ONE Championship star Sage Northcutt still hasn’t been cleared to return to full training following his violent knockout defeat in his promotional debut back in May.
The American left the UFC to sign with ONE in a marquee deal. On his promotional debut he was struck with a Cosmo Alexandre right-hand that instantly crumpled him to the canvas in as rude a welcome as you could possibly imagine.
The knockout at ONE: ‘Enter the Dragon’ was heard around the world, as images of Northcutt’s bruised and lacerated face spread like wildfire across social media. He would eventually undergo surgery for multiple facial fractures.
Beyond the physical, it was the kind of ordeal that would leave many with long-lasting mental scars. While Northcutt admits it was a difficult time, he’s ready to come out the other side a better fighter for the experience.
“That was probably the toughest thing I’ve been through in my entire life. Coming through adversity like that, having to stay strong through that, it makes you a stronger person.”
And with a wealth of time to reflect, Northcutt has taken plenty of lessons from it, the most obvious of which was about competing in the right weight class.
He plans to make the move down to lightweight for his next fight, a division where he’s had plenty of success.
“I’m going to go back down (to lightweight) where I was 5-0 in the UFC and undefeated,” said Northcutt.
“I went up to 185lbs for that weight class (against Alexandre). I don’t even weigh 185lbs, I weigh about 180. Really for my body frame, my size, my age that weight class is too big for me.”
The 23-year-old says he’s also realised that he needs to adopt a more ruthless mentality inside the cage and return to his natural karate foundations. Specifically, throwing more kicks, of which he carries a ‘dangerous’ arsenal.
So much so, that he’s even barred from unleashing them during sparring.
“I’ve never used them because I’ve won previous fights doing other things. In training and sparring, I’ll be told not to throw certain kicks, certain spinning stuff, because you can hurt your training partners. But because I don’t throw them in practice, that correlates to the ring. When I go back out there I’m gonna do it differently.”
Northcutt promises to take a more ruthless approach to his next assignment,
“I think everyone as a fighter has a killer instinct and I didn’t really get to tap into that, but now I understand. For me, it’s always been such a sport that you’re just going out there to win but I think its locked in my mind now, and in my next fight I’m going to strike, hurt him and take him out as soon as possible.”
Northcutt grew up surrounded by martial arts. His dad was a black belt and a karate instructor, and he and his siblings toured the country competing in tournaments and conducting exhibitions.
After appearing in an episode of Dana White’s Looking for a Fight TV series, the UFC quickly snapped him up and immediately injected him into their star-making machine, some would say too quickly.
He dropped two of his first three fights, before righting the ship with the three-straight wins before deciding to ink a multi-fight contract with ONE Championship to join the Asian mini-exodus spearheaded by Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez.
The manner of Northcutt’s unexpected departure may have been the reason why he believes there may have been a touch of bitterness in UFC president White’s suggestion that he should hang up his gloves following his loss to Alexandre.
“I think he was kind of upset about me not fighting for his organisation, but my passion is to fight and when the doctors give me the okay, I’m going to.”
The relentlessly positive Northcutt even chose to fashion his own glass half full interpretation of his former boss’ comments.
“People told me I could take it as a compliment, (White) saying I could retire because I don’t need to fight. I could go to engineering, that I was doing at school. I could possibly go into acting, maybe modelling. It’s nice of him to say I have the ability to do that.”
But at the moment, that’s the last thing on Northcutt’s mind. His only goal is getting back into the gym as soon as possible to begin his bid for Lightweight glory and make his mark in his new promotion. He’s hopeful he’ll be ready to get back inside the cage at some stage during 2020.
Northcutt has heard the doubters, but he’s paying little attention.
“I know a lot of people are saying I’m going to be gun shy and not be able to take a punch. But I took a shot so hard that it was able to break the parts of my face that broke, and I still wasn’t knocked unconscious. When I come back I’m gonna be stronger than ever, more skilled than ever, and smarter than ever.”