Sean O’Malley doesn’t just want to be one of the UFC’s stars, he wants to be the star.
The 27-year-old bantamweight contender fights Petr Yan at UFC 280 on Oct. 29 with a potential title shot on the line, but O’Malley believes that a statement win over the former champion could lead to more than just a shot at UFC gold. O’Malley is already one of the most talked about fighters on the roster and his goal is to achieve the same notoriety as mainstream superstar Conor McGregor.
“Usually I’d say people are hoping I don’t win, but to be honest, I would say the majority of people that think I won’t win actually want me to win,” O’Malley said on ESPN’s DC & RC show. “People want a superstar. There’s really no one in the UFC right now that is that Conor level. Me, I go out there and beat Petr in spectacular fashion, I’m climbing. I’m not going to be there yet and I know that, but I’m climbing to become that guy. I want to be the Conor, I don’t want it to be competitive to where it’s like, ‘You’re up there with this.’ I want to be that guy.
“And I think the UFC fans want that. They want somebody that they can get super, super excited about, so most people think I’m going to lose but I think the majority of people want me to go out there and win, which is rare, I don’t usually think that, but I do think in this case that’s what it is.”
In addition to the buzz O’Malley has generated outside of the octagon, he’s had plenty of success in it as well, going 7-1 (1 NC) to start his UFC career. However, he is coming off of an unsatisfying no-contest against Pedro Munhoz this past July in a competitive bout that was waved off when O’Malley accidentally poked Munhoz in the eye.
O’Malley still seeks that signature moment to elevate his name to the next level and he was asked if Yan could be his Jose Aldo, who McGregor knocked out in 13 seconds at UFC 194 to become the undisputed UFC featherweight champion and the biggest name in all of MMA.
“I don’t think I have to go out there and knock Petr Yan out very fast, I don’t have to knock him out in under a minute to get that Jose Aldo moment,” O’Malley said. “I think just beating Petr—I know how tough he is, I know how good he is. I go out there and beat Petr in a decision, I’m not going to be the most excited, I do want a finish, but beating Petr is a big deal in itself.
“I have about 10 more years in this sport, so my Jose Aldo moment, my quick knockout like that, I believe could be anything. You don’t go into a fight expecting to knock anyone out that fast. I would not be surprised if I did that, not to Petr, but to anybody, I believe I’m capable of knocking people out that fast for sure especially if they come in and they make a mistake. This could be a Jose Aldo moment, not necessarily in knocking him out that fast, but a knockout in spectacular fashion over him in Abu Dhabi, yeah, it could be as big as that.”
Yan, a former undisputed and interim UFC champion, has been on a tear since joining the promotion in 2018, going 8-2 with his only losses coming to Aljamain Sterling via disqualification and split decision. He is currently the No. 2 bantamweight in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings.
Given Yan’s impressive credentials, O’Malley knows that whatever method he beats him by, it will be enough to convince the matchmakers to book him in a championship fight next.
“I go out there and beat Petr, yeah, I get a title shot,” O’Malley said. “It just happens to be a good matchup for me, but realistically, after that Pedro fight, I went to the UFC and said, ‘Hey, I want to book a fight.’ Petr Yan was the only guy in the top 10 that did not have a fight booked. He was the only guy.
“So it just made sense. I go out there and beat up Petr, I get a title shot.”