Sage Northcutt (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Embrace the Change: Sage Advice for Mr. Northcutt

Sage Northcutt is undeniably talented and athletically gifted. It’s clear he has all the physical tools to become a superstar. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear his mental game has some catching up to do.

Coming on the heels of criticism from Muay Thai champion Ilya Grad, Northcutt recently responded to Grad’s account of what happened. A video of the sparring session in question is available, and it’s fairly clear to see it didn’t go as planned. The session had to be halted multiple times and, as Grad explained to Luke Thomas, it wasn’t the first time something like this has happened.

“Locally, everybody’s sending messages and agree with [me],” Grad told Thomas. “I’m the only one who actually made it public. Again, unfortunately, he cannot train with other gyms because his dad burned a lot of bridges.”


Northcutt, speaking to Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour, immediately went to undercut the validity of Grad’s Muay Thai credentials.

“That was my first time training with him, and he’s supposed to be a Muay Thai world champion. I’m not sure where he got his world title from,” Northcutt said.

While Grad maintains that he was asked to work with Northcutt, the UFC fighter contends that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“For him to say that he was there to teach me, he wasn’t there to teach me anything,” Northcutt said. “From that video, you could see that he couldn’t teach me anything. Like, he was just there to be a sparring partner.”

Regardless of how this particular event transpired, it’s clear “Super Sage” is in need of some mental sharpening. Northcutt’s physique tells you the kid has the willpower to do anything he wants. Yet, listen to the stories surrounding his camp, and in particular his father, and you’ll start to see something that resembles a prodigal son being held back.

Northcutt’s father has been instrumental in getting the UFC star to where he is now. It’s clear from what we’ve seen that the two are very close. Nobody would expect Northcutt to throw his dad under the bus, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard about problems with Northcutt’s father and a training camp, either. Previously, Northcutt chose to leave the world-renowned Tristar gym based on advice from his father. The reasoning? Too much intensity during training. If you’ll recall, that’s the same issue Grad brought up surrounding Team Northcutt. Regardless of whether you believe Grad’s claims, Northcutt and his dad are starting to get a bad rep within the MMA community.

Northcutt is already a star, but he’s still looking to cross the barrier from hyped prospect to true contender. To do this, it’s becoming evident that Northcutt needs to change things up. Obviously, he can’t remove his father from his career, but it’s time to let the coaches be coaches. He’s not going to get very far in the MMA world if he continues to provide more distraction than results. Look at how long it’s taken Alistair Overeem to find a comfortable fit after leaving Golden Glory. And even then, it’s only because Overeem happened to find a pair of coaches that have a gym so loaded with talent that they’re fine with allowing “The Reem” to bring in his own people and work on his own schedule.

Northcutt has the tools of a superstar both in and out of the cage, but he needs to have some serious discussions with the people in his inner circle who are taking away from his opportunities. The sparring session with Grad could’ve led to a mutual partnership and would’ve at least provided a solid sparring partner for Northcutt while he’s home in Texas. Instead, Team Northcutt has created another distraction in training camp. This will all seem like water under the bridge if Northcutt wins at UFC 200, but be prepared for a wave of anti-Sage comments should he lose again.