Sean O’Malley: Last Man Standing
By Jack Maher
Heading in to 2020, focus had naturally shifted to fighters who looked on the cusp of achieving big things in the UFC. While there were plenty of up-and-coming fighters fans had their eyes on, many hoped 2020 would be the year Sean O’Malley was given the chance to capitalise on his massive potential.
O’Malley looked like a star in the making in his early UFC appearances, but a freak leg injury and USADA issues meant that the bantamweight prospect was out of the cage for two years.
The eccentric 25 year-old would return, and has recorded two highlight-reel finishes in his two bouts so far this year, managing to build some serious momentum and star power in a year that has otherwise been mostly bad for up-and-coming UFC prospects.
Edmen Shahbazyan and Maycee Barber both entered the year with aims of becoming the youngest ever UFC champion. Both aged 22 and starting the year with undefeated records, the talk of either fighter setting the record for youngest ever champion in their respective divisions didn’t seem premature, but it was not meant to be.
Shahbazyan recently suffered his first MMA defeat, losing to Derick Brunson in a main-event bout less than two weeks ago. Maycee Barber had her momentum shattered at the start of the year when she suffered a surprising loss to Roxanne Modafferi, also in the fight suffering a torn ACL that has seen her sidelined since.
Shahbazyan has been sent back to the drawing board, meanwhile Barber’s chances of winning the flyweight championship anytime soon look slim, the fighter nicknamed ‘The Future’ will have to wait.
Elsewhere, Johnny Walker had any remaining momentum washed away when he suffered his second consecutive UFC defeat, losing to Nikita Krylov in March, a disappointing turn for a fighter who’d looked unstoppable in his early UFC fights.
Highly rated Englishman Nathaniel Wood suffered his first UFC loss, suffering a TKO at the hands of John Dodson. Wood has all the tools to rebuild himself in the bantamweight division, but ‘The Prospect’ will not transition in to a serious contender just yet.
Other potential UFC stars that suffered major setbacks include the youngest fighter in the UFC; Chase Hooper, who was outclassed by Alex Caceres, and heavyweight juggernaut Jairzinho Rozenstruik, who had his undefeated record shattered in brutal fashion, losing to Francis Ngannou in just 20 seconds.
The alarm bells should not be ringing for the UFC, a loss isn’t the end of the world and all the fighters mentioned are more than good enough to make up their lost ground, although their momentum has undoubtedly been disrupted.
So where does that leave O’Malley? To become a major star in the UFC a fighter ideally needs an exciting fighting style, natural charisma and most importantly to win fights. With over 1 million followers on social media, O’Malley is clearly turning heads.
In a year that has otherwise been bad for the UFC’s potential new stars, ‘Sugar’ has kept his name in the win column while his rivals have faltered, positioning the 12-0 bantamweight as the UFC’s standout future star for the time being.
O’Malley’s run may come to an end when he faces Marlon Vera in the UFC 252 co-main event, but if it doesn’t then O’Malley will remain the last fighter standing amongst a sea of rightfully hyped up prospects.