From the first time a young Sean O’Malley appeared on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2017  it was clear the kid had something special about him. Just 22-years-old at the time, he impressed the UFC boss with a first round highlight-reel knockout against Alfred Khashakyan to earn himself a spot on The Ultimate Fighter.

That was his fourth knockout victory in a row, and when he finally arrived in the octagon, the flamboyant newcomer collected three-straight bonuses to emphasize that ‘the Sugar Show’ was fast-becoming the hottest ticket in town. Fast forward five years and the outspoken American’s star power is brighter than ever as he prepares to take on former bantamweight champion Petr Yan at UFC 280 in Abu Dhabi.

The #1-contender is 1o places above O’Malley in the rankings and represents the biggest test of his career by far. To put the match-up into perspective, the LFA veteran is ranked at #11 and has never beaten anyone inside the top ten.


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New superstar

However, with 2.4 million followers on Instagram, ‘Suga Sean’ no doubt has pulling power. He’s also something of a maverick, having opted to represent himself instead of having a manager.

In a recent interview with ESPN’s DC & RC show, O’Malley said that beating the Russian will take his stardom to the next level and put him on par with Conor McGregor,

“Usually I’d say people are hoping I don’t win, but to be honest, I would say the majority of people that think I won’t win actually want me to win,” said the 27-year-old.

O’Malley knows there is more to MMA stardom than simply winning fights. No-one currently on the roster can compete with Conor McGregor in terms of popularity but he believes he could be that man,

“People want a superstar. There’s really no one in the UFC right now that is that Conor level. Me, I go out there and beat Petr in spectacular fashion, I’m climbing. I’m not going to be there yet and I know that, but I’m climbing to become that guy. I want to be the Conor, I don’t want it to be competitive to where it’s like, ‘you’re up there with this’, I want to be that guy.”


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Canny operator

O’Malley has proven to be a canny operator thus far and is openly selective about who he fights. He comes into the bout on the back of a no contest against #8-ranked Pedro Munoz but was looking good until the fight was stopped due to an eye poke.

In Yan, he faces an opponent with arguably the best hands in the division who was, until recently, considered the best 135lber on the planet. If he does perform, he can expect his stock to rise considerably.

O’Malley thinks that is exactly what the fans want to see,

“I think the UFC fans want that. They want somebody that they can get super, super excited about, so most people think I’m going to lose but I think the majority of people want me to go out there and win, which is rare, I don’t usually think that, but I do think in this case that’s what it is.”