Both Paige VanZant and Sage Northcutt lost in marquee fights during UFC Sacramento. To put their performances into perspective, it’s important to evaluate them outside of the spotlight.
UFC on FOX 22 saw a tough slide for two of its youngest rising stars as both Paige VanZant and Sage Northcutt were finished in decisive fashion of the final network card of 2016. While both have plenty of years left in their careers to erase the sting of Saturday night, they deepened the schism between fans who feel they have benefitted unfairly from special attention.
“12 Gauge” is among the few fighters to be exclusively sponsored by Reebok, a deal she signed after only one fight in the promotion. “Super” Sage has perhaps the most lucrative deal ever for a fighter at his level, earning more than former world champions TJ Dillashaw and Johnny Hendricks at UFC 200 when he fought on the preliminary card.
The reason for the attention is obvious: they are personable and attractive young talent that stands out on the roster. But, their losses on Saturday night only served to help the argument that the extra attention they receive is undeserved. Both VanZant and Northcutt are now 1-2 in their last three fights. While they have shown flashes of brilliance, they are also visibly still growing and evolving as martial artists. But while other young fighters have the benefit of developing under the radar, both VanZant and Northcutt are intensely scrutinized in every fight.
They are frequent targets for other fighters who are looking to raise their
profile by getting a marquee match-up. Each victory is evaluated against whether or not it was the performance of a fighter who could go on to be great. Each loss raises questions about how much of their success is based on actual talent rather than the hype generated by the promotion.
Saturday night was a perfect example. Northcutt fell in an entertaining contest to Mickey Gall, another young prospect who has far less professional experience. VanZant was controlled in a first round loss to Michelle Waterson and was immediately fielding questions about whether or not distractions such as Dancing with the Stars have affected her ability to focus on fighting.
Professionally, the criticism is unjustified. At 22 and 20 years old respectively, VanZant and Northcutt both have plenty of time to develop in their careers.
A perfect example is current interim featherweight champion Max Holloway. “Blessed” entered the promotion as the youngest fighter on the roster at 20 years old and lost his UFC debut. After going 3-3 in his first six fights, he was hardly the fighter being pointed to as the best young prospect in the UFC. Since then, Holloway has gone on a 10-fight win streak that has earned him a piece of championship gold and is one of the elite fighters in a talent stacked division.
Time will tell how far either VanZant or Northcutt go in their career, but it is unfair to say that where a fighter is at 22 is where they will remain.
A look at the UFC roster shows that every fighter has setbacks. But very few have had to develop under the spotlight so early like these two. They have also been the marquee attractions on a card twice including Saturday night. Neither will say that they necessarily have a problem with the extra attention. They benefit financially both in and out of the cage due to the added push from the promotion.
When watching the two, it’s important to note that they are developing under the microscope of their peers and pundits. They have shown plenty of promise in their careers so far, but their exact full potential is something we simply haven’t seen yet.