The Rise of Sean O’Malley

The Rise of Sean O’Malley

Ever since his appearance on the second ever episode of Dana White’s Contender Series, “Suga” Sean O’Malley has seemed destined for stardom. The UFC actively promoted him from the start, with nine of his ten fights to date being on numbered PPV events.

He quickly gained attention for his striking skills and entertaining performances. His attributes include knockout punching power, fast hands, good timing, effective feints, and good movement and footwork. He has an unorthodox fighting style and is very good at creating angles for his punches. Outside of the octagon, he is also known for his flamboyant dress sense and colourful hair.

Sean O’Malley was born on 24 October 1994 in Helena, Montana. His dad was a police detective. At school, he participated in a wide range of ball sports. He has said that he always wanted to be rich and famous.

In his early MMA days in Montana, O’Malley met Tim Welch, who was commentating on one of his amateur fights. Welch was signed to Bellator at the time, He was impressed by O’Malley and invited him to train and stay with him in Arizona. And so began a great friendship and working relationship that continues to this day.

What were the key fights that led to the rise of Sean O’Malley?

LFA 11: vs David Nuzzo

O’Malley’s first six professional fights, all victories, were on the regional circuits in Montana and North Dakota. This led to him being picked up by the LFA.

This fight took place on 5 May 2017 at the Comerica Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona. It was to be O’Malley’s only appearance for the LFA. He won by first round knockout.

O’Malley knocked Nuzzo down twice early in the first round, first from a head kick and then from a left-hand. He got the knockout with a spectacular reverse head kick. This earned him a spot on the first season of Dana White’s Contender Series.

Dana White’s Contender Series: vs Alfred Khashakyan

On season 1, episode 2 of Dana White’s Contender Series on 8 July 2017, Sean O’Malley made a huge impression with a stunning first round knockout victory against fellow striker Alfred Khashakyan.

O’Malley took some heavy shots before scoring a knockdown with a straight right-hand. Khashakyan didn’t recover from this blow. O’Malley kept the pressure on before dropping him with another straight right, leading to the referee stopping the fight.

Dana White was on his feet and was obviously impressed. O’Malley climbed on top of the Octagon and called out, “Welcome to the suga show, this is my show”.

Dana found O’Malley to be exciting, he liked his fighting style and felt he had star quality. He awarded him a UFC contract at the age of 22.

The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale: vs Terrion Ware

Sean O’Malley made his UFC debut at Park Theater, Las Vegas on 1 December 2017. He won after three rounds by unanimous decision.

This was a fun fight. O’Malley had the better of the first round by keeping the fight at distance, using a strong jab and mixing it up with head and body kicks. His footwork was good and he made good use of feints. The second round was much tougher. He took a lot of damage as Ware was able to fight much closer to him and put him under a lot of pressure for most of the round. Knowing he needed to win the third round, O’Malley showed resilience and got a second wind, dominating the round. Ware was tough though and took a lot of punishment. O’Malley also scored two takedowns in this round. He won the fight 29-28 on all three scorecards.

UFC 222: vs Andre Soukhamthath

In only his second UFC fight at the age of 23, Sean O’Malley was placed on the main card of UFC 222 at T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas on 3 March 2018. This was considered a difficult fight against an opponent who had never previously been finished. O’Malley was only a narrow betting favourite. He won by unanimous decision and climbed to 10-0. He also received his first performance bonus for Fight of the Night.

The fight started with a very dominant first round for O’Malley. He opened up with punishing leg kicks, followed up later in the round with head kicks and strong punches. At this stage, a stoppage victory looked likely. The second round was much closer with both fighters having ground control time, however O’Malley largely had the better of it. With more than three minutes left in the third round, O’Malley threw a head kick and injured his right foot, leaving him unable to stand on it. He managed to suffer through the remainder of the fight though. Soukhamthath made the mistake of keeping the fight on the ground, despite his corner shouting at him to get back to his feet.

O’Malley was clearly in agony at the end of the fight. He was still lying on his back receiving treatment when the decision was announced. Joe Rogan also interviewed him while he was still on his back, unable to stand. In this fight, O’Malley showed his toughness as well as his striking ability.

