Northcutt credits new team, weight class for sky-high confidence

Sage Northcutt, 3-2 in his UFC career, faces Michel Quinones on Saturday in Norfolk, Virginia. Ross Dettman for ESPN

When Sage Northcutt debuted for the UFC in 2015, he did so with attention rarely seen before in the sport. Two years later, with a promotional record of 3-2, it's safe to say he hasn't quite lived up to the hype. It's also safe to say he's just a 21-year-old still coming into his own and possessing immense potential.

Northcutt, who has dropped two of his past three bouts, hopes to show just that Saturday night when he takes on Michel Quinones in the undercard of the UFC Fight Night in Norfolk, Virginia, headlined by the lightweight matchup between Anthony Pettis and Dustin Poirier. It will be Northcutt's first fight in almost a year.

"A win would mean so much," Northcutt says. "I haven't fought since December, so almost an entire year. I'm looking forward to this fight and then having more fights come up real soon. I'm looking to put on a great show."

The Texas native is coming off a second-round submission loss to Mickey Gall, but says his confidence is through the roof thanks to a change in gyms. This past August he moved to Sacramento, California, full time to work with Team Alpha Male.

Northcutt now learns every day from UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber and a host of other talented fighters, including former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt. He previously was attempting to balance classes at Texas A&M University with MMA training, but now he will focus entirely on his career.

"The environment is amazing. It's like a family there," Northcutt says. "Mr. Faber has been helping me out pretty much every single day, one-on-one, and helping me get better. He has just the right tool set for me.

"I think I've improved everywhere, from standup, to wrestling, to jiu-jitsu. It's really all aspects."

Northcutt also believes a change in weight class will be to his advantage. Both losses in his career -- Gall in December and Bryan Barberena in January of 2016 -- came at 170 pounds as a welterweight. His more natural division of lightweight should allow his skill set to thrive.

"I think I'm one of the fastest and strongest lightweights out there," he says. "I'm so explosive for the division and I have lots of power. In the future I could fight up at 170 again as I put on muscle and get bigger because I'm only 21 years old, but right now at 155 I feel great."

Getting back in the win column, though, won't be an easy task. The 32-year-old Quinones (8-2) has won five of his past six fights, albeit most were against non-UFC competition. He's coming off a second-round TKO loss to Jared Gordon in his promotional debut in June.

"He obviously likes to stand up and throw kicks, but I like that, too," Northcutt says. "I feel confident standing up or taking it to the ground, whatever it may be. I've been working with Mr. Faber so much on everything that I feel confident wherever the fight takes it."