For many MMA fans, their last look at Sage Northcutt was him face-down on the canvas, the victim of a brutal punch from an opponent far heavier and more experienced in combat sports.
The effects of that punch would linger long after the 2019 bout, his debut in ONE Championship. After passing on a new UFC contract with three previous wins under his belt, Northcutt suffered eight fractures in his face that required nine hours to surgically repair. There was extensive recovery time that kept him sidelined.
It would make sense for Northcutt to decide to quit the sport after his devastating injury. He said that he had never thought of trying something else after the devastating injury.
“No. Not really,” he stated on The MMA Hour . “After my fight, even right afterward, the very next day I was already planning on coming back. Although it took a while, as many people are aware, my healing process was slow for around a year. So that took a little bit of time, for sure. But after that, I was full-blown training.”
Northcutt was still working with Team Alpha Male, and was ready to face Shinya Aki this April. He even traded some fiery tweets with the submission ace, an uncharacteristic (and some might say welcome) change of pace for the relentlessly sunny fighter. He then faced another setback.
“Horrible coincidence, but two weeks out from my fight, I was supposed to leave to go overseas, I got COVID,” he said. That just threw everyone for a loop. For a while, I felt pretty sick. Six months was spent doing blood tests to try and figure out the cause.
I didn’t know for the first few days. I kept trying to train through and started to get run down, ended up testing positive for COVID. … So I was trying to work around that, and I think trying to do that, I just ran myself down pretty bad. Next, I was forced to stay at home and did not do anything .”
When Northcutt steps into the ring for ONE Championship’s first U.S. event, it will have been almost four years to the day since his knockout loss to kickboxer Cosmo Alexandre. The days of “Super Sage” are long forgotten by newer fans. Paige VanZant and Sage dominated headlines, sparking heated debates about their respective skills.
Northcutt aims to remind fans he’s still an acrobatic talent when he meets Ahmed Mujtaba at ONE Fight Night 10: Johnson vs. Moraes 3, which takes place May 5 in Broomfield, Colo. In a way, he’s glad he faced serious adversity at 26, when he still has time to bounce back.
“Having a loss like that and trying to come back on top of having an injury, 100 percent it kind of gets to you a little bit,” he said. “But I try not to let it get to me too much. I’m glad this happened at a time when I was so young and didn’t happen later in my career. It’s a long career. It happened now, and it’s better than later.”
Northcutt will compete in the division that he was meant to be competing in when he returns from his absence: Lightweight. This weight category in ONE is 170. Although there is strong evidence that his promoter should not have scheduled him for a fight at 185, he does not hold this against ONE. He had a full life.
” “It was more of a learning experience.” he stated. “Obviously, that weight class is a huge weight class. It was wrong for me to fight at 185 — 170 lbs. I was still learning about hydration and this was my first time. So fighting at 170, that’s my natural weight. I am currently walking at 175. I am already close to my natural weight, but I have three-and-a half months before that. It’s all a learning opportunity for me. No grudges
Now, he has to get over himself as he work toward his fight against Aoki. Aoki is the kind of opponent who would help him achieve the success that he’s longed for since he first stepped onto the national stage in high school.