Dana White’s Contender Series has proven to be a steppingstone for rising MMA stars, giving up-and-comers the opportunity to showcase their skills in front of UFC President Dana White. Typically given one opportunity to prove themselves, fighters on DWCS can earn a UFC contract if their performance is on par with current UFC talent.
In this series, we showcase DWCS grads who have started to rise the ranks since earning their UFC contract on the show.
Sean O’Malley – Bantamweight
Since UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber and rap icon Snoop Dogg commentated his walk off knockout on Dana White’s Contender Series’ second season, Sean O’Malley has risen to superstardom, becoming one of the most popular athletes on the UFC roster.
Earning two impressive unanimous decisions in his first two bouts after signing his UFC contract, O’Malley has put an emphasis on the art of the walk off and delivering entertaining performances and highlight finishes to fight fans.
Following two years away from the Octagon, when he focused on bettering his health and mixed martial arts skills, O’Malley came into his UFC 248: Adesanya vs Romero bout against Jose Quinonez reset and refocused. It didn’t take long to close the show. Displaying quick footwork and technical striking, O’Malley dropped Quinonez two minutes into the first round and got his first UFC finish thanks to the ensuing ground-and-pound.
Sean O'Malley | Top Finishes
Sean O'Malley | Top Finishes
Three months later, O’Malley was back at it again at UFC 250: Nunes vs Spencer facing UFC veteran Eddie Wineland, who debuted in 2011. If getting a TKO finish in just over two minutes wasn’t sweet enough for “Sugar,” then a walk off KO against Wineland in under two minutes was sure to do the trick.
Faking an uppercut and coming over the top with a devastating right hand, O’Malley was already on his way to his corner before the ref could wave his arms to stop the fight. This was his first performance inside the Octagon that showed his power could finish UFC caliber athletes and that he had the potential to be an elite fighter in the bantamweight division.
O’Malley suffered his first setback two months later at UFC 252: Miocic vs Cormier 3, his third fight in five months. Injuring his right ankle a few minutes into his bout against Marlon Vera, O’Malley eventually fell to the floor after slipping from the injury. Heavy elbows from the top position by “Chito” and the obvious leg injury forced a stoppage from the referee.
After dealing with injuries in the past, O’Malley was no stranger to taking a necessary break and returning with a clean bill of health. His comeback fight seven months later against Thomas Almeida proved that injuries and time off don’t influence his skills and ability to perform under the lights.
In the first round, “Sugar” thought he earned another walk off finish, dropping Almeida with a left hook after a clinical opening, and he turned away as if the referee was going to step in. But the bout resumed, and Almeida rose to his feet and kept on exchanging strikes.
This happened again in the third round. Dropping Almeida with yet another left hook, for a moment O’Malley assumed the fight would be over. But learning from the first round, O’Malley stepped forward and unloaded a fight-ending ground-and-pound strike that echoed around the UFC APEX.
In his next two bouts, his elite striking continued to be on display, as he dominated short-notice opponent Kris Mouthino and Brazilian standout Raulian Paiva.
What sets O’Malley apart from other DWCS grads, and other UFC athletes in general, is how quickly he rose to superstardom despite not being a champion or a long-time veteran. Fighting on eight pay-per-view cards in his nine UFC bouts, both on the prelims and main card, O’Malley has already earned four Performance of the Night and two Fight of the Night bonuses.
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The only criticism from MMA fans was that through eight UFC fights, O’Malley hadn’t fought a ranked bantamweight opponent. Hoping to prove doubters that he could hang with the elite, O’Malley challenged No. 10 Pedro Munhoz at UFC 276: Adesanya vs Cannonier.
Unfortunately, the bout ended early in the second round from an accidental eye poke that left Munhoz unable to continue. For O’Malley, his streak of finishes and bonus-earning performances make him one to watch as he makes his run towards the top of the bantamweight division.