O’Malley has entered 2023 occupying top spot in the 135-pound rankings, a feat he’s achieved with just one victory over a ranked opponent. That result came last October at UFC 280, where “Sugar” collided with former champion Petr Yan.
The pair went to war in a three-round battle that split opinions when it came to scoring, with many believing the Russian deserved to have his hand raised. But with two judges seeing things differently, O’Malley left Abu Dhabi with his biggest scalp to date and the best possible number next to his name.
With that, O’Malley believes he’s done enough to earn a shot at Aljamain Sterling‘s bantamweight gold. And despite it appearing likely that Henry Cejudo will receive the next opportunity against “Funk Master,” O’Malley has claimed to be “guaranteed” a bout with the victor, something he appears happy to wait for.
Sandhagen, however, believes talk of O’Malley versus the champ is wildly premature.
Sandhagen Claims He’s More “Deserving” Than O’Malley
During a recent interview with MiddleEasy, Sandhagen was asked about his own desire to have the bantamweight title wrapped around his waist in 2023.
While the current pecking order would appear to have “The Sandman” below the Montana native, at least in the #1-ranked contender’s eyes, the one-time interim title challenger has disputed the idea that O’Malley has done enough to earn a championship opportunity.
“Sean fought a bunch of not the highest quality of opponents and then barely beat a guy in a three-round fight,” Sandhagen said. “I don’t think really that should get you a title shot, in my opinion. I’ve been, I think, in the top five for the last three years. I’ve gotten one title shot and it was a short-notice one. I think that I’m more deserving than he is.”
Sandhagen will look to strengthen his case next month when he returns to the Octagon for his first outing of the year. When he makes the walk for the UFC Vegas 69 main event, he’ll do so to share the cage with Marlon Vera, another top contender whom many believe has earned a chance at capturing the belt.
With a strong performance opposite the Ecuadorian, perhaps Sandhagen can provide the bantamweight champion and the UFC something to think about later this year.
Do you agree with Cory Sandhagen? Does Sean O’Malley need to do more to earn a title shot?
Please provide transcription credit with a link to this article if you use any of these quotes.