This Saturday, O’Malley challenges UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling in the main event of UFC 292. It’s the biggest opportunity of O’Malley’s career, and given that “Sugar” is already one of the most popular fighters in the UFC, Sonnen believes this is his chance to break out in a big way, comparing him to UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
“There was a show called American Idol years ago and there was this British guy that was a jerk called Simon Cowell and he came out and told the world that some people have the ‘It Factor,’ and that term has stuck around ever since the guy said it,” Sonnen said in the UFC 30th Anniversary Q&A when asked if this was O’Malley’s moment to ascend. “We know what that means, right? Sean O’Malley has the It Factor. Plus he’s pulling this new gimmick, not just with the hair but he’s going places without his shirt on, or if he gets there and he has his shirt on he takes it off. It’s funny. The guy is good. Those simple little things go a long way.
“I worked with Teddy Atlas this morning and he made a comparison not to Conor McGregor, he made a comparison with Sean O’Malley to Israel Adesanya that I thought was very interesting. I didn’t think about it once Teddy said it, but after he said it, I get that comparison. Yeah man, his star is on the rise.”
A product of the Contender Series, O’Malley joined the UFC in 2017 and quickly became a fan favorite for his flashy style, flamboyant hair colors, and his constant online presence. Among other ventures, O’Malley is a dedicated gamer and streamer, and also hosts his own podcast on his YouTube channel, which has 643,000 subscribers. That popularity helped elevate O’Malley up the bantamweight rankings rapidly, earning him a shot against then-No. 1-ranked Petr Yan last October, despite “Sugar” having zero ranked wins on his resume. O’Malley managed to eke out a split decision win in that fight, punching his ticket to this title fight where he faces one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Given that, oddsmakers have installed Sterling as a marked favorite at UFC 292, but Sonnen isn’t ready to count O’Malley out.
“He could definitely beat him,” Sonnen said. “There’s some relevance to the fact that Aljo fought 91 days ago. I think there’s something to be said for momentum. I think O’Malley has been out for a little bit of time, I think that five rounds is a question mark. It’s a toss-up. I’m not bullish on this thought. It’s hard to beat the champ, that’s just the truth. Especially your first time getting a shot at it.”
UFC 292 goes down at TD Garden in Boston this Saturday.