Soukhamthath’s opponent for the weekend, undefeated bantamweight Sean O’Malley, is the latest prospect to garner the promotion’s attention after a breakout performance on a UFC-produced show, in this case Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. With that attention often comes a healthy marketing push, which is a big reason Soukhamthath’s matchup against O’Malley will cost fight fans $65 to watch it on UFC 222’s pay-per-view.
But Soukhamthath sees through the noise. And when he looks ahead to Saturday, he sees another disappointing night for the UFC’s marketing machine.
“Sean’s got a lot of hype behind him, he’s got a lot of followers, and the UFC obviously loves him,” Soukhamthath said Thursday at UFC 222 media day. “But stylistically, he knows that he’s in trouble. The real MMA fans know that I’m a bad matchup for him.”
A 29-year-old native of Rhode Island, and the first UFC fighter of Lao descent, “The Asian Sensation” is no slouch. His 1-2 Octagon record is deceiving, the result of two razor-close split decisions. Soukhamthath very well could’ve been 3-0 if a few scorecards had swung his way, but he proved he belonged anyway last December in a do-or-die match at UFC Frenso when he scored a scintillating knockout over top prospect Luke Sanders — a teammate of O’Malley’s at The MMA Lab. That performance was much more akin to the murderous run he shred across the regional northeast scene that carried him into the UFC.
So needless to say, Soukhamthath has paid his dues. And when he looks at O’Malley, he isn’t sure the 23-year-old has.
“The Contender Series, when there’s 50 people in the room, it’s easy to get Dana White’s attention, Sean Shelby’s attention, Mick Maynard’s attention,” Soukhamthath said. “And he fluffed it. He won his fight, he did win his fight, and he started talking, and like I said, it’s easy to get their attention — and he definitely got their attention. He got Snoop Dogg’s attention. And I think that’s just how all the bandwagoners started jumping on the O’Malley bandwagon, and that’s how he kind of blew up. And the UFC sees that.
“But the difference between me and him is that I have a lot of followers too, I have a lot of fans too, and my fans are real MMA fans and my fans are real people that have love for me. His fans, they don’t care about him.
“In this sport right now, a lot of people are being fake. They’re trying to be the cool guy, the tough guy, the guy that talks down on people, that talks crap. You know what, Conor McGregor did that already and he’s made millions and millions of dollars with it. But honestly, the real MMA fans are sick of it. The athletes here, a lot of us are sick of it. It’s time for the real to come up. It’s time for the real to come out.”
Soukhamthath generally isn’t one to speak ill of his opponent, but when it comes to O’Malley, he says he’s just speaking about what he’s seeing.
And what he seeing is a matchup that perhaps O’Malley thought would be easier than it realistically is. One needs to look no further than the betting odds, which began with O’Malley as a heavy favorite but have since swung dramatically in Soukhamthath’s favor.
So in an MMA world where it’s increasingly hard for new faces to stick out, Soukhamthath is simply happy to have the spotlight shining in his direction. With a good performance at UFC 222, he knows he could not only prove to the UFC that he deserves to be a prospect to get behind, but also introduce himself to a whole new viewing audience as well.
“You know how I stick out? I just be myself,” Soukhamthath said. “I’m very positive. I’m just trying to come out here and inspire people, and that’s why I’m doing what I love, following my dreams and proving to people that dreams come true. I’m here for one reason and that’s to put food on the table for my family. I have two boys at home, I have my wife who’s supported me 100 percent since day one. As a man, I need to do well in this sport because this is what I want to do and this is my career, man. This is how I make my money.
“I’m not flashy or nothing, I worked hard for it. I grew up with my parents working overtime every day, we never had a family meal, and that’s what I represent. I represent all the hard working Americans. Asian, African, Hispanic, it doesn’t matter; follow your dreams, keep working hard, I respect every single person out there working for their family, and that’s what I doing too.”
Soukhamthath even admits that he’s a fan of O’Malley’s as well, regardless of the disparities between their UFC runs. He considers O’Malley a tremendous entertainer, but that won’t stop him from doing what he needs to do once the time comes at UFC 222.
“You know what, he’s a great fighter,” Soukhamthath said. “He’s very flashy, he’s entertaining. I enjoy watching him. He’s got great kicks, he’s got great boxing, he’s got good cardio. I thought that he kept his poise pretty well in his first UFC match, so I have nothing bad to say about the kid.
“I’m just saying, I’m more experienced. He’s going to fight a real man this time, a real fighter, a guy who will fight anyone, anywhere, any time. So we’ll see how he does with that. If he thinks he can handle that, then good for him. If not, he’s going to sleep.”