Sean O’Malley’s coach believes the UFC is behind “Sugar” all the way.
In August, O’Malley challenges Aljamain Sterling for the UFC bantamweight title at UFC 292. The fight has already generated a lot of hoopla, with Sterling exchanging words with UFC president Dana White through the media about the way he is promoted. Because of that, some fans have speculated that the UFC is not-so-secretly hoping O’Malley will dethrone Sterling later this summer. And while he may not agree with that reasoning, O’Malley’s friend and coach Tim Welch agrees with the sentiment.
“Yeah, for sure,” Welch said on The MMA Hour when asked if he believes the UFC wants O’Malley to win. “Having ‘Sugar’ be the champion, what other bantamweight in history has just one-punched people and walked off like Mark Hunt? A bantamweight. A tall, skinny kid with tattoos and curly hair, one-punching people and walking off. The UFC knows what they’re doing. ‘Sugar’ is a big superstar and the UFC helped with that, so I’m sure the UFC would love to see a KO artist that’s as flashy as Sean be the champion.”
Winning against Sterling is easier said than done though.
“The Funk Master” is undefeated since 2017, and recently set the record for most consecutive bantamweight title defenses when he took a split decision win over Henry Cejudo at UFC 288. Earlier this week, Welch even called Sterling the “most dangerous bantamweight champion there’s ever been,” and so it goes without saying that Welch believes Sterling will be the most difficult matchup for O’Malley in the division.
“Oh. for sure [Sterling is the toughest matchup]. For sure,” Welch said. “Our professor, Augusto ‘Tanquinho’ Mendes, he won the ADCC and he’s very strong. He’s very strong and he’s one of the very best grapplers on the planet at the weight, and he’s even talked about how strong Aljo is. He’s just so physically strong, and he’s not only a good wrestler who is going to get on top and sit in the guard and not know how to pass the guard, he’s going to pass, he’s going to move to half guard, punch you, move to mount, take your back.
“He’s really good at jiu-jitsu and he’s an expert back-taker. You make one mistake with Aljo and he’s going to be on your back for the rest of the round. He’s physical and he’s an athlete, and he’s not super basic on his feet. He’s super funky on his feet, throwing random, kind of spazzy stuff. It makes it super dangerous. It makes him hard to prepare for. I definitely think he’s the most dangerous bantamweight.”
That being said, Welch and O’Malley will not be deterred. Welch said the team already has a plan in place to get “Sugar” prepared, including training with high-level wrestlers throughout camp. Plus, despite being good, Welch says that Sterling is far from perfect.
“He makes a lot of mistakes too,” Welch said. “You see him dropping his hands, dipping his head. Henry’s only 5-foot-2 and he almost smacked a head kick on Aljo. And he’s hitting him. The key is going to be good footwork. It’s going to be a big cage, that will be a big difference. I think the small cage had a lot to do with Cory Sandhagen and Aljo, him sprinting right at him, double-legging him, getting his back. And then obviously you have to be able to sprawl. You have to be able to sprawl and just be careful when you’re getting up. He wants you to go to all fours and get up so he can body triangle your back, he’s an expert in that area.
“There’s a lot of things on the ground that people haven’t seen from ‘Sugar.’ The plan against his whole career — he spins, he does flashy stuff — is pressure him. Pressure him, pressure him, put him on the cage, take him down. Every single game plan of people’s fights when they fight him, that’s been their game plan. So we’ve been preparing for that kind of stuff for the last 10 years. Aljo’s a whole different animal, so we’ll find out what happens.”
And it won’t take long to find out.
UFC 292 is less than three months away, set to take place at TD Gardens in Boston on Aug. 19. And when it does come, Welch believes the UFC will get what they’ve been hoping for.
“Sugar’s reaction times are so good and if you make a mistake striking — look at Petr Yan, how high his guard is and how sharp of a striker he was, and ‘Sugar’ was able to find his chin and drop him,” Welch said. “I just cannot see — I think ‘Sugar’ is going to crack him. I think he’s going to hurt him, wobble him, and Aljo’s going to take a s***** shot and he’s going to put him to sleep, one way or another.”