Home US SportsUFC Sean O’Malley’s skills, popularity led to key bantamweight fight vs. Petr Yan

Sean O’Malley’s skills, popularity led to key bantamweight fight vs. Petr Yan

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Sean O’Malley’s skills, popularity led to key bantamweight fight vs. Petr Yan

UFC president Dana White was speaking to a reporter in early 2020, extolling the virtues of the-then upcoming UFC 248 card, which was set for March 7 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. White ripped off a list of stars and big names on the show — middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, challenger Yoel Romero, Zhang Weili, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Beneil Dariush, among others — when he stopped.

Then, he remembered and said, “And, of course we have O’Malley.”

That would be Sean O’Malley, who on Saturday on the main card of UFC 280 at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, faces No. 1-ranked Petr Yan in an important bantamweight bout.

At the time White spoke, O’Malley was only 2-0 in the UFC, but White already knew he was destined for big things. O’Malley connected with the audience in a unique way after winning his fight on “Dana White’s Contender Series” on July 18, 2017, with a first-round knockout. A few weeks after the bout, the video of it hit 5 million views on YouTube.

It’s now at 6.7 million views and has more than 67,000 likes and 3,800 comments. The video of his fight with Thomas Almeida on the UFC’s YouTube channel has 2 million views in two weeks. His Octagon interview with Joe Rogan following his Andre Soukhamthah has 1.5 million views. His interview after he defeated Raulian Paiva did 925,000 views and his interview following his win over Kris Moutinho is at 761,000 views.

That is an indication that if O’Malley could fight, the public would watch, and in big numbers. And that’s followed. O’Malley lost two years of his career due to injuries and an anti-doping suspension even though USADA found no evidence of intentional use. But he kept performing in the Octagon and the fans kept turning out.

The UFC set out to stack the card in Abu Dhabi, so it made the rather surprising move to offer the 12th-ranked O’Malley to the top-ranked Yan.

O’Malley’s fight against Munhoz at UFC 276 in July ended in a disappointing manner when Munhoz couldn’t continue because of an eye poke and the doctor stopped the fight. So asked if he were surprised that he was offered Yan after that, he was honest.

“It’s a good question,” O’Malley said. “Yes and no. Obviously, the Pedro Munhoz fight didn’t play out the way I wanted it to. In my eyes, I was, if you look at the stats, I didn’t get hit once in the face, didn’t get hit in the body, checked a lot of the kicks. I punched him. He thought I broke his orbital. I thought he thought I poked him in the eye because I hit him so hard. I just felt like, at the end of the day I won that fight or I was about to. Apparently, the UFC thought the same thing because you don’t get offered the No. 1 guy in the world coming off a loss or coming off, you know.

“I think, obviously, having a big name helps, too, but I went to the UFC off of that fight. I said, ‘I’m ready to book a fight. Let’s go. Let’s do this.’ Petr Yan was the only guy in the Top 10 without a fight. And that fight came about like that. I’m surprised Petr took it more than I’m surprised the UFC offered it to me.”

“Suga” Sean O’Malley’s striking, as well as his popularity, led to getting a bout with No. 1-rated bantamweight Petr Yan on the main card of UFC 280 on Saturday. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

O’Malley has the ability to knock people out, he’s colorful and he’s willing to fight anyone. In an interview with TSN reporter Aaron Bronsteter, White likened O’Malley’s rise to that of Conor McGregor’s.

After a global tour — and after the UFC spent seven figures on a commercial to hype the fight — McGregor knocked out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds in the most significant win of his career.

“O’Malley is on the cusp of being a massive global superstar,” White told Bronsteter. “There was talk earlier about Conor. He said, ‘I’d like to be as big as Conor,’ and stuff like that. Well, if you want to compare it to Conor, this is like the Conor versus Jose Aldo fight.”

O’Malley is now nine fights into his UFC career and is 7-1 with the one no-contest against Munhoz. His loss came to Chito Vera at UFC 252 on Aug. 16, 2020, when he injured his foot in the first round and couldn’t continue. He was taken from the Octagon on a stretcher.

But he’s won a fight night bonus in all seven fights that ended naturally. He’s gotten five Performance of the Night bonuses and two Fight of the Night bonuses. Part of the reason he’s so popular is his manner of fighting, but he said it’s not a conscious decision to fight balls to the wall. It’s always been the way he’s gone.

“If you go back and look at my first couple of kickboxing matches when I was 16 and my first MMA fight when I was 18, my entire amateur career, there was no $50,000 [bonus] on the line,” O’Malley said. “There was not even $1,000 on the line, and the fights were very similar. I go out there and it’s just my style. It was never anything that I thought about. It wasn’t like, ‘Well, you have to be different.’ You just have to get as good as you can at what you’re good at to excel in the sport.

“And my style just happens to be that knockout kind of flashy style. I couldn’t, if I wanted to, go in there, and then I’m just going to be a grinder wrestler. I’m not going to do that. I just couldn’t. You just have to get good at what you’re already good at, and my style just happens to be entertaining. And so, I definitely don’t go, Oh, I’m going to try to do some flashy stuff so I can get $50,000 extra dollars.’ I’m going to just go in there and do what I know I’m capable of doing and that will get me $50,000.”

If he beats Yan, he’ll cement his place as one of the three or four biggest names in the sport, and he’ll get the first crack at the winner of the title fight between champion Aljamain Sterling and former champion T.J. Dillashaw that is the co-main event of UFC 280.

Yan lost a close decision to Sterling last time out, but has a lot of support among the fan base. Even though White has confirmed the fact that the O’Malley-Yan winner will face the Sterling-Dillashaw winner for the title next, O’Malley knows nothing is guaranteed.

You have to perform and then adapt to the situation that’s presented. The belt is down the road and so he’s not concerned with that at this point.

“Obviously, if I go out there and beat the number one guy in the world, you get a title shot,” O’Malley said. “It’s kind of what happens. But yeah, I don’t know. It’s hard to say. One of those guys could get hurt. Whoever wins the belt could get hurt. You could have an interim title. It’s just so tricky to say. That Chito Vera [rematch] fight is right around the corner, too, that I’m really, really excited about. So I wouldn’t say there’s any extra motivation knowing the titles, those guys are on there. I think— yeah, I’m just so excited for me versus Petr to stand in the Octagon.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 11: Sean O'Malley reacts after defeating Raulian Paiva of Brazil in their bantamweight bout during UFC 269 on December 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Sean O’Malley is one of the UFC’s biggest stars. He fights Petr Yan Saturday on the main card of UFC 280 at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

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