The two-horse race for the division’s next title shot appears to be down to either him or former two-division champion Henry Cejudo following O’Malley’s win over Petr Yan at UFC 280. And “Sugar” believes there’s no question as to which fight is more marketable.
“I really am the money fight as far as if we’re trying to sell pay-per-views,” O’Malley said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I’ll obviously do five times whatever Henry would do. But then again, it’s like, I want to sit down and renegotiate my contract too, because I’ve been on a lot of big pay-per-views and I know where I stand as far as selling pay-per-views. So I’m going to sit down with them and hopefully, yeah, come to something we both agree upon.”
O’Malley is one of the most popular names in the UFC, having built a considerable online fan base through his various platforms and social media channels. The 25-year-old has the in-cage results to back up his case too — he’s 7-1 in the UFC (with one no contest) and is MMA Fighting’s No. 2 ranked bantamweight in the world following his decision win over Yan.
Still, Cejudo was one of the first names out of UFC president Dana White’s mouth at UFC 280’s post-fight press conference, and reports have swirled since that the UFC could want Sterling vs. Cejudo to be the division’s next title bout. O’Malley isn’t buying it, though.
“I can’t imagine [the UFC] wanting that, ‘Aljo’ vs. Henry. Like, does anybody really want that?” O’Malley said. “I don’t really see them being like, ‘Oh, we want this. It’s big. This will get a couple more people watching the fight.’ I don’t think that’s something they want. Maybe that’s something they just kind of put together just to fill a spot.
“I heard from someone close to Henry that he’s got like $37 in the bank and he’s literally just trying to do anything to get some money, trying to book a fight. So I don’t know, Henry’s an opening-the-main-card, co-main event kind of dude. So I don’t know. Even if him and ‘Aljo’ go fight, they’ll probably be some co-main event on some card. It’s just hard to say — it feels like every time we talk about it guy, it’s like, is he actually coming back?”
Contract negotiations may ultimately be one sticking point with O’Malley.
“Sugar” said Monday that he “absolutely” plans to request pay-per-view points for his desired title bout. Pay-per-view points are often reserved for UFC champions, but the promotion has made exceptions for non-champion superstars in the past, and that’s a perk O’Malley expects to receive as well, especially when considering his online popularity.
“It’s something I’ve thought about. Say I go into my next fight against ‘Aljo’ and you’re telling me ‘Aljo’ is going to get the pay-per-view points and I’m not?” O’Malley said.
“That’s something we’ll talk about behind closed doors with the UFC and see if we can come to something. But yeah, definitely something I’ve thought about. Some people, I get it, I understand why they don’t, they’re not getting pay-per-view points. But I should be.”
O’Malley expects to meet with the UFC brass in Las Vegas in early November to discuss what’s next for his career. Sterling has already targeted a summer return in 2023 for his next title defense, and that plan works just fine for O’Malley. However, “Sugar” hopes to be able to fight twice next year, so he mentioned Marlon Vera or Cory Sandhagen as possible options if Sterling’s timeline ends up pushing him too far into 2023 without a fight.
The Vera rematch, in particular, is one that O’Malley knows fans want to see — and it’s one O’Malley views as the biggest fight currently available for the UFC to make at 135 pounds.
“One-hundred percent,” O’Malley said. “I’ve been saying it since a couple days after that fight. Everyone’s like, ‘You need to rematch, you need to rematch.’ And I’ve been saying it, it’ll happen when it’s ready. It’s going to be a massive fight, it’s going to be a big fight. Me vs. ‘Chito’ is the biggest fight in the division right now. I’d say me vs. ‘Chito’ is a bigger fight than me vs. ‘Aljo,’ as far as numbers-wise and would they really want to sell that at the pay-per-view. Again, though, it’s like, if we’re doing pay-per-view, if I’m selling pay-per-views, I want to get pay-per-view points. So that’s something I’m going talk with the UFC [about] and everything. But yeah, I think that’s a massive fight that’s definitely going to happen, 2023, 2024. I can’t imagine that not happening next year at some point.”
That being said, in O’Malley’s perfect world, the next step for his career would still be a championship challenge against Sterling in either June or July of 2023.
“‘Aljo’ is a tough, tough, tough fight. It’s probably the toughest fight in the division,” O’Malley said. “Obviously he’s the champ. I believe in my skill set, and I think we’ve just got to go to a dark place. Go where we were with Petr and that’s where we beat them. But I also could drop him early and I’ll always say that against anybody I fight.
“If it’s June, July, give me [the fight]. I’m ready to get back to work. I’m pretty much healed up. I think next week I’ll be able to get back to work and just grind, just grapple, grapple, grapple, do what I’ve been doing the last five, six years, just grinding on the grappling. ‘Aljo,’ obviously that’s where he excels — he wants to take you down and take you back and choke you out. So yeah, I think June, July, ‘The Sugar Show’ vs. ‘Aljo,’ it could be could be a thing.”