Sean O’Malley is one of the most popular fighters in the UFC roster with more than one million followers on social media. But his UFC 260 opponent, Thomas Almeida, doesn’t put too much weight on those stats when it comes to actual fighting.
O’Malley broke through as a rising star with a first-round knockout over Alfred Khashakyan on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2017, winning four in a row under the UFC banner before getting finished by Marlon Vera this past August.
For Almeida, O’Malley “is popular on YouTube, but still has to prove many things in the UFC,” he said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “He’s a good kid, a talented kid, but still has to do a lot more. I face him like any other regular opponent. He has his qualities, he’s a talented kid, but I’ll do my game in there. I’m going there to work, be aggressive and represent. I’m really happy with this opportunity.”
Almeida feels O’Malley’s fame is deserving, but thinks “Sugar” has to fight “tough opponents to be recognized in the UFC” and earn a different kind of notoriety.
“In my opinion, in order to be recognized and famous, he has to win and fight big names,” he said. “He’s talented, has a good reach for the division and knows how to use that. He kicks a lot, and we have to be careful with that. A kick is a kick, nobody likes to get kicked in the face [laughs]. Those are his strong points. In my opinion, he still has to show more.”
Much like his opponent, Almeida entered the UFC as an undefeated prospect with a ton of hype around him. The Chute Boxe bantamweight held a 17-0 record prior to his octagon debut, and boosted it to 21-0 with four wins and four post-fight bonuses in the UFC.
Almeida stumbled in 2016 when paired up against future champion Cody Garbrandt, losing by knockout, and he has since won only one of four. Now on a three-fight skid, he vows to be aggressive at the UFC APEX after being “frustrated” in a decision defeat to Jonathan Martinez at featherweight.
“I’ll be aggressive, walk forward and be precise,” Almeida said. “Precision will be very important in this fight, and me dictating the pace and being the ‘Thominhas’ of always, looking for the finish at all times.”
Winless since November 2016, when he stopped Albert Morales in Sao Paulo, Almeida aims to stop O’Malley by knockout in Las Vegas.
“I always enter a fight eager to win, so I put that that pressure over myself,” he said. “I’m coming off three losses and that isn’t good, of course, but I’ve been through a lot. I’ve fought top opponents, I’ve fought the best, and stayed sidelined for a long time. The UFC understands that and likes me, but I don’t see that as pressure. It doesn’t change anything because I always want to win.”
Almeida believes that his aggressive, exciting fighting style makes him a special fighter, but losing four in a row is rough for any athlete in the UFC roster.
“There will be no loss – I’ll win,” he said. “I’m going there to win and give my all in there. I don’t even think about [a loss]. I’m going there to finish the fight. I have three rounds to give my best and show my skills. The victory will come. I like knockouts and always go for it, but I’ll be ready wherever the fight goes.”