Sage Northcutt returns to action this weekend when he takes on Japanese icon Shinya Aoki at ONE 165.
Northcutt, at age 27, has already seen stages in his MMA career. After being the first fighter signed to the UFC off of Dana White’s Looking for a Fight series, he burst into the mainstream MMA scene as a major prospect. A black belt in Karate, he made a name for himself as a supremely fast and explosive striker, however some of that momentum did halt when he was defeated by Bryan Barberena and Mickey Gall.
That being said, he still put up a respectable 6-2 UFC record before parting ways with the promotion. Since joining ONE in 2019, Northcutt has suffered a devastating defeat, having his face shattered in the first round resulting in surgery and a significant layoff, but proved his ability to return in stride by beating his last opponent Ahmed Mujtaba in 39 seconds.
Shinya Aoki will be the highest profile and the most experienced opponent Northcutt has met to date by a long shot. Aoki at 40 years old, is 47-11 as a pro as well as the former multi-time ONE Lightweight world champion. He is a submission specialist, credentialed so far as to have the famous submission “The Aoki lock” a footlocker variation named after him. Aoki has also defeated notable names such as Kazushi Sakuraba, Eddie Alvarez and Carl Uno across his illustrious career so far.
Sage Northcutt comes in as a massive -400 favorite over Aoki.
- Sage Northcutt: -400
- Shinya Aoki: +270
Sage Northcutt stands in a conventional bladed karate stance. He utilizes both his lead sidekick to the body and his circling jab very well. He does tend to get caught with a big right cross early in some of his fights especially early on before he gets his rhythm going. It takes some time for him to settle in and start pressing his own action.
The difficulty with Northcutt is because he has both been relatively inactive due to injury as well as his last few fights ending in seconds, means we have very little tape to go off of when analyzing a current version of “Super Sage”. A consistency in his UFC career was being taken down and controlled early, before being able to get back to his feet and working his way back into the fight with his striking.
In his most recent victory he showed an improvement in his submission game, thanks to his time with Uriah Faber’s team Alpha Male although it’s notable that this was executed from being taken down again.
Shinya Aoki is clearly more comfortable on the mat than on the feet. However, he has developed a southpaw Muay Thai style, standing tall with a high outward-facing guard. He favors the left body kick and right hook, which he throws semi-overhand, asking down and around his opponent’s shell.
Northcutt tends to circle quickly to that side with his jab, so look for Aoki to have some success with the right hook; however, he will be at a major speed disadvantage. Aoki really also only wants to strike enough to get Northcutt on the fence and into a clinch where he can start looking to take Northcutt down.
Aoki, in the past, has rushed blindingly into the clinch, eating shots on the way, but he has a variety of ways to complete the takedown once he is there from outside or inside trips, swiveling to the back, or completing single legs by turning the corner.
Although Northcutt has improved his grappling, he does not want to be stuck on the ground with Aoki. The Japanese fighter is very good at working from lacing the legs towards sliding into mount and maintaining that position with calculated ground and pound until a submission opportunity organically materializes.
Aoki is as efficient in possible and doesn’t chase submissions that aren’t there, instead often floating and readjusting in whichever top position he has and allowing his opponents to take risks that he can capitalize on.
Sage Northcutt probably has the better chance of winning. He has a significant advantage in the striking, and that’s where the fight starts. Aoki has to find a way to bridge that distance gap and get to a clinch for him to have any chance of victory and getting through that space is exactly where Northcutt is most dangerous.
That being said, at -400, Northcutt provides very little reward, considering if Aoki does bridge that gap and the fight hits the floor, he has almost as heavy an advantage there as Northcutt does kickboxing.
Northcutt’s takedown defense sits at less than 50%, and it’s unlikely that any submission threat he throws up from the bottom will have the same impact on Aoki as it has had on his former opponents.
It’s important to note that two of Northcutt’s three career losses have come by submission against opponents who are less educated in that area, so although I like Northcutt’s chances, Aoki at +270 makes more sense value-wise than Northcutt at -400.
Pick: Shinya Aoki to win (+270)