Sean O’Malley is stepping into the biggest challenge of his MMA career.
With a matchup between the 27-year-old up-and-comer and former UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan — currently No. 2 in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings — being targeted for UFC 280, O’Malley knows his time to push into title contention has officially arrived. And he’s ready to take advantage of the opportunity.
“I’m so excited for this. I almost can’t even believe it’s real, it’s happening,” O’Malley said on ESPN’s DC & RC.
“He’s obviously the No. 1 contender right now. He’s pretty much 1-1 against ‘Aljo’ [Aljamain Sterling]. He whooped Aljo the first fight, then he got kind of whooped up in the second fight. But he could be considered the champion. The whole top 5, really — the way Petr beat Jose Aldo was one of my favorite performances of Petr Yan. So going in there and stepping up against a guy like Petr is exciting, it’s motivating, and it’s the biggest fight in the bantamweight division right now. I think it’s bigger than Aljo vs. T.J. [Dillashaw].”
Sources told MMA Fighting on Wednesday that although the fight is not officially done, it had been verbally agreed upon and the matchup was officially announced by the UFC on Thursday.
O’Malley has been a lightning rod for attention since debuting in the UFC in 2017. “Sugar” has lost just once throughout his nine-fight octagon run and authored a slew of highlight-reel knockouts over the likes of Eddie Wineland, Thomas Almeida, and Raulian Paiva. But he’s also faced criticism for his strength of schedule and lack of big-name wins. In O’Malley’s only two fights against athletes currently ranked in the UFC’s bantamweight top 10, he lost via first-round TKO to Marlon Vera then fought to a disappointing no contest against Pedro Munhoz in a fight stopped due to an accidental eye poke at UFC 276.
The Munhoz fight was O’Malley’s latest UFC appearance, yet he believes he was ready to face opponents of Yan’s caliber a long time ago.
“I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” O’Malley said. “I’ve felt like I was capable to fight these guys for a long time, it’s just, I never got an opportunity. Pedro was the first guy in the top 10 I got an opportunity to fight. In my eyes, I feel like I won that fight, dominated, didn’t get hit once in the face or the body. So it’s perfect. I’m just so excited to get out there. It’s the first time I’m going to be an underdog. I’m assuming I’ll be an underdog, which is super cool.
“So I think it’s going to be a super interesting fight. He says he’s a master of boxing. I like to think of myself as a very, very high-level striker.”
O’Malley is indeed the underdog. He opened as more than a 3-to-1 underdog against the former UFC champion after closing as the betting favorite in all of his past UFC bouts.
But O’Malley isn’t concerned. He’s more than ready to level up into title contention.
“I believe I’m better than Petr at what we’re going to do, and that’s f****** fighting,” O’Malley said. “I’m better than Petr, and I truly believe that. And I think that’s what is going to get the job done. I’m going to go in there more prepared than Petr, I’m going to go in there and just do what I do. Obviously putting Petr’s lights out would be massive, but I just need to go in there and get the job done against Petr Yan. Three five-minute rounds.
“It’s the best dude I’ve ever fought, hands down, and I’m very excited for the opportunity. And I just believe I’m going to be better October 22nd than Petr.”