If the flying knees, head kicks and closing right hand that ended Alfred Khashakyan’s night on July 18 didn’t get fight fans on board the Sean O’Malley bandwagon, seeing the Montana native jump on the top of the Octagon after his walk off knockout to yell, “Welcome to the Sugar Show” probably did the trick.
It was a memorable moment for a 22-year-old who wrote on his bio form before week two of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series that he began fighting “To become self-confident.”
So has fighting given “Sugar” Sean that confidence?
“Yeah, I think a little too much sometimes,” he laughs. “Right before I got into high school, I started boxing and I was always super skinny and a little dude, but yeah, I’m self-confident for sure.”
On a series that is rapidly introducing UFC fans to fighters that may very well rule the sport in the coming years, O’Malley may be the most intriguing. Still super skinny with a mop of curly hair that makes him stand out from the crowd, the bantamweight prospect continues to set himself apart with an unorthodox style designed for one thing: to finish.
“I go into every fight thinking I’m gonna knock this dude out and it’s gonna be a highlight reel finish,” he said. “My last two fights both went viral, and even before the fight I did an interview saying that’s what’s gonna happen, and that’s what happened. It doesn’t matter if I’m fighting a wrestler or a striker, my goal isn’t just to win, but to win by knockout. I don’t want to win a boring decision.”
Already 8-0 as a pro, O’Malley has five of those wins by knockout and one by submission. Add in that he’s a member of the renowned MMA Lab team in Glendale, Arizona, and it’s clear that the world was going to hear about him sooner or later. And while it was sooner thanks to the UFC contract he received after the win over Khashakyan, he was fine with later if that’s the way the stars were going to align.
“I didn’t want to expect to get in sooner and not get in, so I made it a goal to get in when I’m 25ish,” he said. “It’s not that I wasn’t ready. I do feel ready to be in the UFC and I don’t think I should fight anywhere else. I just didn’t want to say I want to be in the UFC by the time I’m 25 and not get in. In my head the whole time, I thought truly and honestly that I was gonna be in the UFC at a lot younger age than 25. With the way I fight and the style and entertainment I give the fans, I felt like I was gonna be in the UFC earlier.”
And with each passing win, O’Malley turned more heads, so when he scored three consecutive knockouts leading up to his DWTNCS fight, he felt he was ready.
“I think that’s coming from the work I’m putting in at the gym,” he said. “I can definitely feel going into a fight that I’m truly confident I’m gonna knock this person out and that’s from the work I’ve been putting in the last three and a half years I’ve been at the MMA Lab.”
The MMA Lab may be the perfect place for O’Malley because he doesn’t just get the work in with world class fighters, but he’s part of a team where each competitor is allowed to be themselves. How else do you explain a diverse cast of personalities that ranges from Benson Henderson, Bryan Barberena and Drakkar Klose to Alex Caceres and Lauren Murphy? But as O’Malley points out, head coach John Crouch wasn’t exactly on board with “The Sugar Show” early on.
“When I first got to the MMA Lab, I was 19 years old and I had the same style I do right now,” he said. “Obviously it was not as technical and not as skilled, but I had the same style and I got a lot of s**t for it from Crouch. He actually hated my style and he told me the first couple times I was sparring, ‘Put your hands up or I’m gonna put someone in there that makes you put your hands up.’
“So at first, it wasn’t like we didn’t get along, but he didn’t like my style and he didn’t like any of the flashy stuff. So me becoming successful off of all that stuff definitely opened his eyes to it too.”
And all is well now, as evidenced by O’Malley’s showing on DWTNCS, which took over social media and even got rapper Snoop Dogg tweeting a photo with the caption, “Skinny boys. I'll walk down any alley wit o malley.”
That would normally lead to a question of whether this 22-year-old can handle the fame and everything that follows along with being a UFC fighter. But instead, it should be, “Is the world ready for ‘The Sugar Show?’
“I think I’m gonna shock a lot of people,” O’Malley said. “I get into the cage and they look across from me and every guy I fight goes, ‘This kid’s not gonna knock me out.’ I look like a skinny little kid with curly hair. No one wants to get knocked out by me. I think I have to show a lot of people what I can do and the world’s gonna get ready for ‘The Sugar Show’ for sure.”