Since securing a UFC contract during Week 2 of Season 1 on “Dana White’s Contender Series” in Las Vegas on July 18, 2017, Sean O’Malley has consistently faced criticism from self-proclaimed experts and online trolls. Detractors claimed he lacked wrestling defense and had weak legs, suggesting skilled wrestlers would dominate him. Some attributed his fight opportunities to the favor of UFC President Dana White, drawn to O’Malley’s verbal prowess. In fact, O’Malley’s gift for gab rivals even Conor McGregor’s, positioning him as a formidable talker in the industry.
However, during his recent fight, O’Malley’s actions spoke louder than words. He defied expectations by confronting a formidable wrestler without flinching. At UFC 292 within Boston’s TD Garden, he spectacularly dethroned Aljamain Sterling as the UFC bantamweight champion. In a breathtaking moment, Sterling overcommitted to a left hand strike, allowing O’Malley to counter with a composed right hook that landed squarely on Sterling’s jaw. The impact sent Sterling crashing to the canvas, face-first. O’Malley capitalized with a few ground strikes, prompting referee Marc Goddard to halt the bout at 51 seconds into the second round. This precise right hook, O’Malley’s first significant punch, not only concluded the fight but also awarded him the championship, transforming him into a bona fide superstar.
During the fight in TD Garden, O’Malley’s presence captivated the Boston crowd. His image on the arena’s video screens triggered thunderous cheers, and as he entered the Octagon, chants of “Sean O’Malley!” reverberated throughout. This marked the turning point where his star power became evident. In a matter of minutes, his exceptional performance, particularly the laser-accurate right hook, propelled him beyond a star and into a realm of superstardom. This moment paralleled Conor McGregor’s 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo in 2015, which catalyzed McGregor’s ascent to becoming a pay-per-view sensation.
The UFC could be on the cusp of a similar phenomenon with O’Malley, who possesses a unique magnetism. Whether adored or disliked, people are drawn to him and his actions. His reputation as a devastating knockout artist, as demonstrated by his 12 knockout victories out of 17 wins, amplifies his allure. His record of 17-1 with a single no-contest speaks to his continuous improvement.
Aljamain Sterling acknowledged that O’Malley surpassed his expectations and lauded O’Malley’s footwork, a challenging aspect to replicate in training. Sterling admitted that O’Malley’s evasive footwork proved elusive even to someone with his skill set. While Sterling had manged to corner O’Malley a few times, O’Malley adeptly evaded his advances, often spinning away at the last moment.
Nevertheless, this triumph doesn’t guarantee an enduring reign at the top for O’Malley. Despite his undeniable talent, a host of contenders is eagerly pursuing him. Following the fight, O’Malley expressed his desire for a rematch with Marlon “Chito” Vera in Las Vegas in December, aiming to avenge his sole career loss. Yet, Vera is just one contender among many vying for a shot at the newly crowned champion.
Aside from Vera, the list of challengers is extensive. Merab Dvalishvili, Sterling’s close friend and teammate, boasts a nine-fight win streak and is a leading contender. Former dual champion Henry Cejudo, an Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler, openly challenged O’Malley on social media after the fight. Cory Sandhagen also merits consideration, among others.
While O’Malley’s grip on the title remains uncertain, a series of monumental clashes is inevitable due to his star quality and marketability. He is poised to captivate audiences and attract lucrative deals for years to come. Unlike Sterling, O’Malley is poised to excel as a pay-per-view draw, elevating his profile with every high-stakes match and manufactured controversy.
O’Malley’s mainstream visibility will eclipse what Sterling could achieve, concurrently intensifying interest in the UFC’s bantamweight division. This is a remarkable trajectory for a youngster from Montana who nurtured dreams of wealth, ultimately channeled through his fighting career.
Despite his success, O’Malley remains unapologetically confident. In his characteristic fashion, he expressed his belief that opponents can only afford one mistake against him. In his words, “I don’t even know if that was a mistake. I’m just that f***ing good.” His statement isn’t unfounded. O’Malley’s finesse lies in his ability to manipulate his opponents into overcommitting, capitalizing on their errors. Sterling’s determination to close the distance played right into O’Malley’s strategy. When Sterling unleashed a powerful left strike, O’Malley sidestepped with ease, opening Sterling up for a counter punch he couldn’t evade.
O’Malley’s aspiration of attaining financial success is rapidly materializing. However, this success will likely extend beyond himself, enabling others to prosper. Despite the challenges posed by an array of contenders, O’Malley’s lucrative potential is poised to maintain his position at or near the top echelons of the sport, generating substantial revenue in the process.