Few fighters know what it’s like to compete in the UFC as a teenager, but Sage Northcutt understands the experience better than most.
After being signed to the UFC roster and debuting at just 19 years of age, Northcutt was touted as potentially being the future of the promotion. But those high expectations came crashing down around him in just his third fight after falling to Bryan Barberena in 2016. Suddenly, Northcutt went from the next big thing to a supposed bust, despite the fact that he was still only eight fights into his professional career.
Eighteen-year-old Raul Rosas Jr. experienced a similar rise and fall after he made huge waves by being signed to the UFC while still in high school and winning his promotional debut. Unfortunately, Rosas was similarly brought back down to Earth with a dramatic thud in his second octagon appearance after falling to Christian Rodriguez at UFC 287.
Coincidentally, that fight was the eighth professional bout on Rosas’ record as well.
“I actually saw his fight,” Northcutt said of Rosas when speaking to MMA Fighting. “He was going at it. I saw a couple of rounds and he was wrestling, wrestling, wrestling. I think he’s got a lot of talent.
“He’s 18. He’s got so much time to keep growing and learning and improving. Being young like that, you have a loss — try to take it as a learning experience.”
It’s possible Northcutt might be one of the most positive people to ever compete in MMA, so he never seemed to let the criticism drag him down after he faced such overwhelming adversity so early in his career.
That said, the now 27-year-old fighter understands that it’s difficult to deal with that level of attention, whether good or bad, and he knows Rosas is probably weathering a storm of emotions right now after suffering his first professional loss.
“No matter what, no matter what people say about you, no matter how many people you have saying negative stuff, it takes a lot of guts to get out there and to fight,” Northcutt said. “Even for just one fight to step into that cage.
“So to get back up after you lose and to perform even better and go bigger places with your career, that’s huge. That gives a lot of people hope too. I think he should keep going.”
Looking back at when he first debuted in the UFC at 19, Northcutt doesn’t necessarily have regrets, although he knows there are some things he would’ve changed if possible.
First and foremost, Northcutt wishes he’d surrounded himself with the right people who would’ve been dedicated to making him a better fighter, to truly prepare him for the level of competition he’d face in the UFC. That might be the most valuable advice he can offer to Rosas as the teenager seeks to bounce back from his first loss.
“Looking at me at 19, I was studying to be an engineer in college while fighting in the UFC, and I had to take a break from college to focus full-time on fighting,” Northcutt explained. “If I could have changed something from when I was younger, I would have gone to Team Alpha Male sooner and surrounded myself with a bunch of professional fighters and really hone in my skills sooner and quicker.
“I don’t know where he’s training at, but if he’s not doing that, it would be something very beneficial.”
As far as his own career goes, Northcutt is preparing for a restart after nearly four years away due to severe facial injuries suffered in May 2019 as well as a bout with COVID-19 that prevented him from returning as planned in 2021.
It’s been a difficult wait for Northcutt to compete again, but he’s anxious to get back to work — and thankfully, because he got started so early, he can now make up for lost time.
His return happens at ONE Fight Night 10 on Amazon Prime Video, which also serves as the first-ever ONE Championship card in the United States.
“Better early than being late in my career because if this happened 10 or 15 years from now, that would be a bummer,” Northcutt said. “That would be super hard to come back. But being so young, I got time to reflect on my career so far, other fighters, and really get to learn and improve.
“I have been putting in so much hard work, but now I’ve got this fight set on May 5 and I’m really looking forward to it.”