UFC Fight Night “Namajunas vs. VanZant,” an appetizer of an Ultimate Fighting Championship card, was built around a pair of the promotion’s budding stars: Paige VanZant and Sage Northcutt. One of them got off to a rocky start against a hand-picked opponent, while the other never even got it into gear in a bout that unfolded into a memorable one-sided beating.
Unfortunately for VanZant, she was the one stuck in park. Even more problematic for her was the fact that she had zero answers for former title challenger Rose Namajunes and her pressure game. She exposed VanZant’s lack of instincts and experience and dominated her in every aspect of their main event, despite what judge Glenn Trowbridge and his insane 40-36 scorecard had to say.
Namajunas continuously took VanZant to the mat, dominated position and bloodied her with strikes before running through a series of submission attempts and securing the fight-ending choke in the final round. While the violent, lopsided win might propel Namajunas back into the title picture at strawweight, VanZant will have to get back in the gym and put in the work to develop more of a diverse MMA game.
The big push for VanZant seemed a little premature before her fight with Namajunas, and now we can see it clearly was it was too much too soon. She was clearly upset at the post-fight presser but had the clarity of mind to understand that she had been, in her words, “outclassed” and “had a lot to learn.” That realization is a good sign that she understands her shortcomings. Hopefully, she’ll be able to gain the much-needed experience she needs to grow as a fighter.
Namajunas, who suffered her own disappointing loss against Carla Esparza a year ago, obviously took the lessons learned from that demoralizing moment and refocused her efforts in the gym. She has won two fights since “The Ultimate Fighter 20” Finale and is poised to continue her trek back into title contention.
Northcutt’s meteoric rise continued to pick up steam when he took out Cody Pfister in the second round. The bout did not go as smoothly as most thought, as Pfister took the first round before eventually succumbing to a guillotine choke in the second.
A 19-year old Texan, Northcutt has become quite the sensation since UFC President Dana White and crew “found” him fighting on a Legacy Fighting Championship card earlier this year. The boy-band lookalike has been impressive in his two UFC bouts, but the ridiculous hype train has outpaced the in-cage accomplishments by miles; and before you fire off that angry email, no, I’m not putting any of this on the little baby White found in the Texas manger. It really isn’t anyone’s fault, but it could be a significant obstacle in the future development of this promising youngster.
In a world where you are either the greatest or an absolute turd -- you know, the MMA world -- Northcutt has become one or the other, depending on who you talk to. There is the contingent that wants to believe he’s the Next Big Thing while others just can’t wait to kick him when he eventually falls off what is thus far a fabricated pedestal.
Like I’ve said time and time again, this kid -- Did I mention he’s 19? -- seems to have all the building blocks to be a star in this sport. He has the chiseled physique, the off-the-charts athleticism and spotlight-stealing charisma. It isn’t hard to understand why so many people are so eager to anoint him. I just hope he’s given the chance to marinate and mature as a person and a fighter and grows into his potential over time.
All I’m really saying is pump the brakes a little bit and let this guy’s game ripen before you decide if he is that messiah or that floater. At this point, it’s nothing more than a stab in the dark, so just let things unfold a bit and the truth will surface in due time. As I finished typing that, Northcutt’s coach Firas Zahabi walked up. I asked him about the fight, and he described it as a “learning experience” and reminded me he is only 19 years old. Zahabi also stated his belief that Northcutt will go far in this sport as long as his career is cultivated in an intelligent manner.
“As long as they don’t give him too big of a fight before he is ready for it,” Zahabi said, “he is going to be a good one.”
I couldn’t help but ask if he had seen anyone like Northcutt before. His response: “GSP, that is who he reminds me of.”
So much for tapping the brake pedal, eh?
Sherdog.com Executive Editor Greg Savage can be reached by email at [email protected] or via Twitter @TheSavageTruth.