Sean O’Malley hated losing for the first time in his pro fighting career and he especially hated falling to an opponent that he considers to be inferior.
At UFC 252 this past weekend, O’Malley’s unbeaten run came to an end when he suffered a leg injury during his co-main event bout with Marlon Vera that directly led to “Chito” putting O’Malley on his back and finishing with ground-and-pound at the end of round one. Whether Vera’s attacks aimed at O’Malley’s legs are what caused the injury is up for debate, but regardless, there is no longer a zero in O’Malley’s loss column.
“Let’s look at his career in five years, let’s look at mine,” O’Malley said. “I’m going to be f**king world champion, he’s going to be a f**king journeyman. That’s just what his style is. He wins some, he loses some. He’s slow, but he’s gritty, so he’s going to be able to finish some people after they beat him up for a while. The way his pace was, super slow like that, and I was exploding into shots, I wasn’t gonna get tired and I was just gonna beat his ass.
“I don’t know if I was gonna get a finish in that first round. He was tough and he was patient, which was fine, because that’s easier for me, he wasn’t doing anything, he was standing there. It f**king sucks.”
UFC 252 marked the most high-profile bout of the 25-year-old O’Malley’s career to date. “Sugar” was one of the most hyped fighters on the card, receiving his own ESPN promo video, which highlighted his 12-0 start and several spectacular highlights he authored prior to his clash with Vera.
The stage was set for O’Malley to make another leap in notoriety and as far as he was concerned, everything felt right until the injury happened.
“Even in the back warming up, everything was perfect,” O’Malley said. “I’m in good shape, I’m in f**king good shape. I’m breaking this motherf**ker, hundred percent in my mind. Get back there, doing our warmup, everything’s going perfect. About five minutes before they said, ‘Alright, we’re gonna walk,’ I go, ‘Hey (movement coach) Brandon (Harris), do you think you can f**king loosen up my ankle brace, it’s f**king tight.’ So he’s sitting in the back, loosening up my ankle braces because they were so tight.
“We walked out, everything felt good. Got in there, was in front of him, I’m like, in my mind, ‘This is easy. He’s slow. He can’t hit me.’ … If he can’t hit me and he can’t take me down, I didn’t think he’d be able to take me down because he was so slow. I remembered the pain that I had in the top of my foot, the Lisfranc surgery, had the same pain, but all around my ankle. I remember dragging my foot up against the cage like, ‘F**k.” Even still, didn’t feel in danger.”
O’Malley’s impaired mobility would prove to be his undoing as Vera went on to earn a TKO victory at the 4:40 mark of the opening round. There had already been plenty of public chatter between the two bantamweight contenders, but it was exacerbated by Vera taking umbrage with the talk coming from Welch and O’Malley’s corner.
That may be part of the reason that Vera launched into an emotional celebration while O’Malley lay on the ground clutching at his leg. It was a reaction that O’Malley did not appreciate.
“Dude, I knock out Eddie Wineland, I peace,” O’Malley said. “That was easy. He gets lucky and beats me and jumps up like he just f**king won the lottery, that just showed me what kind of a b*tch he was.”
Welch, for his part, defended his part in possibly riling up Vera.
“If you had a friend that was going into a fight and you knew that just possibly if you said something it could f**k with the other guy’s head a little bit. Possibly. Maybe not, maybe it would,” Welch said. “And you had the opportunity to say something, would you say it? It’s a possibility that it could help when he’s trying to f**k the other guy up and take half the money.
“It’s like, holy sh*t, everyone’s freaking the f**k out about that. Dude, are you serious? We’re not playing f**king ping pong. But that’s life, that’s the way it goes.”
O’Malley and Welch agreed that they expect a rematch with “Chito” to take place at some point in the future, but for now 25-year-old prospect is simply accepting the bitter pill of defeat, while also assuring everyone that his confidence has not been diminished in the slightest.
“The thing is we picked the date,” O’Malley said. “We picked the time. We both walked out and then it doesn’t matter what the fu** happens. Whoever wins, however they win, wins. So he won. It sucks for me because I’m like, I lost to someone who I look at as not very good.
“I look at him and I’m like, he’s not that good. And I fu**ing lost to him. That’s the most frustrating thing. And that ‘humbled’ post was a f**king joke, so everyone commenting stupid sh*t, I’m not humbled.”