Kicking off UFC on Fox 18’s main card is a welterweight contest between the incredibly hyped “Super” Sage Northcutt and Bryan Barberena. Northcutt returns to the Octagon for the third time in four months, although this will be his first fight in the welterweight division. His previous two fights were both contested at 155 pounds. Barberena, meanwhile, has been out of action since a close decision loss to Chad Laprise at UFC 186 in April. Sage Northcutt (7-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC, -430 favorite) The 19-year old is currently one of the most hyped prospects in mixed martial arts. Although the show was far from a reality show, “Super Sage” was found on Dana White’s UFC Fight Pass show called “Looking for a Fight”. The UFC boss went to see Northcutt’s fight versus Rocky Long in Texas. White was very impressed with Northcutt and awarded him a UFC contract almost instantly. The Katy, Texas native’s first five pro fights were fought under the Legacy FC umbrella, which has a great relationship with the UFC. Northcutt was given Francisco Trevino as his first UFC opponent and it was supposed to be his toughest test to date. That was hardly the case, however, as Northcutt blew Trevino’s doors off in 57 seconds. He followed that up with a second round submission win over Cody Pfister in December. The amount of hype on Northcutt is unprecedented for a fighter of his age. The 19-year old has become a big star and hot commodity after only two UFC fights. His -430 betting line is the widest on the card for the third straight fight. With that being said, Northcutt is an extremely skilled fighter and a tremendous athlete. He started karate practically as a toddler and has won numerous karate world championships. Northcutt is also an undefeated kickboxer, a 3rd degree black belt in Taekwondo, and has a high school wrestling background. He is part of the new breed of fighters that are becoming good at everything at a very young age. Northcutt is an explosive athlete with a great arsenal of powerful kicks from range. He utilizes front leg sidekicks, roundhouse kicks, and wheel kicks routinely. When his opponent closes the distance on him he is not shy about letting his hands ago, which also have considerable pop. While he is known mostly as a striker, Northcutt is actually a decent grappler as well, especially for a 19 year old. He hits explosive double-legs and slams routinely and has a knack for taking his opponent’s back. Obviously, everything he does on the ground is not perfect, but that is to be expected at such a young age. “Super Sage” struggled off his back in his latest fight and did not showcase the greatest takedown defense. Great conditioning rounds out Northcutt’s game. It should also be said that the competition he has faced thus far has been extremely weak and he is being brought up slowly. Bryan Barberena (10-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC, +345 underdog) Barberena enters the biggest fight of his life looking to derail the Sage Northcutt hype train. The 26 year old made his UFC debut against Joe Ellenberger in December of 2014 on the heels of a six fight winning streak. After losing the first half of the fight Barberena came on strong and ended up stopping Ellenberger with strikes. His next fight was a close fight against a then undefeated Chad Laprise. Barberena again lost the first half of the fight before coming on strong in the second half. He will look to get back on track on Saturday night after a nine month layoff. Barberena is a pressure-based fighter that excels at making fights ugly and getting in his opponent’s face. He is not the most technical or well-rounded fighter by any means, but he has unmeasured heart, toughness, and durability. Fighting out of a southpaw stance, Barberena stalks his opponent with a flat-footed approach. He has a decent straight left, right hook, and jab. The MMA Lab representative is also a very good clinch fighter that utilizes underrated dirty boxing and knees. That is about it as far as rudimentary skills go. Barberena struggles in the wrestling department, both offensively and defensively, and his striking defense is not very good because he lacks head movement and proper footwork. His ability to push the pace, especially late in fights, is a hallmark of his game. Thoughts The UFC is being very careful with how they matchup Sage Northcutt. They obviously do not want to throw the youngster into deep water, but they also want to incrementally increase his level of competition. I believe the UFC has done that here, even if this fight comes in another weight class. Barberena’s pressure-based game could cause problems for Northcutt, as the prospect has not dealt with such a fighter thus far in his short career. Barberena has a great deal of tenacity and toughness, which is something neither of Northcutt’s first two opponents had. Still, I have to favor “Super Sage” to take home the win here. Northcutt, even at the age of 19, is still technically superior to Barberena, both on the feet and on the ground. Barberena’s glaring defensive weaknesses will likely cost him here, as he is both easy to hit and drag to the canvas. Northcutt has the ability to do both, and I like his chances at pulling out a decision. Final Prediction: Sage Northcutt defeats Bryan Barberena by unanimous decision.