There was a lot of complaining when Sean O’Malley, who was ranked 12th at bantamweight at the time, was given a bout against No. 1-ranked Petr Yan on the main card of UFC 280 at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
There should be no more complaining.
The man known as “The Suga Show” pulled out a gritty, gutty and bloody split decision over Yan, the former champion in a Fight of the Night type of battle. Judges had it 29-28 for O’Malley and 29-28 for Yan.
O’Malley did the most damage with his striking and cut Yan open in the wild back-and-forth third with a knee. Yan landed several good strikes and hurt and dropped O’Malley in the second round. O’Malley had dropped him earlier in that sequence.
O’Malley struggled to stay on his feet, but when he was standing, he did just enough to pull out the win. He knew it was a career-defining gut check victory.
“It’s the craziest f***ing sport in the world,” O’Malley said. “I had to go somewhere I’ve never been before.”
Yan was scoring well early with body kicks and that set up his wrestling. He took O’Malley down repeatedly including in the final seconds of an extraordinarily close third.
But O’Malley conceded that though he was surprised by the wrestling, he felt Yan’s power.
“I was hurt more than I’ve ever been, considering I usually don’t get hit,” O’Malley said. “I was definitely rocked.”
UFC president Dana White said before the fight that the winner would meet the winner of the title fight in the co-main event between Aljamain Sterling and T.J. Dillashaw.
Asked if he wanted that, O’Malley said at first he’d have to rewatch the fight. But then he reconsidered.
“I mean, I think people would love to see me be the bantamweight champion of the world,” he said. “So we’ll give the people what they want.”