LAS VEGAS – Sean O’Malley was flat on his back near the cage, writhing in pain, as ring announcer Bruce Buffer read off the scores of his win over Andre Soukhamthath UFC 222 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.
The unorthodox bantamweight had brought the crowd to its feet several times in their three-round bout, with quality grappling and strikes that almost defy description.
The crowd saved its loudest ovation for when O’Malley was carried out of the cage and placed on a stretcher after surviving an apparent serious injury to his right leg.
O’Malley was up 20-17 on two of the official cards and 20-18 after two rounds and was putting on a show in his biggest UFC fight to date.
In the third, Soukhamthath hit O’Malley with a kick and immediately O’Malley’s leg went out from underneath him and he went down. Soukhamthath worked to finish him, but O’Malley not only avoided it, he briefly managed to get to his feet.
Southkhamthath took the third round, but it was irrelevant as O’Malley’s display of grit and guts won the hearts of the crowd.
The UFC has been in search of a star to follow fighters like Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, and O’Malley gave the company another reason to believe he’ll be one of them after a remarkable performance on Saturday.
He hurt Soukhamthath with a right, and followed with high kicks and punches in combinations rarely seen. It was virtually impossible for Soukhamthath to get a gauge on where he was coming from.
During the second round, O’Malley showed his grappling ability and again was active and working from unique positions. It’s going to only add to an already quickly growing legend.
“I try to be unique and dynamic when I fight,” O’Malley said from the ground in his postfight interview with Joe Rogan. “I want to do things no one has done before. I don’t know what happened. My foot went numb and I can’t feel it. Just happy to fight through it and get the win. Welcome to the Sugar show!”
— UFC (@ufc) March 4, 2018
Quite a show it was. He got the attention of UFC president Dana White last year with a spectacular head kick knockout at an LFA fight on AXS TV. That got him a spot on White’s “Contender Series” show, and a win there earned him a UFC spot.
He’s a unique character with a quirky personality and the kind of charisma that attracts people to him. Though it’s early in his career, he’s showing he can fight as well as he can promote, and that bodes well for the UFC, which desperately needs ticket and pay-per-view sellers at the top of cards.
O’Malley showed Saturday that, even when flat on his back, he appears to be the kind of fighter who can compete at a high level and sell himself at an even higher level.