Aljamain Sterling’s nine-fight winning streak and run as UFC bantamweight champion came to a sudden end on Saturday when Sean O’Malley knocked him out in the second round with a crushing right hand and some ground and pound.
Sterling threw a left that dodged O’Malley, then threw a blistering straight right that landed on Sterling’s chin. Sterling went down in the middle of the Octagon and O’Malley landed punches from above until referee Marc Goddard stopped it 51 seconds into round 2. The victory, in the main event of UFC 292 at TD Garden in Boston, came after a slow-paced first round.
O’Malley was better than a 2-1 underdog, but fought with the composure, poise and precision of a veteran. He used his speed and his feints to stay on the outside and hold off Sterling, an elite wrestler and grappler, in the first round.
When Sterling tried to bridge the gap, he paid the price because a new superstar was born in the UFC. O’Malley made a huge impact when he earned a contract with the UFC in “Dana White’s Contender Series” in 2017, and his star was on the rise until he clinched the title on Saturday.
“This is the most nervous I’ve ever been before a fight,” said O’Malley in the cage after winning the title. “In my eyes, Aljamain Sterling is the greatest bantamweight of all time.”
Before the fight, he said his speed gave him a huge advantage over all of his opponents, and Sterling agreed in his gracious comments after the fight. But at that speed O’Malley has quite a bit of power and Sterling found that out the hard way on Saturday.
O’Malley slipped to the left and drilled Sterling with a crushing right. Sterling went face down to the ground, where the new champion quickly finished it off.
“I said going into this fight it only takes one foul against me,” said O’Malley. “I don’t even know if that was a mistake. I’m just that good.”
O’Malley exuded his usual confidence after the fight. He called out Marlon “Chito” Vera for a fight in December. Vera held off O’Malley to hand him his only career loss at UFC 252 in Las Vegas on August 16, 2020, when O’Malley suffered a case of foot drop after being kicked.
Now 17-1 with a no contest, O’Malley has wanted that rematch ever since. But it won’t be his only title defense if he has his way.
“This is just the beginning of the ‘Suga’ era,” said O’Malley. “I might run this shit until 2035.”
The loss ended a nine-fight winning streak for Sterling and was his first since being kayoed by Marlon Moraes on December 9, 2017.