Sean O’Malley is swinging for the fences.
At UFC 280, O’Malley will face by far the biggest test of his career when he faces former bantamweight champion Petr Yan in a featured main card bout. It’s a massive step up in competition for O’Malley, but one he believes has very little downside and could potentially establish him as a transcendent star in the sport.
“It’s hard not to look at it like that,” O’Malley told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “I don’t really want that to be my mindset going into this fight, ‘Well if I lose, I lose to the No. 1 guy.’ That’s what it is though. But I just believe in creating these powerful moments, these magical moments, and I think this is how superstars are created. I go out there and starch Petr Yan, Oct. 22 in Abu Dhabi, that’s massive. That is how superstars are born and I just feel like this is a perfect, perfect fight in my career. Perfect time, perfect opponent. It’s just my time to go out there.
“I’m just excited about the opportunity, and I believe I’ll capitalize on the opportunity. I think the higher level guys I fight, the better ‘Suga’ you guys are going to get. I’ve not been able to show my true MMA skills inside the octagon. I really did think Pedro [Munhoz] was going to be the one to bring it out of me. It wasn’t, obviously. That went how it went, but I think Petr is the guy to see how good I really am.”
O’Malley is already one of the most popular young fighters in the UFC, but he has yet to have in-cage success commensurate to his stardom. “Suga” was given the opportunity to fight his way into the top-10 earlier this month when he faced Pedro Munhoz at UFC 276, but the bout ended in a no-contest following an eye poke from O’Malley. Given that, some fans were surprised at the booking, and UFC President Dana White even admits to thinking the fight was a terrible idea until matchmaker Sean Shelby convinced him otherwise. Come fight night, O’Malley intends to reward Shelby’s faith in him.
“Once I faceplant Petr in the canvas, Dana will be like, ‘Okay, that was a good fight,’” O’Malley said. “Regardless, me versus Petr is an epic fight. It’s a sweet, sweet kickboxing fight if I had to guess. Two very high level strikers, two very high level MMA fighters. It’s going to be a very interesting fight and I believe I have what it takes to put Petr’s lights out.”
While O’Malley may have a lot to gain from this matchup, Yan finds himself in the opposite situation. The former bantamweight champion is coming off a split-decision loss to Aljamain Sterling for the title at UFC 273, and is currently the No. 2-ranked 135 pounder in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, where O’Malley is unranked.
That’s a lot of risk for Yan, and O’Malley said he wasn’t sure “No Mercy” would be interested. But he thinks ultimately Yan recognized him as more important than rankings might suggest.
“I wasn’t expecting him to accept it to be honest,” O’Malley said. “It’s a risky fight for Petr. He’s not stupid. Well, maybe he is. He’s a high level boxer, he’s a high level MMA fighter, he’s got to look at me and know that I have legitimate skills. I’m not really in the ‘Top-10’ but I think in his mind a win over me’s a huge win. Even when Chito supposedly ‘beat me’ he got a fight, he fought Jose Aldo who was coming off a title fight. So a win over me isn’t nothing. I’m the biggest name in the bantamweight division, I’m one of the biggest names in the UFC, so I guess in those terms I’m not surprised he took the fight. Stylistically, we get to see how that plays out Oct. 22.”
UFC 280 takes place Oct. 22 at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi.