Sean O’Malley is trying to stay positive while he’s stuck on the sidelines.
The undefeated 24-year-old bantamweight is currently serving a six-month suspension handed out by the Nevada Athletic Commission after testing positive for the performance-enhancing drug ostarine in a September drug test ahead of his UFC 229 fight against Jose Quinonez — a test result that O’Malley believes to be the result of a tainted supplement. In addition to his suspension, “Sugar” is also in the midst of recovering from a recent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip, which he elected to undergo after his scheduled showdown with Quinonez was cancelled.
But even though O’Malley missed out on the chance of a lifetime to showcase his skills at UFC 229 — a card that ended up shattering records as the highest-selling mixed martial arts pay-per-view in history — and even though he is now stuck in limbo as a result of his situation with USADA, O’Malley is determined to not wallow in his own self-pity. And on that front, his passion for gaming is one thing that has helped the young bantamweight prospect get through the toughest chapter of his career thus far.
“Back-to-back surgeries and in the middle of a suspension for something I didn’t do,” O’Malley said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I’ve been [trying to be] super positive. I think a big thing right now is I’m super into gaming and I think that’s helped me a lot. I see people are always like, ‘Do you even train?’ and stuff like that, but honestly I haven’t really been able to train the last month because of this hip issue. I just got off crutches last week.
“So I’ve just been playing Fortnite, building my Twitch channel, keeping busy that way. I use my Instagram as a business, so I feel like I’ve been keeping busy in the industry. I’ve been doing a lot of kinda fashion pictures and talking to some fashion, so I’d like to dip my shoes in the fashion industry. I like to be in the entertainment business, so I’m excited to come back, and at the end of the day fighting is what I truly love to do and that’s what I really love doing, so I’m excited to be able to get back in the gym and start training.”
Between the triple threat of his suspension, hip surgery, and the previous foot injury O’Malley suffered in his UFC 222 win over Andre Soukhamthath, “Sugar” has had plenty of time in 2018 to consider developing secondary sources of income. He invested much of his energy over that span by following in the footsteps of former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and starting his own Twitch channel, where on some afternoons he can be found streaming games of Fortnite for up to eight hours a day. He also parlayed his passion for gaming into a partnership with professional eSports team OpTic Gaming.
So even though O’Malley’s hiatus away from the UFC has been frustrating, he’s happy to have had the chance to broaden his business horizons moving forward.
“Right now I’m making around $4,500 a month through gaming,” O’Malley said. “I just do it because I love it. I’ve been playing video games since I was a little kid, and I’ve had a couple people say, ‘Why don’t you stream? Why don’t you stream?’ I was like, ‘No one wants to watch me play.’ And I’ve been streaming for like nine months now and there’s some loyal fans in there.
“I only get 50, 60 viewers at a time, so if fans have questions, they come in there, and there’s some kids there that literally every time I go live, they get a notification on their phone and they’re in there talking, saying, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ I have a good relationship with my subscribers. They come in there, subscribe, and I’m in the UFC video game now so I was playing that a couple times. I’ve seen some people on Twitter like, ‘Why would we pay to play with you?’ It’s not like that. It’s something I do — it’s not just fun, it’s work too. I put a lot of hours into that to try to build that channel, so it’s work really at the end of the day.”
O’Malley also has his eyes set on conquering the fashion world, although he knows that challenge will likely have to wait until he is cleared to return to action and get a chance to establish himself as a force in the UFC’s 135-pound division.
“With the fashion, I know the more fights I win, the bigger fights I win, the more my following goes up right now,” O’Malley said. “I think eventually I want to get out there and be on the cover of GQ Magazine, just kinda get my own style out there, something different, something not like all these other guys. And I think I’m doing that pretty well right now, I just need — the more fights I win, the more popular I get, the more eyes that are on me, so it really just comes down to winning the next fight and then everything from there just gets easier. So, I’d like to get my own style up there, my own brand, my own clothing line.”
For now, though, O’Malley is stuck playing the waiting game.
His six-month suspension from the Nevada Athletic Commission is only the first step in his drug-testing predicament. The second half of his sentencing will come from USADA. O’Malley faces a maximum two-year suspension on that front, although he is currently working with UFC executive Jeff Novitzky and USADA in an effort to pinpoint the tainted supplement that felled him and likely receive a reduced sentence.
Either way, regardless of what happens, O’Malley is determined to persevere and reclaim his momentum as one of the UFC’s most intriguing young prospects at 135 pounds.
“I’m going to come back, and whoever I end up fighting, I’m going to go out there and do what I do,” O’Malley said. “I think a healthy me is very dangerous, and I think I could beat anyone in the division.
“My last two fights weren’t finishes, they were both decisions. My last two fights before that were both viral knockouts. I want to go back and be on that knockout. That’s what I live for, is knocking people out. I’ve [also] been really, really into jiu-jitsu, so I wouldn’t mind putting someone to sleep or breaking someone’s arm. I want to come back and get a viral finish.”