Sage Northcutt is a 19-year-old UFC action figure who folds frying pans in half, studies petroleum engineering at Texas A&M for fun, avoids music with "cussing, curse words and inappropriate stuff" and is polite almost to the point of parody – during our 15-minute chat, he said "sir" or "thank you" 23 times.
Combine those courtesies with his All-American looks, undefeated record inside the Octagon and Hollywood marquee nickname ("Super Sage Northcutt") and you have all the makings of a genuine UFC megastar. And not surprisingly, there is no shortage of folks who'd like nothing more than to rip his head off – beginning with Bryan "Bam Bam" Barberena, who takes on Northcutt at Saturday's UFC on Fox 18 (8 p.m. ET).
Barberena is a last-minute replacement for Northcutt's original opponent, Andrew Holbrook, who dropped out with an injury. That change left Sage with little chance to prepare and will force him to fight in a new weight class. Then again, that's the way things tend to go for a kid balancing life as a teenager with a career as a pro fighter. And Northcutt wouldn't have it any other way.
"Yes, sir, I absolutely would like to continue this pace," he says. "It can be kind of difficult because of the workload I have at Texas A&M, so I have to find time to study as I pursue my major, but also to travel and compete and train hard for my fights to come in the UFC. I'm always looking to go out there and finish my opponents as soon as possible so I can stay safe and protected."
If you haven't caught on by now, Northcutt tends to focus on the positive. After an opponent accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs, he responded by thanking him for the compliment. Ask him about the last time he was angry, and Northcutt will say he genuinely can't remember. In a world where macho posturing and scandalous smack talk are the norm, he dares to go against the grain – which is part of the reason he caught the attention of UFC President Dana White, who discovered Northcutt while scouting on his Lookin' For a Fight series and signed him to debut at UFC 192 in October, which took place in Northcutt's native Texas.
White said Northcutt immediately reminded him of another star, UFC Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor.
"If you look at Conor McGregor – Conor McGregor is different than anybody who's ever been here," White told UFC.com. "And Sage Northcutt is different than anybody who's ever been here. I think people who are different stand out."
Northcutt's first Octagon appearance went swimmingly. He stopped his opponent by TKO in just 57 seconds. In his second bout, at UFC Fight Night 80 in December, he defeated his opponent by second-round submission. Now Northcutt is on the verge of his third UFC appearance in less than four months. He faces Barberena (10-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC) in the opening bout of the Fox-televised main card. Few UFC fighters compete at that pace, but Northcutt says he has no complaints. In fact, he anticipates his strongest performance yet.
"I'm only 19 years old, so I'm improving not only every single fight, but also every single day," he says. "I always have something I'm learning or correcting in my technique. There are always little mistakes you're trying to improve and make better and that's what I'm doing. It doesn't really affect me that I'm fighting so often. It's actually a really big honor to fight again so soon."
Northcutt's father has served as his head coach since he began training and dieting at age 4, but recently, Sage has sought out a larger and more established team. Northcutt's MMA hero is former UFC Welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre. The French-Canadian superstar trains out of Tristar gym in Montreal under famed coach Firas Zahabi. Northcutt traveled to Montreal to meet and work with St-Pierre following his UFC debut, and he said the success of "Rush" serves as guidance for what he wants from his own career.
"Georges St-Pierre – he's so awesome," Northcutt says. "It was very great getting to roll around with him and getting to train with him. He's so nice and so friendly and he's very humble too. He's almost like your next-door neighbor and you've known him your whole life. That's how nice he is."
Northcutt's long-term goal is to follow in St-Pierre's footsteps and become a UFC champion. As the youngest active fighter on the UFC roster, there's plenty of time to accomplish that feat. Northcutt, however, has a more precise time frame in mind: Former champion Jon Jones became the youngest fighter to ever capture a UFC belt when he won gold at age 23. Northcutt wants to beat Jones' record. How? The same way he's done everything else in his career so far: With a smile and a positive attitude.
"I'm only 19 years old right now, and I know I have a long time, a lot of years to accomplish that goal," Northcutt says. "Jon Jones has the record for being the youngest UFC world champion, he was 23 years and eight months. I would like to be the youngest UFC world champion. I believe I can accomplish that."