Chael Sonnen Explains Sean O’Malley Narrative That “Irritated” Him

Former UFC star Chael Sonnen has recalled a common narrative that frustrated him when it came to the perception of Sean O’Malley‘s bantamweight rise.

Currently, O’Malley sits as the top-ranked 135lber in the UFC. He attained that distinction by unseating former champion Petr Yan from the spot at UFC 280 this past October. After a close and entertaining three-round affair, “Sugar” fell on the right side of a split decision.

Petr Yan & Sean O'Malley
Image Credit: Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

With that, O’Malley appears to have done enough to stake his claim for a title shot, likely against the victor of the expected championship clash between Aljamain Sterling and Henry Cejudo this year.

But although he’s now firmly in the discussion at the top of the division, that wasn’t always the case.

For a while, O’Malley received stick for what some fans deemed to be a fight schedule designed for him to extend his win streak, with some even accusing the Montana native of avoiding ranked opponents.

According to Sonnen, those who believed that narrative had it all wrong.

Sonnen: ‘Why Weren’t Top Names Calling Out O’Malley?’

During a video uploaded to his YouTube channel, former middleweight and light heavyweight UFC title challenger Sonnen spoke about O’Malley’s quick rise to fame and perhaps comparably slow surge up the bantamweight ladder.

“The American Gangster” began by noting a misconception held by many with regards to the rankings. Sonnen insisted that more so than the number next to a fighter’s name, their card placement is more indicative of where they stand in the pecking order.

“I will hear your guys’ opinion on who the top 10 is. Not even your opinion, I could go to an expert who’s paid to do it. 100% of the time, it is a popularity contest,” Sonnen said. “Sean had the placement on the card, he had the attention. The guys ranked higher than him, they’re down here (gestures low).

“This is a miss that every fighter makes and will continue to make. The ranking, they believe, is more important than placement. There is nothing more important than your placement… Sean had the placement, he didn’t have the ranking.” Sonnen added.

With that in mind, Sonnen noted the irritation he felt when he saw O’Malley accused of avoiding high-ranked opponents. In his mind, the onus was on them to push for a meeting in the cage with “Sugar.”

“It irritated me on Sean, because people were saying — there was a narrative, ‘He’s not fighting the best guys.’ Well, he was trying to, why weren’t they trying to fight him?” Sonnen asked. “He’s the co-main event, he’s the one on the poster, he’s the one getting the questions at the presser. Why aren’t you trying to fight him? I don’t understand that.

“‘Sugar’ Sean was having a hard time getting a match with a top-ranked guy, but he wanted it, he was calling for it,” Sonnen continued. “He was making it clear he wanted to climb. Opportunity comes along (against) the number-one contender; he takes it and he takes the number-one ranking.”

Sonnen also somewhat likened the scenario to the one in which lightweight prospect Paddy Pimblett finds himself in. At UFC 282, “The Baddy” co-headlined the UFC’s final pay-per-view of 2022, outpointing Jared Gordon in a controversial decision.

Following the result, Pimblett was asked what he hopes will be next for him having gone 4-0 in the UFC to date. The Liverpool native responded by insisting he ‘doesn’t care’ and will accept whichever name is written on the bout agreement.

What do you make of Chael Sonnen’s take on the once-common perception of Sean O’Malley?

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