With the addition of newcomer Sage Northcutt — the nineteen year old who made a blistering debut at UFC 192, and who was seen working out at TriStar of late — to UFC Fight Night 80, it looks as if the UFC is setting the event up to be a potential sleeper hit with MMA fans. Headlined by Paige VanZant, the hottest talent in the women’s strawweight division, it seems like the UFC is looking for a chance to let their young stars shine bright.

That’s a fantastic approach. Northcutt and VanZant are, frankly, the future of the promotion, just as much as Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey are the present. And it seems like the UFC has finally learned to put fights over the company itself, something that for a long time it seemed loathe to do, with Dana White all too often being the face of the UFC.

What a welcome change. No one (in their right mind, anyway) is going out and buying merch with Dana White’s image on it, but plenty of fans will plop down cash to buy VanZant and Northcutt shirts if they continue to shine.

For Northcutt, it seems as if the UFC will also use VanZant as a blueprint, and move him slowly but surely towards stardom. Just as 12 Gauge is getting her first headlining gig at UFC Fight Night 80, Northcutt is getting his first co-main, which is relatively speedy — but the level of competition he’s facing is pretty much what it should be. Cody Pfister isn’t a name a lot of casual MMA fans will know, and Kevin Lee campaigned hard for the fight, but at the end of the day, the 12-4 Pfister, who is 1-1 in the UFC, is exactly the sort of fight Northcutt should be getting at this point (if he wins it, Lee can be in the conversation moving forward). You can call that protecting an investment, or you can call it allowing a fighter to develop. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, really, but the fact is, looking at any other sport, you work your way up. There’s a reason for that. You want to see the best vs. the best, not a lopsided beat-down of a fighter who wasn’t yet ready.

In any case, UFC Fight Night 80, coming as part of a three-events-in-three-nights stretch, just became a much-see appointment. In addition, VanZant and Northcutt aren’t the only young stars on the card. Canadian TUF champ Elias Theordorou also makes an appearance (which means we’ll be without his Twitter banter that evening, unfortunately). Theodorou, who is undefeated in his career (11-0, 3-0 UFC) thus far, has all the marketability of VanZant and Northcutt, but is looking for a signature win to get fans talking. If he can find it, he may be the next fighter to break out.

With fighters like Jim Miller and Tim Means on the card as well, it’s hard to pass this one by. In fact, it’s feeling a lot like a spotlight for the younger stars, so here’s to hoping they seize the moment.

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

    Paige VanZant, “the hottest talent in the women’s strawweight division”? As much as I’m looking forward to her development, her talent to date pales compared to the division’s champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

    • Jay Anderson

      Hottest in reference to popularity/exposure. In terms of in-cage skill, Joanna Champion is way ahead of her (and most of the pack really). UFC 193 co-headlining under Rousey should raise her profile quite a bit mind you.