“Suga” Sean O’Malley is in little doubt as to what victory in his upcoming bout against Petr Yan in Abu Dhabi will do for his already soaring profile in the UFC — chiefly, make him a bona-fide superstar.
The talented bantamweight, even to this point one of the standout stars in mixed martial arts, faces former champion Yan at UFC 280 at Etihad Arena on October 22.
The bout, which will prelude two title fights, represents comfortably O’Malley’s greatest test thus far as a professional. The American, 15-1 with one no contest, is ranked the No 13 contender in the division, while Yan sits as the No 1 challenger. The Russian, 16-3, held the bantamweight belt last year.
Speaking on The MMA Hour on Wednesday night, O’Malley agreed the bout in Abu Dhabi could establish him as a truly transcendent star, saying: “It’s hard not to look at it like that.
“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, October 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.
“I’m just excited about the opportunity, and I believe I’ll capitalise 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 earlier this month] was going to be the one to bring it out of me. It wasn’t, obviously. That went how it went [the bout was rendered a no contest because of an accidental eye-poke on Munhoz], but I think Petr is the guy to see how good I really am.”
While the confirmed vacant lightweight title clash between Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev had been mooted for UFC 280 for some time, O’Malley’s fight with Yan seemed to come out of the blue.
UFC president Dana White even admitted as much this week, saying his initial reaction when the matchmakers suggested it to him was, ‘Are you out of your mind?’
On Wednesday, O’Malley said: “Once I faceplant Petr in the canvas, Dana will be like, ‘OK, that was a good fight’. Regardless, me versus Petr is an epic fight. It’s a sweet, sweet kick-boxing 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.”