It was quiet in the dining room of the Luxe City Center Hotel in Los Angeles, where ONE Championship held athlete interviews during their first press tour in the United States. Former UFC veterans—and now ONE stars—Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez finished up their media responsibilities in the main filming room, and there was one interview remaining.
After a prolonged time spent twiddling thumbs in an empty room and growing doubtful the final interview would even happen, a large man with biceps the size of legs, the chin of Superman, and a hairstyle rarely seen since the breakup of NSYNC walked in to single-handedly light up the room with his energy.
"Hi, I’m Sage! Nice to meet you."
Sage Northcutt, a former UFC welterweight who signed for ONE last November, made his presence known immediately at the Luxe City Center Hotel. However, that day in Los Angeles wasn’t the only time "Super" made a near-immediate impact.
At the age of four, Northcutt began his martial arts career by training in karate under the supervision of his father, who is a black belt. By 17, he won 77 world youth championships in the sport, was inducted into the Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame, and is the youngest person to ever be on the cover of Sport Karate Magazine at nine.
Even with all the success he had as an adolescent, the 23-year-old told B/R Live he still would have done things differently in preparation for his future in mixed martial arts.
"I probably would’ve started training even sooner," Northcutt said. "You have to start doing some wrestling, some jiu-jitsu."
He would’ve also changed up another crucial aspect of his life.
"Use a different hair gel."
After amassing a 4-0 start to his professional mixed martial arts career, Northcutt caught the eye of UFC President Dana White, who featured him in the debut episode of a recruitment series called Looking For a Fight in 2014.
The Texas native made his UFC debut almost a year later, winning in 57 seconds. In less than three years with the promotion, Northcutt went 6-2 and won his final three matches. He began making a name for himself in the welterweight division as White offered him matches against top-10 opponents Demian Maia and Santiago Ponzinibbio during contract negotiations at the expiration of his original deal.
"The UFC wanted to keep me as one of their fighters," Northcutt said. "My contract ended and from there I was looking forward to getting to see all the offers on the table, not just from the UFC. I had to wait a 90-day period and the UFC tried to keep me. They offered me a fight in the top 10, but from there I went out to see ONE Championship."
It was Northcutt’s trip to Singapore and a meeting with ONE president Chatri Sityodtong that gave him the assurance he needed to change the course of his career.
"I watched their event, I spoke to Mr. Chatri, and when I got to see his love for the sport and for the fighters, that’s when I made up my mind to fight for ONE."
Two days prior to ONE’s announced signing of Northcutt, White claimed that the UFC "let Sage go" on the UFC Unfiltered podcast. "Sage is young, and Sage needs some work," White said. "Let him get some work in some other organizations, and we will see where this kid ends up in a couple of years. Maybe we will pick him back up again."
Northcutt disputed the statement on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show (via MMANews.com):
"I know at first, the UFC said that I had been cut from the UFC, but it actually didn’t happen like that. I wasn’t cut from the UFC. Actually, the UFC wasn’t able to match the incentive being offered from ONE Championship so they actually had to physically release me. It was the best thing for them to release me.
"When it was said that I was being released or cut from the UFC to go develop as a fighter and go work on my skills, that wasn’t the case. I was actually offered to fight for the Top 10 in the UFC and fight Ponzinibbio in the main event in Argentina. I accepted that fight and we said, ‘OK, let’s do a one-fight contract for this so I could prove to myself that I can fight in the Top 10. I can go beat the Top 10 guys. Then, we can come back and we can create a contract with more fights.’
"But then, the UFC came back asking, ‘Do you want to fight Ponzinibbio?’ And we said yes. They came back after that and said, ‘OK, Sage, we’re going to ask you to do a two-fight contract.’ And me and my coaches actually said, ‘No, you know what? We’re not going to do that.’"
Waiting for Northcutt to finish his media duties at the Luxe City Center Hotel was Amanda Leighton, an actress known for roles in The Fosters, The Powerpuff Girls and This Is Us. Dating the martial artist for over a year now, Leighton accompanied Northcutt during the Los Angeles leg of ONE’s press tour, as she resides in the city. She spoke to B/R Live to discuss how they met.
"We actually met on Instagram through National Puppy Day."
"I have two French Bulldogs, and I did a post on National Puppy Day," Leighton said. "He posted one with his dog, too, and then he commented on my photo, and I commented back on his, and then we just started talking through text. He trains in Sacramento, and I live in Los Angeles, so we had our first date meeting halfway in Fresno. He drove three hours, and I drove three hours. It was cute."
As someone who’s heavily involved in the life of Northcutt, it only seemed fitting to ask how she feels about the ball of energy named Sage.
"He’s amazing," Leighton said. "He’s awesome. He’s so funny. He makes me laugh all the time. I see the way he talks to people about everything, and I feel like when he talks to people, they just light up. He has this energy all the time, and I think that’s amazing. When you’re like that, people see it, and they feed off of it. You can see that it makes them happy."
Now, Leighton will accompany Northcutt throughout Asia as he starts a new endeavor with ONE. Just like fellow ONE competitors Johnson and Alvarez, Northcutt also couldn’t help but be impressed by the relatability of management.
"Mr. Chatri has trained since he was a little kid, too, and getting to see him be the owner of the company, as well as Miesha Tata and Rich Franklin [ONE vice presidents] who are former champions and have walked in our footsteps, is really interesting," Northcutt said. "It kind of makes it more appealing to fight for the organization knowing that they’ve already been in our footsteps and had fights before. It makes it more fun for me, too."
Never being one to talk badly of other competitors, Northcutt enjoys the cultural difference between ONE and the UFC.
"All the fighters I’ve met here are extremely nice, and that’s one thing that stuck out to me about ONE Championship. All the fighters have respect, and that’s what makes ONE different from other fighting organizations. They’re not based on arguing and starting up fights before the fights. It’s based off true martial arts and the respect for each other like martial arts should be."
Along with that cultural difference is ONE’s additional martial arts divisions, such as muay thai and kickboxing, not offered at any other major promotion. This is something Northcutt, who garnered a 15-0 kickboxing record before switching to mixed martial arts in 2014, expects to take full advantage of.
"The past three years, all I’ve been doing is the mixed martial arts," Northcutt said. "I think fighting kickboxing and muay thai would be super fun. I believe I have the talent for it."
"Since I was a kid, I’ve trained karate and kickboxing," he continued. "I’ve won 77 titles in karate and was 15-0 as a kickboxer, so having the footwork and movement for that since I was a kid I think would translate back to kickboxing and even muay thai now as a professional. I want to be the first champion of kickboxing, muay thai and mixed martial arts in ONE history."
"Super" can’t look too far into the future, though, as his first test in ONE is Friday, May 17, against former kickboxing and muay thai champion Cosmo Alexandre. Alexandre went 5-1 with Bellator before joining the Asian promotion.
Unlike veterans Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez, Northcutt will try to prove that young Americans can compete abroad in a sport where they typically remain stateside. On top of that, he hopes to continue ONE's legacy as a mixed martial arts promotion committed to showcasing human values.
"Alexandre's a very good striker," Northcutt said. "He was a world kickboxing champion, and he’s had tons of fights. Not only am I looking forward to fighting him and putting on a great show, but I also want to make an impact around the world to people that need hope and inspiration."
After a near three-year stint with the UFC, welterweight contender "Super" Sage Northcutt makes his ONE Championship debut on May 17 at ONE: Enter the Dragon against Cosmo Alexandre in Singapore. Watch the event on B/R Live.