Take one glance at Sage Northcutt’s record and an obvious trend jumps out about his UFC run. Over the course of three years in the promotion, the exceedingly polite Texan has racked up a perfect 5-0 fighting at lightweight, but a less-than-stellar 0-2 résumé competing at 170 pounds. If past results are any indication, it would seem that 155 pounds is a more beneficial weight class to Northcutt than welterweight. So why is “Super Sage” moving back up to 170 pounds for his clash against Zak Ottow this weekend at UFC Boise?
The answer is a simple one.
For the still-growing Northcutt, lightweight was never going to be a permanent home, and the chiseled 22-year-old knows that his time to make a 170-pound move was likely overdue.
“You know what, I started fighting in the UFC when I was 19 years old,” Northcutt told MMA Fighting ahead of UFC Boise. “Now I’m 22, so I’m growing taller, I’m getting bigger, my muscles are maturing, I’m putting on more muscle, I’m still a kid growing, so that’s part of it. Also, making weight at 155 is pretty tough for me. The last several pounds, my body kinda stops sweating, and I think I’m going to be much more myself and it’ll be much more fun and entertaining out there, me fighting at 170. So, I’m looking forward to doing that.”
Northcutt isn’t alone in his decision. The practice of moving up in weight actually seems to fast be developing into a trend. Last weekend, at UFC 226 alone, a champion moving up from a lower weight class put on one of the best performances of his career (Daniel Cormier), while a one-time middling featherweight prospect cut what very well could’ve been the mother of all anti-weight-cutting promos after stamping himself as a monstrous lightweight contender (Dan Hooker). That same night, the UFC announced its next middleweight title bout will be contested between two former welterweights who have come alive at 185 pounds (Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum).
All four of those men have spoken at length about the damage they were doing to their bodies with their drastic weight cuts, and how malnourishing themselves before a fight was negatively affecting their performances. And Northcutt echoes those same sentiments.
“People always say, when you cut that huge amount of weight and you’re depleting all water, you’re depleting it from your organs, the water in your brain, everywhere in your body,” Northcutt said. “It kinda does make you a little bit cloudy. Just to be able to have one day to be able to gain your weight back, if you’re cutting big amounts or if you’re very lean for your body and you’re cutting a certain amount from your body, that kinda does happen.
“It’s funny. Normally, to even be able to make weight at 155, I’m having to walk around like 168 or 169 pounds in training and constantly under-eating; that way I can just make that weight, because I walk around very lean. So if I’m heavier than that, it’s a very tough fight to make the weight, because I walk around very lean. So, now, this is my first time getting to walk around more at a natural weight and getting to eat more food and walk around a little heavier, weighing like 190 or something. And that’s not even really trying to really put on weight yet, so I think that was good.
“There’s a difference,” Northcutt added. “Just, for instance, me competing at 155 and then me walking around every day just training in the gym, I feel totally different. So, kinda don’t feel like the same kind of Sage going out there at 155, with the same power and explosion. So I’m really looking forward to fighting at 170 for this fight this Saturday, because I should be fast, strong, explosive, and feel great.”
With three years of UFC experience now under his belt, Northcutt is able to look back on his early Octagon struggles and diagnose one of the biggest problems with his introductory run. Because of his busy fight schedule, “Super Sage” shrunk his frame down to the 155-pound range three times over a four-month span in 2015-16 — his welterweight contest against Bryan Barberena was a last-second replacement fight, so Northcutt had already prepared his body for a third consecutive cut to 155 pounds.
The repeated stress of a teenager with such low body fat undertaking such dramatic cuts ended up wrecking havoc on his body. Northcutt believes his weight cuts played a significant role in the subsequent health issues that followed: His battles with strep throat and his issues with his tonsils. Altogether, the experience served as a wake-up call for Northcutt, so while he isn’t ruling out a move back to 155 pounds in the future, he also doesn’t appear eager to make the lightweight plunge any time again soon.
“I think I’m going to stick with [welterweight] as I get older and grow older, because I’m still growing,” Northcutt said. “And I figured, before the UFC, I was fighting at catchweights of 165 or 170, so coming down to 155 for my first fight in the UFC and dropping that weight so I could be one of the bigger guys, one of the strong guys in the weight class — yes, I was one of the biggest guys, but it kinda affects my performance big-time, is what I feel. So, I think it’s going to be nice to be able to grow into my weight, and this is the first time I’m actually getting to walk around at my natural body weight and train with it.
“I could definitely go back to 155 and fight,” Northcutt added. “I just think I’ll be a lot more entertaining at 170, in my opinion. I’m going to feel better, I should be more explosive, and I should just feel a whole lot better out there. Also, I like to fight pretty frequently; like, if you look at Donald Cerrone, he puts on a great show all the time, he gets to go out there and fight a lot, but if I’m having extreme weight cuts going down to 155, it’d be much easier to go cut the weight and go down to 170 and fight frequently, if that makes sense.”
Aside from his move up in weight, one other factor that Northcutt is excited to show off at UFC Boise is the growth he has undergone at Team Alpha Male. It’s nearly been a year since Northcutt made the full-time move to Sacramento to officially join his first-ever real MMA team, and for someone so young in the game, the experience has been a game-changer.
“I’m definitely growing to be a different fighter,” Northcutt said. “Right now, I’m definitely a different fighter [than I was in 2015-16]. More experienced, and for the fight this weekend, I just really want to go out there and show it. I believe I can. I’ve had an actual straight 10 or 11 months training at Team Alpha Male, actually at a camp. Before, I was training at just a jiu-jitsu studio, and that’s it, and then I was also in high school and college. So that definitely has a big impact, because I never had any training partners, and never really had any sparring whatsoever. Now I’m getting to spar every week or several times a week, whatever it is, and getting to really improve. For real.”
After recently picking up consecutive decisions over Michel Quinones and Thibault Gouti, a win on Saturday at UFC Boise will give Northcutt his first-ever three-fight winning streak under the UFC banner. That’s a big accomplishment for a prospect so young, and Northcutt is eager to test himself against a veteran as skilled as Ottow.
“I heard he’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu, which I know. And I’m looking to go out there and knock my opponent Zak Ottow out,” Northcutt said. “That’s what I’m looking to go do, and someone said he thinks he’s super strong — that’s what someone said — but I think I’m super strong, and I think that he’s not going to be strong enough for me. I don’t think he’s going to be fast enough for me, and I’m ready to go out there.”