LAS VEGAS — There is a truth about everything in sports, that one is never as good as it appears when winning and not as bad as it may seem when losing.
But UFC bantamweight Sean O’Malley is testing that theory in multiple ways.
The colorful and outspoken striker will return to action for the first time since August, when he suffered a case of drop foot in a loss to Marlon Vera. He’ll fight Thomas Almeida on the main card of UFC 260 on Saturday.
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Almeida, a 29-year-old Brazilian, is 22-4 but it’s not your average 22-4 record. He began his career 21-0, but has now lost three in a row and four of his last five. He’s almost certainly going to be fighting to save his job, given that fighters who drop four in a row are rarely kept on the UFC roster.
That O’Malley, a 26-year-old who less than a year ago was being hailed as one of the sport’s elite prospects, is now fighting a guy on the verge of being released is curious. But it shows the extreme nature of this sport.
In August, coming off of a devastating one-punch, first-round KO of Eddie Wineland, O’Malley was paired with Marlon “Chito” Vera, who entered having won five of his last six. Vera’s only loss in that stretch was to Song Yadong, a close bout many saw going Vera’s way. O’Malley was, at the time, very much a fighter on the rise.
O’Malley’s foot gave out on him in the fight, and he could barely stand and didn’t have the mobility and footwork that have made him so highly regarded. Vera took advantage and finished him in the first round. O’Malley was taken from the cage on a stretcher, though he insisted it was at the demand of Nevada Athletic Commission personnel.
O’Malley has said repeatedly that, in his mind, he’s still undefeated. It’s his way of pointing out he wasn’t physically able to compete the way he normally does.
His critics may point to Vera’s performance as to why that happened, but O’Malley is still bubbling with confidence. He’ll face a desperate opponent fighting to save his job in Almeida, who is a powerful puncher with 17 knockouts among his 22 wins. The fact that he can punch will have little bearing on how O’Malley approaches the event.
He’ll bring, as he always does, the mindset of hit and not getting hit into the cage.
“Whether he can punch or he can’t punch, I don’t want to get hit by him,” O’Malley told Yahoo Sports.
His footwork, his great sense of distance and timing, and his variety of combinations and ability to punch from different angles has made him a threat.
Against Almeida, he says he’ll defuse the power the way he always has, by using his quickness and his fight IQ to his advantage.
“Speed and mindset are the two things, the things I’ll go in there with the biggest advantage,” O’Malley said. “I do [feel I can finish the fight]. I feel I’ll get the job done with the 15 minutes.”
He’s not looking forward and refused to say when he wanted to fight again in the event of a win or who he’d call out. He’s entirely focused on getting the victory over Almeida.
He certainly doesn’t want to look back. In the build-up to the bout, he’s been asked repeatedly about the Vera fight and bristles at the mention of it.
He is smart enough to know, however, that the best way to change the subject when you’re being asked about a loss is to win.
If he hits the winner’s circle on Saturday, media day will be a lot more friendly for him next time around.
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