when I start to see some holes or opportunities start to present themselves, I’m going to take advantage of it. I don’t see the fight lasting more than two rounds.”