The Abu Dhabi-held card’s co-main event was originally set to see 135-pound champion Aljamain Sterling run it back with Yan for his first title defense. However, after suffering from lingering issues in his neck as a result of the surgery he underwent earlier in the year, “Funk Master” was forced to withdraw a month out from the event.
After first-choice replacement Rob Font turned down the opportunity to fight for the interim title having only just recovered from a bout of COVID-19, the promotion turned to Cory Sandhagen. Despite coming off a loss against TJ Dillashaw, most accepted “The Sandman” as the right man to join Yan on Yas Island.
In a five-round war, Sandhagen fell short of having gold wrapped around his waist for the first time. Putting his boxing skills on display once again, Yan looked as good as ever and left the Octagon with the interim belt.
O’Malley: “I Looked At That Fight As A Win-Win”
Before Sandhagen’s place on the UFC 267 card was confirmed, one unlikely name staked his claim for interim championship shot. O’Malley, who’s yet to face a ranked fighter in the promotion, made his willingness to challenge “No Mercy” in Abu Dhabi known.
While Yan later branded it as attention seeking and Sandhagen suggested even O’Malley knew it was “ridiculous,” the 27-year-old has claimed his desire to face Yan at UFC 267 on short notice was completely genuine. During a recent appearance on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour, O’Malley explained why he had hoped to jump the queue for a shot at the interim strap.
“Oh 100% (serious). I would hate to take a short-notice fight, you know, I prefer not to, but I looked at that fight as a win-win. I’m always in somewhat decent shape, you know, you’re not always in fight shape but it was four or five weeks out, so I had time to get into pretty good shape. I was gonna go out there and give it my all for as long as I could. Losing to Petr Yan wouldn’t be that big of a loss. I think it’d make for even a better rematch after I would earn that back.
“But yeah, I was 100% serious. I know Cory was the front man, who I believe deserved the shot over me, but I didn’t know if, in that moment, he was healthy and able to. I know Rob Font had Covid. TJ (Dillashaw) was out. I would’ve 100% taken that fight if they’d offered me it.”
With the UFC not needing his services on October 30, O’Malley turned his attention to a different opponent, one more suited to his current positioning on the bantamweight ladder. In the UFC 269 main card opener this Saturday, “Sugar” will face Raulian Paiva.
While the Brazilian is undoubtedly tough, as he showed in his last outing against Kyler Phillips, most expect O’Malley to record another victory and continue his path towards the top. Perhaps with a strong 2022, the rising star won’t be far from a clash with Yan.
How do you think Sean O’Malley would have fared against Petr Yan at UFC 267?