O’Malley stunned the MMA world earlier this month when he edged out a hard-fought split decision over the former bantamweight champion at UFC 280. It was easily the biggest victory of O’Malley’s career, and “Sugar” needed to dig deep to get it done — following a competitive opening 10 minutes, O’Malley closed the show with a strong Round 3 that ultimately won him the fight on two judges’ scorecards.
Altogether, it was a heck of a way to win, especially considering how much Yan’s late-round prowess became a talking point before the fight.
“The thing is, that was the narrative too kind of going into that fight, was like, ‘Sean’s so lucky it’s not five rounds.’ Well, it didn’t look like that,” O’Malley said Monday on The MMA Hour. “But yeah, I think [rounds] one and three were clearly mine.
“I think a lot of the people initially that came out and were just so mad that I won were all the same exact people that were saying I was going to get absolutely smoked. So then I go in there and win, and now they’re having a tough time. But yeah, I highly recommend everyone to go back and re-watch the fight before you make your solid opinion.”
Already one of the most popular names in the division, O’Malley now finds himself in genuine title contention after improving his UFC record to 7-1 (with one no contest).
And he suspects Yan has a newfound respect for what he brings to the table.
“I think I surprised him a lot,” O’Malley said. “I don’t think he was ready for me to be as skilled as I was, or as tough. I ate a couple left hands. He took me down, I was able to get back up, I was threatening off my back. So I think I was a lot better than he was expecting.”
“That’s what I train for, is to go to that place,” O’Malley added, noting that Yan “absolutely” pushed him to a mental and physical level he’d never reached before in a fight. “You can only train so hard in sparring and on the treadmill and stuff. So yeah, I was expecting that, and I even said going into that fight, I said Petr’s going to be the guy to take me to that next level. I don’t think anyone’s taken me there. Pedro [Munhoz], I thought might be able to — obviously that didn’t go [like that], it wasn’t a super tough fight or whatever. But yeah, I was planning on that, I was prepared for that, and I showed that I was prepared for that.”
The judges’ decision has remained a fiery point of debate in the weeks since UFC 280. Twenty-five of the 26 media scorecards on MMADecisions.com scored the bout for Yan, as did the majority of the site’s fan voting, however both Round 1 and Round 3 were close, and many observers have echoed O’Malley’s point that a 29-28 score in his favor is justified upon a re-watch.
One claim “Sugar” doesn’t put any stock into, though, is the narrative that even he was surprised by the result once Bruce Buffer announced the official scores.
“I feel like I’m good at always just being myself,” O’Malley said. “In the cage, I was just being myself. I wanted to watch the fight back. I knew it was a close fight and everyone was like, ‘Oh, Sean is even surprised he won.’ And I don’t really know where they got that from. I was just being in the moment. I always close my eyes after every fight. When you close your eyes, you can really feel more and be more in the moment, I feel like for me personally, so I was just doing that. Then they announced my name and I smiled, and people — I don’t know where they’re getting this narrative, like, ‘Oh, he was even surprised he won.’”
“I could go out there and beat Aljamain [Sterling] and they’d still say stuff,” O’Malley added, “so I think it just comes with the territory.”
For now, O’Malley is just enjoying the spoils of war after pulling off the biggest win of his career. He vaulted all the way from unranked into the No. 2 bantamweight ranking in the world on MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings after UFC 280, and it’s entirely possible that his next fight could be a title bout against UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling.
O’Malley said he still needs to speak with UFC officials before making plans, but he expects Sterling to be his next opponent.
“I haven’t talked to the UFC yet. I’m going to go there maybe next week, I think, and sit down with Hunter [Campbell] and Sean [Shelby] and Dana [White],” O’Malley said.
“So I don’t know. If I had to guess, I’d say yes — I would say my next fight, the next time I step in the octagon will be for the UFC title.”