Sandhagen’s comments came after it was announced that he would be replacing 135-pound champion Aljamain Sterling at UFC 267. “Funk Master” was originally scheduled to put his title on the line for the first time in a rematch against Petr Yan later this month. However, after failing to secure medical clearance due to his ongoing recovery from neck surgery, the champ was forced to withdraw from the non-pay-per-view numbered Abu Dhabi event.
In his place will be “The Sandman.” The #3-ranked contender, who is coming off a tight split decision loss to TJ Dillashaw, will compete for interim gold against Yan on October 30. Despite the short-notice opportunity, the 29-year-old is confident he’ll be able to beat “No Mercy.”
Even with the relatively quick announcement, Sandhagen’s place in the matchup wasn’t without competition. Rob Font was apparently offered the chance to face Yan first. When he couldn’t accept the bout due to COVID-19, “The Sandman” was next in the queue and seemed the obvious choice.
Nevertheless, that didn’t stop surging bantamweight personality Sean O’Malley from taking advantage of the situation by throwing his name into the hat. Not only did “Sugar” call Yan out on social media, but he suggested he was training to face him and would “sleep the Russian in one.”
After his spot in the UFC 267 co-main event was secured, Sandhagen looked back on on O’Malley’s apparent willingness to jump the queue to a title shot. During an appearance on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour, the Colorado native suggested the idea of the 26-year-old replacing Sterling was crazy.
“No, I think that that would’ve kinda been ridiculous for the real fans, right? Someone who hasn’t even fought in the top 10, for him to jump to a championship fight would’ve seemed a little ridiculous. I think that he’d probably agree with that, too.”
O’Malley has only met one ranked opponent inside the Octagon. He collided with Marlon “Chito” Vera at UFC 252. After a compromised leg saw him grounded and beaten via TKO inside the opening round, “Sugar” had the only blemish of his career to date added to his record.
Having returned to form with a brutal finish of Thomas Almeida in March and a record-breaking striking performance against promotional newcomer Kris Moutinho at UFC 264, O’Malley has brought his name back into the bantamweight conversation.
After turning down a matchup with former UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar at UFC 268 because of his coach Tim Welch’s prior commitments, O’Malley will now meet the #15-ranked Raulian Paiva at UFC 269 on December 11.
How would you have reacted if Sean O’Malley replaced Aljamain Sterling at UFC 267?