In 2021, O’Malley rebounded from his first defeat in professional MMA with three wins, three finishes, and three bonuses in as many appearances, all of which helped “Sugar” rise into the 135-pound rankings. As far as years go, the last 12 months haven’t been too shabby for the Montana native.
While he recorded brutal knockouts against Thomas Almeida and Raulian Paiva, perhaps O’Malley’s most complete performance of 2021 came against promotional newcomer Kris Moutinho at UFC 264, a pay-per-view headlined by McGregor and Dustin Poirier’s trilogy clash.
On his way to a third-round TKO stoppage, which came with less than 30 seconds until the final horn, O’Malley broke records with his slick striking and opened the event’s main card in Fight of the Night style.
O’Malley: I’m Bigger Than Everyone But McGregor
While the majority of fighters on the UFC roster would love to be on a card headlined by McGregor given the incredible number of eyes and exposure drawn to it, O’Malley sees things differently.
“Sugar” has never shied away from expressing his thoughts on his own star power, something he recently put on display during an interview with Helen Yee.
Believing he no longer needs the help of McGregor to bring fans’ attention to his performances, O’Malley suggested he’d much rather be the main attraction, rather than the Irishman’s understudy.
Given his belief that no one other than the former two-divison UFC champion sits above him when it comes to stardom and drawing power, O’Malley expects to be the lead interest if he avoids sharing cards with McGregor.
“I’d rather fight with less attention on the card. I’d rather fight on a non-Conor card,” said O’Malley. “Because no matter what, even if I go out there and perform beautifully and (Conor) breaks his foot or whatever, it’s all the ESPN, Sportscenter, everything’s just gonna pick up Conor. So for me, I’d prefer to be on a smaller card—basically not Conor. I feel like everyone else I’m bigger than.”
Having accelerated his rise up the bantamweight ladder in 2021, O’Malley will hope to join the elite at 135 pounds when he returns to the cage this year.
Given the thumb injury he suffered versus Paiva in December and his desire to fight in Las Vegas, it appears fans could be waiting until the summer to see “Sugar” throw down next.
Do you agree with Sean O’Malley? Is he the second-biggest name in the UFC?