UFC 248: vs Jose Quinonez

O’Malley did not fight for the next two years due to two failed drug tests for ostarine. His next fight was at UFC 248 at T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas on 7 March 2020. He won by first round TKO and received his first Performance of the Night award.

O’Malley got off to a fast start and dropped Quinonez with a front kick to the body in the first 10 seconds of the fight. He dropped him again with a right-hand, followed by a a head kick and an uppercut around two minutes in. He finished him off with ground strikes, with the referee stopping the fight.

This was a great way to return after a two-year lay off. O’Malley was very emotional after the fight and struggled to speak during his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan.

UFC 250: vs Eddie Wineland

Sean O’Malley’s next fight was at UFC 250 at the Apex, Las Vegas under Covid restrictions on 6 June 2020. He won by a spectacular first round knockout and again received a Performance of the Night award.

O’Malley won the fight less than two minutes into the first round with a perfect right-hand one-punch knockout. He didn’t even bother to land any more shots. As soon as Wineland went down, he just turned around and walked away.

UFC 252: vs Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera

O’Malley was now 12-0 and was the UFC’s #14 ranked Bantamweight. This fight against Vera was held at the Apex, Las Vegas on 15 August 2020. O’Malley suffered his first loss as a professional MMA fighter by first round TKO.

O’Malley suffered an injury to his right foot in the first round, which was the result of a leg kick landed by Vera. He struggled to bear any weight on it. Vera took advantage and when O’Malley fell to the ground, he hit him with some vicious elbows and the referee stopped the fight. After the fight, Vera climbed on to the octagon and announced “Welcome to the Chito show, it’s my f***ing show baby”

UFC 260: vs Thomas Almeida

O’Malley’s comeback fight after his loss to Vera was on the UFC 260 card at the Apex, Las Vegas on 27 March 2021. He won by third round stoppage and received another Performance of the Night bonus.

O’Malley was very dominant in the first round. He should have finished the fight in this round. He dropped Almeida with a head kick, closely followed by a left-hand. Instead of jumping on Almeida and finishing the fight, O’Malley started to walk away thinking it was already over. His opponent recovered and saw out the remainder of the round. Almeida was durable and scored with some shots in the second round. In the third round, O’Malley was again very dominant. He made good use of leg kicks and front kicks to the body. He scored a knockdown with a left hook and this time, he followed up with a heavy right-hand while Almeida was prone on the canvas.

UFC 280: vs Petr Yan

Following two further wins and a no-contest due to an accidental eye poke, O’Malley was lined up to face the #1 contender and former champion, Petr Yan. This fight was at UFC 280 at the Etihad Arena, Abu Dhabi on 22 October 2022. O’Malley won the fight by split decision, which led to him becoming the new #1 contender in the Bantamweight division. The fight was awarded Fight of the Night.

The first round was competitive. O’Malley had success with the jab and kept the fight at distance. Yan got a takedown towards the end of the round, but O’Malley was able to get back to his feet. O’Malley hurt Yan at the start of the second round with a left hand followed by a series of punches and had him in trouble. Yan hit back with a left hand that stunned O’Malley and followed it up with a takedown. Yan scored two more takedowns in this round. In the early part of the third round, O’Malley hurt Yan with a knee followed by a left hand, opening a bad cut above his eye. Yan scored some big punches of his own and got two more takedowns.

UFC 292: vs Aljamain Sterling

Now the #1 contender, Sean O’Malley was lined up to face the UFC Bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling at the TD Garden, Boston on 19 August 2023. O’Malley won by second round knockout, received a Performance of the Night award, and became the new champion.

The first round was cagey, with both fighters feeling each other out. Early into the second round, O’Malley hit Sterling with a perfect counter right-hand counterpunch, dropping him. He hit him with further heavy shots while Sterling was on the ground and the referee stopped the fight.

Next – UFC 299: Sean O’Malley vs Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera 2

Sean O’Malley’s first defence of his UFC title will be against Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera, the only opponent to have beaten him in his professional MMA career. This fight will be the main event of UFC 299 at the Kaseya Center, Miami on 9 March 2024.

It promises to be a great fight. Vera is a UFC veteran, having made his debut at UFC 180 on 15 November 2014 at the age of 21. Both Vera and O’Malley have received five Performance of the Night and three Fight of the Night awards. Vera has never been stopped and O’Malley has never been past the third round.

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