The UFC is all-in on Sage Northcutt. The 19-year-old has been put front-and-center at every opportunity, and the company has been actively pushing top-10 names out of the way to ensure that. It has booked Northcutt for three fights in just four months, with each of his opponents fitting perfectly into his style.
An injury to Andrew Holbrook, Northcutt's original UFC on Fox 18 dancing partner, threw a wrench into those plans, forcing them to introduce a variable to the equation by the name of Bryan Barberena. The MMA Lab product, like Holbrook, was expected to do the job for the youngster but boy, things did not pan out that way.
Each fighter's game plan was obvious from the get-go. Northcutt wanted to overwhelm Barberena with his diverse striking arsenal and intense physicality. Barberena wanted to keep Northcutt close, keeping him in the clinch in order to threaten takedowns and prevent Northcutt from putting too much power behind his strikes.
Both men had their moments in a back-and-forth first round. Northcutt tagged Barberena with punches and repeatedly out-muscled him along the cage. Barberena managed to out-technique Northcutt in the clinch, taking him down and finding some success on the ground. By the end of the frame, though, Northcutt was visibly slower and less explosive.
When Round 2 kicked off, Northcutt fell to the canvas after attempting an ill-advised head kick, and Barberena was quick to pounce on top of him. From full guard, he landed numerous short elbows, which allowed him to advance to half guard. He then started working for an opposite-side arm triangle choke that, surprisingly, wound up successful, forcing the heavy favorite to tap out.
It was a shocking submission from an odd position—one that had UFC commentator Joe Rogan (and MMAFighting.com's Luke Thomas) questioning whether or not it was a "quick tap" (that is, he wondered aloud if Northcutt was quick to give up). It's also a submission that takes a lot of money out of bookies' pockets.
Here are some other notes and thoughts on the fight:
- The loss will definitely provoke a lot of questions about how the UFC decided to promote Northcutt (now 7-1). Despite being an incredibly raw talent, the UFC put more effort into showcasing him than they have into champions like Demetrious Johnson and Robbie Lawler. The UFC wasted a lot of man-hours with this outcome.
- That said, don't mistake this loss for being the end of Northcutt's career. He remains a top-notch prospect from both a technical and athletic perspective, and that doesn't change with just one loss.
- Unfortunately, this win means very little for Barberena (11-3). Look for him to get buried onto the preliminary card or stuck onto a so-so UFC Fight Night from here.
- Barberena added insult to injury by lampooning Northcutt's signature front flip. Brutal!