Why are fight fans so quick to turn on new stars? And why do they tear down some stars so much quicker than others?

Consider the UFC’s two youngest stars, Paige VanZant and Sage Northcutt. Both are coming off the first losses of their young UFC careers. Both shot to prominence thanks to a couple of key, surprising wins in the cage, and — lets be honest here — thanks to being easy on the eyes.

Disclaimer: there’s really nothing wrong with that. Especially since, in this particular case, there’s gender equality at work.

Both have either headlined or co-headlined a card in their young UFC careers (the same card, actually). Both had huge hype trains arrive at the station with them, and deservedly so, albeit for different reasons.

And both, sadly, were subject of over-the-top ridicule following their first losses in the promotion.

With VanZant debuting on Dancing with the Stars — and reportedly earning a standing ovation following one routine — plus Northcutt being added to the UFC 200 card, now might be as good a time as any to examine just why this is. Why ridicule someone who pretty much just risked life and limb fighting inside a cage for your entertainment? At least for reasons so seemingly shallow.

It would be easy enough to dismiss the behavior as that of “haters” jealous that Paige and Sage (and Conor and Ronda, especially when they were first taking off) were too pretty to be in the fight game (a.k.a. jealous of their good looks and early success), but it’s not just “haters” expressing these opinions. At least anecdotally, at times it appears to be more seasoned fans and even journalists, who just can’t fathom, for whatever reason, that the petite blonde cutie or the surfer-looking kid with the good looks might actually have fighting ability.

What, you have to look like Wanderlei Silva to be a fighter?

There’s more too it than just that, however. MMA, at its core, is a sport about respect. And sometimes, fans — many of whom have spent zero time in the gym and have no background in the sport — simply take things too far. They complain about whether a fighter has or has not “earned” their spot in the sport, in the UFC (or other promotions), despite the only real official judge of that being the promotion itself.

And that’s the interesting thing — as much as we, as fans, should want the sport to be a sport, it is still a business. And it’s not as if the UFC is out signing fighters with zero fight experience (okay, so there was that one guy): both Paige and Sage took multiple fights before coming on board with the biggest MMA promoter out there.

Here’s another factor: beyond the fact that fighting is a business, something fans all too often overlook, we, as fans, love to cheer for the underdog. The everyman. The guy who shouldn’t be there, but is. It’s why Roy Nelson is as popular as he is. It’s why Mark Hunt had a rally pushing him for a title shot when he had a record barely above .500, it’s why Joe Lauzon is beloved (okay, that’s also due to having a heart the size of a Mac truck). In any case, we love to cheer for the underdog, yet Paige and Sage seem to be privileged children — the favorites in the UFC family, really (though this holds true for any young star in any promotion). It’s hard to cheer for them, in that sense, because the feeling is that they’ve been given stardom, or at least reached it with less adversity.

That, of course, is an illusion: neither Paige nor Sage nor anyone else simply walked into the UFC and was given a golden ticket. Not even CM Punk, when you consider the years he put in on the pro wrestling circuit.

In the end, however, it’s all about appearances — and some segment of the fans will likely never change their tune. It would be nice, however, if a little more gave credit where it was due. Guess we’ll find out whenever Paige fights next, or when Sage Northcutt enters the cage at UFC 200. Just remember, even the greenest of fighters is still putting in hours in the gym and putting it all on the line come fight night. And they don’t choose who the company sees as a star — they just work their butts off like everyone else. Credit where credit is due wouldn’t hurt.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.

  • Juchi

    Not sure how much heat Paige took after her loss to Rose. If anything, I think she got a lot of props for hanging in despite a thorough shellacking. Most of Sage’s heat was due to his tapping at a supposedly weak submission attempt. If he truly was as sick as he claimed, it ‘s understandable why he tapped, but I think many viewed his claim with a tad of skepticism.

    The author states “Conor and McGregor.” As far as I know, they’re one and the same. Could he have met Conor and Ronda?

    • Jay Anderson

      Good catch – updated.

      Paige got some props from the Rose fight, but she has taken a lot of undue criticism at the same time, simply for how quick the UFC was to promote her. I’m sure she won some critics over even in losing however.

      As for Sage, I’ve never understood the quick tap complaint. Or well I understand it, I just don’t agree. Maybe he panicked – so what? The kid is super young. Also, maybe he knew he was caught, in which case, why not just accept it and tap? There were two minutes left in the round, he wasn’t going to be saved by the bell. How many times have we heard “tap out rather than get injured” when rolling in the gym? I personally know a few guys who didn’t and wound up hurt and they’re just weekend warrior types rolling casually. Either way – he’s young and still growing as a fighter. He’s still got a hell of a lot of potential.

      Besides which, Sage was getting heat before that. It just got worse with his first loss.