LAS VEGAS – Say what you will about Sean O’Malley, the 27-year-old bantamweight knows you’re going to watch him perform.
“Someone’s not going to be watching the fights, and I come on the TV, they’re like, ‘Nope, I’m not going to watch,’” O’Malley told MMA Junkie at Wednesday’s media day at the UFC Apex. “Like, that’s not going to happen. They’re going to watch.”
O’Malley has certainly proven himself to be one of the most entertaining fighters in the promotion during his four years on the roster. In just seven UFC appearances, O’Malley already has claimed three “Performance of the Night” bonuses to go along with a pair of “Fight of the Night” bonuses, as well.
Despite his success, O’Malley isn’t currently listed in the UFC’s official rankings, but he insists he isn’t all that concerned with where he appears on any lists. In fact, he’s even taken to poking a little fun at the entire scenario by referring to himself as the “unranked champ.”
“Well, I’m unranked, so it kind of made sense,” O’Malley said. “And the champ, I feel like, you know, if you can only pick one bantamweight fight to watch, and we all fought at the same time, I believe most people would choose me, so ‘unranked champ’ kind of fit.”
On Saturday, O’Malley (14-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) is tasked with kicking off the pay-per-view main card of UFC 269 when he takes on Raulian Paiva (21-3 MMA, 3-2 UFC) at T-Mobile Arena. While Paiva isn’t necessarily a high-profile matchup, O’Malley said he’s certainly not overlooking the challenge that lies ahead – especially after what he saw in Paiva’s gutsy decision win over Kyler Phillips in July.
“Anybody in the UFC is going to be a dangerous opponent,” O’Malley said. “I think Paiva’s dangerous. He’s very tough. We saw it in the last fight. My buddy, Kyler, you know, really, he beat him up, and Paiva somehow won that fight. So in my eyes, he’s coming off a loss, really. Like, I thought my buddy beat him, but he’s a dangerous opponent to show that much heart.”
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While neither man is currently ranked in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie bantamweight rankings, a victory could see that change. After all, O’Malley is a high-profile name, and a result in a featured slot on such a big event could prove valuable.
But O’Malley said it really doesn’t matter to him. He’s simply focused on getting the best matchups he can.
“You know, if I get ranked 15, 14, whatever after this fight, you know, I already called out Adrian Yanez, and he’s not ranked, and I have no issue fighting an unranked guy if I’m ranked,” O’Malley said. “I’m not worried about it. I think, you know, a good win over Paiva – I’m not overlooking Paiva. I have to go out there Saturday night and perform the way I perform, and I have to put his lights out. It can’t be a boring fight. If it’s a boring fight, I don’t really have any say into what’s next. I go out there, put Paiva’s lights out, I can call out, you know, Yanez or whoever I want.”
Of course, if he does get a number next to his name, that could go a long way toward securing the type of fights he’s hoping to book. Take for instance, the idea of potentially fighting a legend, like Jose Aldo.
“The dude, he’s a living legend, and any time just watching him walk out is really cool to see,” O’Malley said. “He’s one of the best in the world, for sure – definitely up there in the bantamweights. You know, that’s a fight that I think would be a massive fight: the ‘Suga’ show vs. Jose Aldo. I think that would be a crazy fight, and that would be probably the one fight that I’d be standing across the cage. Like, ‘What the – what?’ That’s crazy.”
O’Malley said he’s also considered possible matchups with the likes of Dominick Cruz and Cody Garbrandt, though he’s less enthused about the latter since “No Love” is currently targeting a run at flyweight. But O’Malley said he’s not going to chase anything in particular.
“I’m excited where I’m at in the UFC right now,” O’Malley said. “I’m 27 years old. I’ve got a lot more fights, and I’m in a good position. I mean, name another millionaire that’s outside the top 15. I don’t think you can. That’s not necessarily just for fighting just – you know, the UFC has given me a huge platform to be able to get big sponsors and stuff like that.
“If you would’ve told me four years ago, ‘You’re going to be a millionaire and not even be in the top 15,’ I’d be like, ‘All right.’ I mean, I’m happy with where I’m at.”
O’Malley knows he’s got haters in addition to his supporters, but that’s likely unavoidable given his bold and brash personality. Still, he insists it doesn’t faze him for one simple reason – love him or hate him, he knows you’re tuning in.
“They’re going to watch the fight, 100 percent,” O’Malley said. “I’m going to make sure they watch. Tey’re going to call off work so they can watch.”
Photos: Sean O’Malley through the years
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