O’Malley vs Almeida: A Mirror-Image Contest
By James Lee
The bantamweight division has most recently provided a recognised outlet for young talent to thrive towards greatness. TJ Dillashaw, Cody Garbrandt, and Aljamain Sterling have all claimed a UFC title in the 135 lbs division after years of progressing recognition.
Yet, two fighters who have found themselves with some of the largest hype in the division’s history have failed to reach the same heights thus far. Though, they will find themselves standing across from one another this Saturday at UFC 260.
For Thomas Almeida, he has become the forgotten figure of the bantamweight division, as all the fighting community can do is wonder what might have been for his career.
Six years ago, he was arguably the biggest prospect in the sport, even as a certain Irish fighter was turning the once proclaimed ‘bloodsport’ into a mainstream outlet.
It seemed Almeida would not only take over the historic South American fighting mantra but establish himself as the figurehead of the bantamweight division promptly. He fit the rare mould the UFC are continuously searching for, being a young, exciting risk-taker, willing to compete within the promotion’s requirements without hesitation.
After an almost unmatched regional record of 16-0 with a 100% finish rate coming into the sport’s premier promotion, he quickly replicated his prior success with wins over Tim Gorman and Yves Jabouin. That led him to a main card spot on UFC 189.
As the night starred as the coming-out party for Conor McGregor, Almeida copied that mantra and delivered an iconic performance to open an iconic night.
The instant classic saw the tough Brit Brad Pickett eventually falter to a devastating flying knee, despite ensuring the Brazilian was forced to show his durability.
Consequently, he was pushed into a rare unbeaten vs unbeaten fight with the relatively unknown Cody Garbrandt. Few categorised Garbrandt as the favourite, yet the American dismantled Almeida in under three minutes and stole every single conviction of championship capability he had.
Sadly, Almeida has yet to bounce back and establish not least championship contender status, but anything alike. An impressive, but competitive win over Albert Morales afterwards was quickly interrupted by three back-by-losses to Jimmie Rivera, Rob Font, and Jonathan Martinez, ensuring his status as the dreaded forgotten man has been cemented.
Crucially, Sean O’Malley cannot afford to suffer the same fate as the Brazilian. Thus, the contest this weekend manifests a weird dynamic whereby he must beat Almeida to not become Almeida.
The hype of each is weirdly similar half a decade on. O’Malley has established himself as one of the sport’s most exciting both inside-and-outside the octagon in the last two years, especially after his consecutive finishes over Eddie Wineland and Jose Alberto Quinonez in the earlier part of 2020.
However, he fell short against Marlon Vera last August after suffering a leg injury and subsequent technical-knockout loss in his first pay-per-view co-headliner spot. Since, his fighting stock has dropped significantly, amid the rise of other bantamweight contenders.
But, as we know, the fight game is fickle, and the best thing one can do to reignite hype is to find success again, and quickly. Almeida made the mistake of not doing so, and O’Malley cannot do the same.
So, UFC 260 presents Sean O’Malley a mirror image of where he does not want his career to go, and while his status can still be retrieved, he must take his chance to do so.
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC