At UFC 252 this past month, O’Malley suffered the first loss of his pro career to Marlon Vera. The setback put a temporary pause on the massive promotional push “Sugar” received and placed his reaction to the fight under a microscope.
Appearing on The A-Side live chat on Wednesday, Kelleher was asked about the O’Malley-Vera situation and the budding bantamweight star’s reaction to the setback.
“I don’t like the way he handles the loss,” Kelleher said. “Still putting Chito down, not really accepting it. But I do think that business-wise, he’s kind of doing this on purpose. I don’t know if he’s getting information from other guys that have done this in the past, but you know, you have people that love you, you make people hate you, and you have all areas covered as far as fanbase goes, and people that want to see you fight whether they want to see you win or lose.
“I think O’Malley’s kind of playing that role where he’s like, ‘Alright, I’m gonna make you hate me. I’m just gonna keep being brash and cocky and you know, I’m still undefeated. So F you, and I’m gonna keep being me’ type of thing. I don’t blame him for doing that, but I like to see a little bit more humble honesty when it comes to real true answers for facing defeat.”
Kelleher agreed that O’Malley’s act is similar to retired MMA star Chael Sonnen, who touted himself as undefeated for years despite having a number of notable losses on his record. He joked Sonnen might be giving O’Malley advice “under the table.”
The loss to Vera alters O’Malley’s trajectory after the matchmakers had him on a fast track up the rankings. With the UFC likely going back to the drawing board on his next booking, Kelleher volunteered himself as O’Malley’s next opponent. “Boom” has publicly campaigned for a bout with O’Malley on multiple occasions, and even though he won’t get to tarnish an unblemished record, he’s still interested.
“I wouldn’t think that I would be a bad matchup for them to do now,” Kelleher said of a potential fight. “I think it makes pretty good sense. But I said this before, a lot of the want and desire to fight him was to take that [zero], to be the first guy to beat him and steal the hype and everything, and Marlon Vera kind of just did that. It doesn’t have as much steam to me as it did, but I would still do it. It’s always a big fight with a guy with that big of a following.
“I think they’re gonna go a safer route with him and give him a very, very winnable fight again and then go from there.”
Kelleher doesn’t see any controversy when it comes to how “Chito” put O’Malley down. The Ecuadorian said after the fight that he deliberately targeted O’Malley’s legs, and that’s why the injury happened. The final moments of the fight saw Vera pounce on a fallen O’Malley and finish with hard elbows on the ground with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first round.
If anything, Kelleher thinks Vera’s tactics may have given O’Malley an excuse.
“I feel like this whole circumstance gave O’Malley that out,” Kelleher said. “To be like, ‘Oh, I fell, my ankle, something was hurt. That’s why you won and I was beating you before that,’ and this and that. Fights are always like that. Some guys winning and then he loses, sometimes you get caught by something and it’s a legit combination the guy threw and he got you. I think Chito was being patient and he got leg kicked himself really hard, but then when he leg kicked O’Malley it kind of put him down. It hurt him enough to put him down and not be able to stay on his leg.
“Then the ground-and-pound was pretty vicious too. He landed that big elbow and finished him off and I think he kind of flash knocked him out with one of those elbows. You don’t really hear O’Malley saying that, like, ‘Oh yeah, that elbow hurt me,’ or ‘That did put me out and I couldn’t continue.’ I thought it was legit. I thought he hurt him and he finished up and he did a good job.”