Following a disappointing conclusion to his most recent UFC fight, Sean O’Malley wasted no time reaching out to the matchmakers to give him another opponent.
An accidental eye poke prevented Pedro Munhoz from continuing in his matchup against O’Malley in July, but rather than try to rebook that fight, the 27-year-old Contender Series veteran turned his attention to the rest of the top-ranked fighters at 135 pounds.
By process of elimination, O’Malley says the offer that came back to him was a showdown against one-time UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan.
“He was the only guy [available],” O’Malley said at UFC 280 media day. “After that Pedro Munhoz fight, I went back to the UFC and said I want to book a fight. Obviously that one wasn’t a satisfying victory. Petr was literally the only guy in the top 10 without a fight.”
Despite claims from Yan that he chose this particular matchup, O’Malley believes the UFC essentially had to force him to take the fight after he allegedly turned down other opponents offered to him.
“Petr turned down ‘Chito’ [Marlon Vera], so don’t think he really had an option,” O’Malley said. “I think the UFC went to him and said, ‘Hey, you can’t keep turning these guys down … you have to fight the ‘Suga Show.’
“I know he was saying he picked that fight. I don’t believe that. I think he got bullied into it.”
The fight against Yan serves as O’Malley’s biggest opportunity to date, considering Marlon Vera is the only other opponent he’s faced that’s currently ranked in the top 15 in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings – and that ended in a TKO loss.
A win over Yan will not only prove O’Malley is one of the best bantamweights in the world, but it should also earn him a title shot against either Aljamain Sterling or T.J. Dillashaw, who are competing in the UFC 280 co-main event.
That’s not exactly a surprise to O’Malley, who already considered this a No. 1 contender’s match as soon as he signed his bout agreement for the fight.
“I’m the biggest draw in the bantamweight division,” O’Malley proclaimed. “One of the biggest draws in the UFC. I go out there and beat the No. 1 guy, like, who else would I fight other than for the title? So I kind of already knew that. Hearing it confirmed from [UFC President] Dana [White], I already knew that basically. It didn’t really do much.
“But yeah, I think this is a massive fight. It’s obviously not a main event, but it could be a main event. This is a massive fight.”
Despite two titles going up for grabs in the main and co-main event on Saturday, O’Malley always likes to consider himself as the de facto headliner due to his popularity and the interest he draws whenever he competes.
That’s not necessarily a knock on anybody ahead of him at UFC 280, but O’Malley doesn’t feel he takes a backseat to anyone in the promotion.
“Any time I’m on a card, I always say I’m the main event,” O’Malley said. “Because every fighter should think like that. I know Charles [Oliveira]-Islam [Makhachev] is a sweet fight, TJ-Aljo’s a sweet fight, it’s not a huge fight. But you could say that [this is the biggest fight]”
As far as a prediction for the fight, O’Malley’s only real concern is getting a win by any means necessary.
If that means putting on a grappling showcase and winning by submission, that’s exactly what O’Malley will do to get the job done. But he definitely has a preference on how he’d like the fight to end.
“When I think about having fun, I think about knocking someone out,” O’Malley said. “I love grappling, it’s my favorite training. Like if I’m going to pick what I’m going to do, I love to go grapple rather than spar or anything but when I think of fighting and putting on performances and entertaining, I think of knocking people out. We’ll see where the fight goes but I’d love to knock him out.”