O’Malley (16-1 MMA, 8-1 UFC) edged out former champion Yan at UFC 280 last week on the same night that Sterling retained his title by finishing T.J. Dillashaw. Although he thinks O’Malley would struggle against a grappler, Sterling (22-3 MMA, 14-3 UFC) believes O’Malley answered a lot of questions by standing toe to toe with Yan.
“I always acknowledged that Sean had serious skill,” Sterling told MMA Junkie. “I acknowledge that we didn’t know how tough he is. When he’s the hammer, we know he’s really, really good. We didn’t know if he becomes the nail and had some push back, will he fold? Will he rise to the occasion? …
“He showed he belonged. Exactly what I said from the get-go about him: I thought he was skilled, and I thought he could compete with the best guys, because most of these guys in the top of the division, they’re strikers. So, you give him a striker like Petr Yan, you’re giving him exactly what he wants. He’s tall for the weight class, he can kickbox his ass off, he’s pinpoint accurate, kind of reminds me of a (Conor) McGregor with his hands.”
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There was much dispute from MMA fans and media about O’Malley earning the split decision win, but after re-watching the fight with Yan, Sterling thinks the judges got it right.
“29-28, I gave it to O’Malley,” Sterling said on his YouTube channel. “That’s my personal opinion, my take. Don’t think that I’m running from Petr Yan. I think this fight was that close. Either one of these guys I’d fight. It’s a tough fight, regardless, so it doesn’t matter. So if you think that I can fight O’Malley, and it’s going to be that easy, it’s not. If you think I’m gonna just run through him, I’m not. I could. I could, but it doesn’t mean I definitely will.”