When Sean O’Malley makes the walk to the Octagon at Boston’s TD Garden on Saturday to challenge Aljamain Sterling for the bantamweight title in the main event of UFC 292, there will be one overriding subtext: money.
O’Malley entered the UFC in dramatic fashion on September 12, 2017 in Las Vegas when he knocked out Alfred Khashakyan in a fight on Week 2 of Season 1 of “Dana White’s Contender Series”. As doctors huddled around the fallen Khashakyan, O’Malley climbed into the cage and said into the camera, “Welcome to the Suga Show.”
He later said that eventually he felt like he was going to be as big as Conor McGregor, who has the biggest draw in MMA history. He has had eight pay-per-views selling 1.2 million or more in the UFC and did a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather that sold 4.3 million.
O’Malley is nowhere near that level. Heck, nine fights in his UFC career, Saturday’s fight will be his first pay-per-view main event.
But as a skinny 22-year-old basking in the afterglow of an impressive win in his biggest fight to date, O’Malley was prescient as he discussed his fight.
He told Yahoo Sports that the one goal that meant more than anything else never left his mind for the next six years.
He tries to turn his fighting skills into generation wealth, earned both inside and outside the ring. He doesn’t, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for him to run to the cage for The O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money,” especially the stanza that reads, “Money, money, money, money!”
Making McGregor-type money can involve deadbeats trying to get what he’s got, and it can add to the pressure, but O’Malley seems almost immune to pressure.
“I mean, I put that so-called pressure on myself and I’ve been saying it since ‘The Contender Series’: I’m going to be as big as Conor McGregor,” O’Malley told Yahoo Sports. “I said that before I was in the UFC and now here we are, six years later and I am where I said I would be. I got a lot of hate when I was on ‘The Contender Series’ and when I was in the UFC for the first time because I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to be a pay-per-view star. I’m going to fight for the title. I’m going to be world champion.’ I got a lot of hate, as confident people often do.
O’Malley is a smart kid who did an honest self-assessment several years ago. And then he realized that if he wanted to achieve his financial goals, he had to use the strength of his fists.
So he set out to get rich like a fighter, which many try and which most fail to achieve.
O’Malley’s already wealthy and has what he called “a pretty nice contract.” He feels justified even in his choice of profession.
“Most people aren’t going to fight with the idea of getting rich,” O’Malley said. “I did. I started fighting as a business move. I’ve always wanted to get rich and I didn’t see many other avenues and I was naturally good at fighting. So I said, ‘This is it.’ A lot of people don’t look at fighting and say, “Oh, I’m going to make $100 million and I’m going to be super rich.” That’s how I’ve always viewed it.”
Now he admits that he is not yet where he wants to be in terms of that generation wealth. He needs to win this fight, and if he does it in stunning fashion like McGregor did when he knocked out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds to win the full featherweight title, it would help immensely.
How O’Malley thinks he can beat Sterling
As great a striker as O’Malley is and he’s one of the few of the best in the sport almost every striker that has come into MMA sooner or later had to answer the question what happens when you beat each other before the met first? that big, strong, burly wrestler?
O’Malley’s moment of reckoning is about to arrive. With his percussion, he has had highlights to his name for a lifetime. But on Saturday he will face that big, strong, burly wrestler when he faces Sterling’s cage.
Sterling hit four takedowns against Henry Cejudo, an Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler and one of the greats in MMA history, in withdrawing a split decision to retain his title at UFC 288.
O’Malley has never seen anyone quite like Sterling, who is beginning to gain recognition as arguably the best bantamweight in UFC history.
O’Malley is a huge star six years into his UFC run and will only get bigger. He’ll get a hero’s welcome when he makes the walk to the Octagon around midnight local time Saturday, and the place will erupt if he manages to get it out.
But “Suga” is cut differently than most. He is never intimidated by the crowd or the moment and while this fight could be the moment that defines his career, he insists he will be relaxed.
“I understand what I have to do and that is go out there and beat Aljamain Sterling,” O’Malley said. “The way I do that, the way I perform best, is to be calm. I really don’t think I have a problem keeping calm. I know I’ll stay calm after cracking it, because I’ll crack it. I will hurt him.
“I can’t push myself too hard and get my hips in too far for him to grab me. The most important thing for me is that once I crack it, I have to stay calm. As for running away, I won’t let that change me. It’s going to be electric. It’s getting insane. But I will be calm and ready to do my job.”
If he does his job and finishes Sterling to become champion, it might be time to blare “For the Love of Money” over the arena speakers: money, money, money, money!