BOSTON — The “Suga Show” came to the TD Garden and struck quickly to capture a UFC championship, as Helena native Sean O’Malley used a second-round TKO of defending champion Aljamain Sterling to win the bantamweight belt in the main event at UFC 292.
In 2014, Cory Smith, the CEO of 221 Industries in Great Falls had just signed Helena's O’Malley to his first professional contract with the Intense Fighting Championship. In that email, he mentioned how O’Malley was destined for greatness and would someday be a UFC champion.
Fast forward to 2023 and that prediction is now reality after second-round TKO of defending bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling at UFC 292 at the TD Garden.
“Yeah definitely feels surreal," O'Malley said at the post-fight press conference. "Feels like I’m playing a video game and I just got cheat codes, and I’m like alright, I’m going to knock out Aljo in the second on Saturday, and I feel like that fight kind of played out how I expected it to. My main goal was to not let him take me down and I knew if I could keep it on the feet I would knock him out."
The build and anticipation for O'Malley's fight with Sterling was palpable all week in one of the biggest events of the year for UFC thanks in large part to O'Malley's rising stardom.
If there was any doubt about O'Malley's impact and profile, UFC president Dana White made it clear that O'Malley, 28, is not the future anymore, he is the present.
“When Conor McGregor exploded onto the scene, he ignited Europe and other parts of the world, and now, Sean O’Malley coming into Boston, everywhere I went, hair, shirts, the whole deal, everyone was wearing O’Malley stuff and you saw the reaction when he won tonight how the place just erupted," White said before referencing the over $7 million gate the event drew. “The Boston Garden, we’re the biggest thing."
"The craziest sports town on Earth, other than their team that plays here, we’re the biggest thing that’s ever been here so what does that tell you about O’Malley? This is also the biggest bantamweight championship fight ever on pay-per-view globally. It broke the record. Biggest bantamweight championship fight ever. I’m sure you saw the crowd at the end. O’Malley isn’t going to be a star, he is a star.”
O'Malley caught Sterling with a perfectly-timed counter-right punch that sent him to the canvas, and followed up with violent ground strikes before the refefree stopped the fight, officially crowning the Montanan as champion.
Here is @SugaSeanMMA also talking about #Montana, and how he went from fighting there, to now UFC champ.— Kyle Hansen (@khansen406) August 21, 2023
Plus, quotes about his message to the fans, what the win meant, and celebrating with his family. #UFC292 pic.twitter.com/ucBrE62Zjn
“The longer the fight stayed on the feet, the better chance I had of knocking him out," O'Malley said. "I knew it would get him frustrated, him not being able to grab me. I thought he was way too confident that he was going to be able to come in and grab me. I don’t know if he’s ever sparred someone as good as I am or fought someone as good as I am, I truly believe I am a level above most people in the striking department. I just felt like he was very confident because he had never, it wasn’t his fault, he’d never experienced that fast in front of him."
Humble in defeat after a heated week, Sterling was quick to credit O'Malley's ability, showing his respect to the new champ.
“No excuses," Sterling said. "Sean, hey, he did good job of the one thing I knew he would be good at, that step-back counter. Yeah it was just a good shot man I felt like I saw something else, he stepped in, he capitalized on the one mistake that I made and I paid for it.
“He’s a good fighter man. A lot of the things I said coming into this fight, I said I respect his skills, I know what he’s good at, I know what my strengths are and he was able to capitalize on it tonight.”
From fighting in hotel conference rooms to other non-traditional fight venues throughout his come-up in Montana, Saturday's moment with the belt wrapped around his waist was made even more special to O'Malley knowing his roots and his grind in the Treasure State to get to this point.
“This has been 12 years, I started kickboxing when I was 16 years old in Montana, and then moved to Phoenix when I was 18, and it’s been two-a-days," he said. "I’ve dedicated my life to this sport. I know you guys see the hair, the beautiful pink Lamborghini, the houses and all of the fun stuff. But I’m working, I’m grinding, I’m in the gym, I’m losing, I’m getting beat every single day so I can come out here and win. But being from Montana, it molded me for sure.”
And it was a moment O'Malley got to share with his family in the octagon, and MTN Sports caught up with his brother Daniel after the fight, as they were all bursting with pride.
"It meant everything," Daniel O'Malley said. "My parents were super excited, all the siblings were excited, we’re just happy for him. He works so hard. You don’t see what he does every day so for it all to come together it was pretty awesome.”
It's the highest of highs for O'Malley and fellow Montanan Tim Welch of Great Falls, his head coach.
The duo willed their dreams into reality, made history, and according to them, it's only the beginning.
“Cha-ching. Cha-ching. Cha-ching," O'Malley said about being the next marquee star for the UFC. "That’s what that means. Feels good. You can go watch my interview before (White's) Contender Series, before I was even in the UFC. I said watch, this is going to happen. Literally basically explained how my career is going to play out in a couple of sentences and here we are.”
Helena native Sean O’Malley used a second-round TKO of defending champion Aljamain Sterling to win the bantamweight belt in the main event at UFC 292 in Boson on Saturday, August 19, 2023.
Just 51 seconds into the second round, O’Malley struck Sterling with a powerful right-handed punch to knock Sterling to the canvas.
O’Malley then blasted Sterling, regarded as the best bantamweight of all-time, with a barrage of strikes to force the referee to stop the fight and give 28-year-old "Suga Sean" the undisputed title.
The bout saw a relatively uneventful first round, but the 5-foot-11 O'Malley soon brought the crowd, which was clearly in his corner, to its feet.
Early in the second round, the 5-7 Sterling attempted a left-handed strike, which gave O'Malley, perhaps the best striker in the division, an opening to blast Sterling with a heavy right to force the champion down.
After reigning blows on a prone and bleeding Sterling, the fight was stopped and O'Malley had his title.
The win pushed O'Malley's record to 17-1 and snapped Sterling's nine-fight winning streak, which was the longest in bantamweight history.
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