Following his dominant win over Ryan Bader on Saturday, Anthony Johnson has jumped the line (if you can call it that) for a UFC light heavyweight title shot. The UFC Fight Night card from Newark, New Jersey, located just painfully outside of New York state, where the sport is still illegal, also saw Sage Northcutt's first professional defeat and a major feather added to heavyweight Ben Rothwell's cap.
Here's what mattered most from the weekend:
Breaking: 19-year-old Sage Northcutt looks 19 in first defeat
Imagine that. Some seemed to celebrate his loss, and that wasn't surprising. Although I find myself wondering -- why celebrate something so ... obvious?
What I'm saying is: Of course Sage Northcutt was going to lose. Maybe we didn't know it was going to happen in this particular fight against Bryan Barberena, but as you've likely heard by now ... this kid is 19! And Northcutt, who tapped out to an arm-triangle choke in the second round, was facing high-caliber competition.
Unless the UFC were to actively go out and find other teenagers for him to fight, Northcutt (7-1) is, in many ways, out of his league right now. It's very clear that someday he could be very, very good -- but he's not really ready to be an opening act on a UFC event on network television. We can all agree on that much, right?
But the reality is the UFC needs him under contract. It can't allow a rare phenom (which, despite the loss, I would still label Northcutt this way) to sign elsewhere. In 2014, Bellator MMA signed then-18-year-old Aaron Pico, a 2016 Olympic wrestling hopeful. He's 0-0 in MMA but was worth signing just to have him on the roster. He'll do his MMA growing (for better or worse) in the big leagues.
Same with Northcutt. And that's what you're seeing. Did he tap too early to a choke on Saturday? The honest answer is, yeah, he did. Will he learn from it? Who knows? You hope so. We'll see. Is the hype derailed? People love this phrase, so go wild with it if you want, but no, the hype was not derailed. Northcutt has immeasurable potential. He's well ahead of the game, relatively speaking. That was true before the loss, and it's true after it.
And brace yourself, because this will happen again. If Northcutt continues to face UFC-level opponents at this stage of his career, chances are he'll lose again. He turns 20 in March. He could be the best 20-year-old fighter in the world (and maybe he is). But consistently facing top competition could translate to a decent -- if not unspectacular -- UFC record in the short term. Something like 2-1, which is where it currently stands.
Lastly, you have wonder whether the UFC second guesses, at all, how it has handled Northcutt. Three fights in less than four months since making his UFC debut? A late move up in weight for this fight, after his original opponent withdrew to injury? As I've said, nothing was going to keep his perfect record intact as long as he was fighting in the UFC -- but you want to talk about taking the ball and running with it? The UFC certainly did that here, maybe detrimentally so.