Conor McGregor and Israel Adesanya represent two of the most significant UFC rises over the past decade. Sean O’Malley is hoping to turn it into a three-pronged discussion.
O’Malley (12-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) has flourished quickly in the octagon and appears to be positioned to make another big leap with a co-main event spot against Marlon Vera (15-6-1 MMA, 9-5 UFC) at UFC 252, which takes place Saturday at UFC Apex in Las Vegas and airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and ESPN+.
Ahead of his first co-headlining position on a pay-per-view card, O’Malley was asked which fighters he would like to emulate in terms of making a quick leap to star status. McGregor, the former two-division UFC titleholder, and Adesanya, the reigning middleweight champ, were the two examples on the tip of his tongue.
“I think obviously Conor’s career went well,” O’Malley told reporters, including MMA Junkie, during Wednesday’s UFC 252 virtual media day. “Israel Adesanya’s career went well and I feel like I want a similar career like that.
“(McGregor and I are) pretty similar in fighting styles. We knock people out in the first round. We’re not afraid to say how the fight will play out.”
O’Malley appears to have all the necessary attributes to be a star for the UFC. The promotion seemingly has a great interest in seeing him succeed, and “Suga” has done the right things outside the cage in terms of establishing his own brand, personality and following.
He said none of that matters if he’s not delivering inside the octagon, though. Many hope to see O’Malley get a marquee fight in the bantamweight division if he gets past Vera at UFC 252, but in O’Malley’s mind, merely winning isn’t enough.
“I think it totally depends how I go out there and finish ‘Chito,’” O’Malley said. “If I win a decision I don’t get that big, big next fight name. I could, because if I win a decision it will be a very impressive decision. But if I starch him I think I will get whoever I want.”
O’Malley said he does expect to “starch” Vera, even despite the fact no one has been able to finish the Ecuadorian fighter in his six career losses. With that, he’ll make the statement he desires.
“He’s in the UFC, he’s tough, he’s beat people in the UFC, he’s finished people in the UFC and he’s never been finished,” O’Malley said. “All around it’s a tough fight. He’s my toughest opponent to date and with that said, I’ll probably still drop him in the first round.”