Rising UFC bantamweight Sean O’Malley has described former two-division champion Conor McGregor as the only person he’s ever “looked up to.”
While not doing so as quickly and emphatically as McGregor did over five years ago, O’Malley has fast-grown into one of the most recognizable names in the UFC. That’s despite having never fought a ranked opponent.
Since returning from a USADA suspension in 2020, O’Malley has impressed. Two quick victories, including a highlight-reel Knockout of the Year contender against Eddie Wineland at UFC 250, saw him re-establish himself as one of the division’s hottest prospects.
Although a case of drop foot led to “Sugar” being beaten for the first time in MMA by Marlon Vera last August, two memorable victories since have got him back on track. First was a brutal knockout against Thomas Almeida, before a record-breaking striking performance against debutant Kris Moutinho at UFC 264 saw the 27-year-old collect his fifth bonus in six fights.
He’ll hope to continue that lucrative trend when he returns to the Octagon for the third time in 2021 this weekend. In the UFC 269 main card opener, O’Malley will face the once-ranked Raulian Paiva.
O’Malley Recalls First Meeting With “The Notorious” McGregor
Ahead of his upcoming fight, O’Malley has spoken about the inspiration he drew from MMA’s biggest superstar while his grind to get into the UFC was ongoing. During an interview with ESPN MMA’s Brett Okamoto, “Sugar” spoke about meeting McGregor earlier this year, and claimed the Irishman is the only person he’s ever looked up to.
McGregor has consistently caused controversy outside of the Octagon. From punching an old man in a Dublin bar to appearing to throw a strike at Machine Gun Kelly to allegedly breaking the nose of an Italian DJ, it’s hard to see the Dublin native as an ideal role model. Nevertheless, O’Malley suggested he’s learned a lot from McGregor, both inside and outside of the cage.
“We were at the Cowboys game and we just happened to be in the same suite. I finally got to meet him. It’s been a long time (coming). I’ve seen him on fight week; that’s not the time to talk to Conor, especially not right off the scale. It was cool, you know. I’ve watched his whole career play out. I’ve learned a lot from him. Outside (the Octagon), what not to do, what to do; inside, certain techniques, mindset, mental warfare. I’ve learned a lot from Conor. He’s probably the only person I could say I’ve ever kind of, looked up to. Like, ‘Damn, I wanna be that big.’ I wanna change the sport like Conor did.”
For those reasons, O’Malley’s encounter with McGregor at the AT&T Stadium was likely a moment to remember for the 27-year-old. Despite admitting the interaction was relatively short, the surging bantamweight star revealed the former double champ congratulated him on his performance against Moutinho, which opened the July pay-per-view headlined by McGregor’s trilogy with Dustin Poirier.
“We had a short conversation. It was very loud… He just walked in and we saw each other. He obviously knows who the Sugar Show is, I’m the second biggest draw in the UFC. He knows who I am, he watches the fights. He said, you know, ‘Great performance in your last fight.’ It wasn’t a long conversation.”
Despite having a long way to go before he comes close to replicating the success McGregor has achieved in MMA, O’Malley can jump one step closer to doing so with a third win in 2021 this Saturday.
An impressive victory over Paiva could well see him enter the 135-pound rankings. From there, the climb towards title contention will begin.
Do you think Sean O’Malley can emulate Conor McGregor’s success in the UFC?
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