Sean O’Malley secured the biggest victory of his career to date by defeating Petr Yan by split decision at UFC 280 in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night.
The American, fighting outside the US for the first time in his UFC career, came through a gripping encounter to take the contest 28-29, 29-28, 29-28.
Yan, the former bantamweight champion and No 1-ranked contender, was rocked a number of times throughout, but typically fought back brilliantly. However, the Russian also had to deal with a severe cut about his right eye that clearly bothered him.
O’Malley, the No 11-ranked challenger at bantamweight, is expected to next fight for the belt.
“It’s kind of a blur to be honest,” O’Malley said. "He caught me with some good shots. Petr’s a tough dude, a tough Russian right there. I’d like to watch it back before I really dissect it.”
Asked if he feels he deserves to face champion Aljamain Sterling next for the bantamweight belt – the American retained his title against TJ Dillashaw in Abu Dhabi also on Saturday night – O’Malley said: “It’s so hard; as [UFC president] Dana [White] says, it’s hard to make fights the day of. I’m sore, I’m tired, I’ve a headache. I don’t want to fight anyone. I want to go home see my princess.
"It’s inevitable, I turn 28 tomorrow. I’m going to be in this sport for a long time. The people want me to be champ. It’s going to happen sooner rather than later."