While not quite agreeing that UFC 280 represents his Conor McGregor-Jose Aldo moment, Sean O’Malley is out to show the world in Abu Dhabi exactly how talented he is.
“Suga Sean”, one of the most popular stars in the sport, this weekend faces his toughest test to date in the UFC, when he takes on No 1-ranked bantamweight contender, and former champion, Petr Yan.
Win at Etihad Arena on Saturday night, and UFC president Dana White has already said O’Malley, the 11th-ranked challenger, is next for a title shot. Abu Dhabi this weekend, White said, could even be the talented American's true breakout moment.
It would sure be a lot to live up to. In 2015, McGregor dropped Aldo in 13 seconds to end the Brazilian’s long reign as featherweight champion. In doing so, he sparked a combat-sports career for the ages.
“I don’t know. I don’t really put too much thought into it,” O’Malley said on Wednesday. “This is 'Suga' versus Petr. The chances of me going out there and knocking him out in 13 seconds are very low. But 'Suga' versus Petr seems sweeter to me than Conor versus Aldo.”
O’Malley, 15-1 in professional MMA, conceded Yan constitutes his sternest challenge since breaking into the UFC, as an explosive winner of the Dana White Contender Series, in 2017.
“That’s what so exciting,” O’Malley said. “Because I have the skills, I have the abilities, and now I have the opportunity to go out and show the world that I’m as good as I’ve been saying I am.”
One thing that O’Malley did agree with White about, though: dispatch Yan, and a first shot at UFC gold is his. Aljamain Sterling, the current champion, fights in Abu Dhabi, too, when he defends his title against former belt-holder TJ Dillashaw.
“I already knew [about the title shot],” O’Malley said. “I’m the biggest draw in the bantamweight division; one of the biggest draws in the UFC. I go out there and beat the No 1 guy, who else would I fight other than for the title?”
O'Malley, who sported a kandura and ghutra on Wednesday, seems to have embraced his Abu Dhabi stay. He has never competed in the UFC outside of Las Vegas.
Based in the capital for the past two weeks ago, shifting across the world to showcase his superstar credentials was always going to be worth it.
“Doesn’t matter [where I fight],” O’Malley said. “Obviously my last 10 fights or so have been in Vegas. But they offer you Petr Yan – a big opportunity – I’m not going to say no because it’s in Abu Dhabi. It’s actually been really fun. I would not mind fighting here again.”
O’Malley did, however, contest Yan’s claim that it was the Russian who decided upon their matchup. “I know he was saying he picked that fight,” O’Malley said. “I don’t believe that. I think he got bullied into it.”
Of course, Yan (16-3) contested that take. “Considering all the top five guys are busy, with fights already booked, I had a desire to fight Sean,” he said. “The UFC liked this idea, and the fight was made.”
On the McGregor-Aldo comparison, Yan replied: “On the PR side of things, you can definitely compare it. Sean is a UFC project and a Conor wannabe. But the result of this match will be different.”