Sage Northcutt might be the most positive, upbeat person in all of mixed martial arts but even he had a hard time finding the silver lining in his ONE Championship debut back in 2019.
After signing with the Asian-based promotion following the conclusion of his UFC contract, Northcutt suffered a brutal knockout loss to former kickboxer Cosmo Alexandre, which resulted in numerous facial fractures that kept him sidelined for months.
A long recovery coupled with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic forced Northcutt to bide his time to book his return but he’ll finally get back in the cage on April 28 for a showdown against former ONE lightweight champion Shinya Aoki. As expected, Northcutt is all smiles about that news.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” Northcutt said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I mean obviously every sport has injuries but on top of that, when COVID hit all around the United States and overseas, it kind of shut down a lot of stuff. So especially me training out in California and California’s been kind of shut down for such a long time.
“I’m actually super excited to be back in training and to be training for this fight. Cause the fans are going to love it and I know the fans are going to be excited to see some fights going on.”
Coming back from an injury can be an arduous process for any athlete but especially someone like Northcutt, who spends a lot of his time training in the gym whether he’s got a fight coming up or not.
While eight facial fractures are no joke, Northcutt was able to put that behind him as quickly as the doctors would allow it but the COVID-19 related restrictions prevented him from really getting back to his regular routine.
“I was getting antsy. I can tell you that,” Northcutt said. “I don’t even like talking about what happened cause it’s the past but right off the bat, I was already out trying to do cardio and obviously I wanted to get back out there as soon as possible but things happen and then COVID happens all around the United States and overseas, so for me, it stunk to have to wait so long, it definitely stinks.
“But to be back right now and to have a fight scheduled, I can’t even tell you how excited I am.”
There will be no warm-up fight for Northcutt in his return because he’s already facing a former champion in Aoki, who has a reputation as one of the nastiest submission specialists to ever compete in the sport.
Aoki is currently riding a three-fight win streak with a 7-1 resume in his past eight fights with six of those seven victories coming by way of TKO or submission.
Northcutt is keenly aware that he’s jumping right into the deep end of the ONE lightweight division with this fight but he’s ready to test himself against a veteran like Aoki.
“He’s a legend in the sport,” Northcutt said about Aoki. “He was the champ eight months ago, I believe. Won his last three fights after that. He’s a legend. He’s had 55 pro fights. So for me to have this fight, I’m super excited for it. I’m pumped up to get out there.
“The fact that it’s a weight class down from my previous fight. I’m really excited. He’s had a ton of experience but I’m also excited to show what I’m made of.”
While the old adage is true — anything can happen in a fight — Northcutt would be a fool to think Aoki won’t be doing everything possible to drag him down to the ground where he can apply his suffocating grappling game.
In the past, Aoki has gotten takedowns, pulled guard, grabbed at ankles and just about every other variation of technique you can imagine to bring his opponents down to the floor with him.
While he’s not necessarily inviting a ground battle with Aoki on April 28, Northcutt has confidence that his team will have him ready for whatever happens in the fight.
“He’s a great grappler. The thing is you have to be ready for anything,” Northcutt said. “I’m training at Team Alpha Male to be ready for all the worst case scenarios to the best case scenarios. You can make a game plan, even though I’m not going to give away any game plan but you can make a game plan and then get out there and it can go totally different from what you’re expecting. Just being prepared for the unexpected is always a big thing and just be ready for whatever happens out there, whatever happens to you.”
“You have to be prepared for it. He’s a skilled opponent. 55 pro fights and he was the champ so I definitely have to be ready for anything. He’s got so much experience. Definitely not something to overlook.”
More than anything else, Northcutt is just ready to get a fresh start as he returns to ONE Championship in a new weight class with a chance to make a huge impact against a legend like Aoki.
“If you look at my career with the UFC, I was 5-0 at 155 pounds, which is lightweight,” Northcutt explained. “This is their lightweight division for ONE Championship. I’m excited to get back out there with a talented opponent but also my skill set, too.
“I feel like my last fight, that was only one fight, my last fight. Things happen. You can get the best fighter out there, the champion, but everyone gets beat some time. Someone might get beat in five seconds flat. Can’t just go by one fight so I’m looking forward to this fight.”