The UFC has fared better than most sports in this pandemic but still they remain in desperate need of their next breakout star.
Conor McGregor is ‘retired’, Jon Jones is on hiatus and Khabib Nurmagomedov has just a couple of fights left.
Jorge Masvidal and Israel Adesanya aren’t far away but UFC 252 will feature a man who has the potential to be the future of the company.
Sean O’Malley has the kind of hype around him that hasn’t been seen with a newcomer since the rise of McGregor, and it is deserved.
That’s why he will be co-main eventing a pay-per-view in just his fourth fight in the UFC against Marlon Vera on Saturday night.
‘Suga’, a nickname given by a coach who said he is ‘sweet to watch’, has that combination that is so crucial if you want to truly cross into the mainstream. Highlight reel finishing ability with a truly magnetic character and microphone presence.
The gangly bantamweight arrived on the scene in 2017 with a stunning one-punch walk off KO on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
‘Welcome to the Suga show,’ he said. ‘This is my show.’
But he had been on some road to put on that show.
The American dropped out of high school at the age of 16, a teenager discontented by his own disinterest.
Sports had been the only part of the education system that had ever stimulated him but the restraints of school life saw him desperate to find his own path.
O’Malley joined a boxing club, his lack of size only making him more determined to learn how to handle himself.
He had never been one to get into fights growing up but quickly knew he had found his passion. To fund it, the youngster found work in a group home for the mentally disabled.
By the time he was 18, the Arizona native was all in on mixed martial arts. Competing on Montana’s amateur scene, his raw talent caught the the eye of Tim Welch, a trainer at the renowned MMA Lab team in Phoenix.
Welch offered up his house and asked if the skinny teen would be interested in flying down to the desert for a trial run with the team.
He did and after three years, seven straight professional wins and four first-round knockouts, O’Malley was announcing the ‘Suga Show’ in front of a stunned Dana White.
His performance earned him a UFC contract and the debut came against Terrion Ware at The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale.
O’Malley chased an early finish against a veteran who had never been knocked out but failed, ultimately having to dig deep to grind out a decision.
It was somewhat of a letdown but his unique look, fight style and way of talking already had fans getting behind him.
He is social media savvy and already has 1.2million Instagram followers, a key element in growing any athlete into a superstar.
The UFC clearly had faith, placing him straight onto a PPV main card for his next bout. O’Malley repaid it, beating Andre Soukhamthath via unanimous decision in a an absolute barn-burner.
Unfortunately the now 23-year-old injured his foot during the fight and required surgery before two drug-test suspensions further stalled his ascension.
But the break looks to have done him wonders and O’Malley is one of the most talked about fighters in the game right now.
That is because in his two fights since we have seen a much more polished fighter, a fighter with a calmness and swagger that could only draw further comparisons with McGregor.
Sean O’Malley is only four fights in to his UFC career and it’s already been a wild ride 🔥🌈
The Suga Show stops off at #UFC252 this Saturday! pic.twitter.com/07CbFlGtWl
O’Malley dispatched of Jose Alberto Quinonez in just two minutes in March and he went one better next time out with a ‘Knockout of the Year’ contender against the experienced Eddie Wineland in June.
The 25-year-old, complete with new multicolored hair, stalked Wineland for a couple of minutes before delivering what Joe Rogan labelled the ‘the greatest walkaway KO we’ve ever seen.’
‘It’s time to buy stock in Suga Sean O’Malley,’ Rogan said on the ESPN broadcast.
People certainly have and another emphatic win on Saturday will surely be enough to turn him into a legitimate main event star.