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Sean O’Malley sees knockout of ‘Prelim Pedro’ Munhoz as next step to becoming ‘bigger than Conor’ McGregor

Sean O’Malley is ready to begin his title chase.

The 27-year-old up-and-comer is slated to face top-10 UFC bantamweight Pedro Munhoz in a pivotal bout on July 2 at UFC 276. The fight represents a chance to begin inching toward contention for O’Malley, who has won seven of his eight UFC bouts. And after demolishing Raulian Paiva in December at UFC 269, “Sugar” is excited at the prospect of facing an opponent in Munhoz who he believes will challenge him in ways no others have before.

“I think it makes sense,” O’Malley said on The MMA Hour. “We both fought on that last card. It’s a good step up. You look at his last couple losses, I mean, they’re to former world champions, Dominick Cruz, Jose Aldo, Frankie Edgar. He’s not losing the some scrubs. I think ‘Prelim Pedro’ is the real deal. I think it’s my toughest opponent to date, 100 percent, no questions asked. I mean, he knocked out Cody [Garbrandt], but who hasn’t? So I guess doesn’t really matter. But yeah, ‘Prelim Pedro’ is going to be my toughest fight, for sure.”

O’Malley is correct in pointing out that although Munhoz is mired in a bit of a career slump, his losses have largely come against big names. The Brazilian has an 1-4 record over his last five fights, however all four of those losses have come against either current or former UFC champions: Cruz, Aldo, Edgar, and the reigning bantamweight king Aljamain Sterling.

In truth, UFC 276 is a moment years in the making for O’Malley. While “Sugar” has become a fan favorite for his flashy style and devastating knockouts, he also fashioned himself for a time as the unranked king, drawing plenty of mixed reactions for his stance about not wanting to fighter higher-ranked competition until he was better compensated by the UFC.

When asked this week, O’Malley indicated that he’s happy with where his relationship and contract status is currently at with the UFC, and he’s ready to abandon his old moniker.

“That was all jokes and stuff. I’m ready to climb the ladder,” O’Malley said. “I think ‘Prelim Pedro’ is a great next step. He’s never been finished. I’m definitely looking to go in there put his lights out. I don’t want to go to a decision. Some people don’t mind going to a decision. Not me. I want to go out there and put his lights out. If it does [go to decision], I’m not going to be sad at the end of the day. If I whoop his ass for 15 [minutes], I’m not going to be sad. But I’m definitely looking to go out there and get my hand raised with a finish.”

A spectacular win over Munhoz would likely propel O’Malley into the conversation at 135 pounds, and he’s already called for a potential rematch against the only man to defeat him — top-5 UFC bantamweight Marlon Vera — as his next move. He still has plenty of work ahead of him to get to that point, but if all goes according to plan, O’Malley is confident he can not only be a champion by the end of 2023, but also become one of the biggest stars in the sport alongside the likes of Conor McGregor, Israel Adesanya, and Kamaru Usman.

“There’s no one doing it the way I want to do it. There’s no one doing it the way I’m capable of doing it,” O’Malley said. “I just have to go out there and win these fights and make my own lane, the same way Conor did. I think Izzy is doing a really good job, he’s a super active champ. Kamaru is doing a really good job too. ... Obviously I want to be bigger than both those guys, as they want to be bigger than me and Conor and whoever. But I think I’m going to do just my own thing, my own path, and ideally, in my mind, it all starts with a dream.

“I think me wanting to be bigger than Conor can sound silly right now, but if I go out there and knock out Pedro, knock out ‘Chito’ [Vera], whoever’s champ, beat [them] down, [then] I’m the champ [and] I’m very close to that. Conor’s had the crazy moments with Jose Aldo and the Chad Mendes [win] and all those fights, the Nate [Diaz] fights — he’s had some sweet fights. I still have to go out there and have those sweet fights and those sweet moments to be that big, and I’m totally capable of that. I’m 27 years old. I’m a f***ing animal right now and I’m excited to go out there and prove that against ‘Prelim Pedro.’”