Phoenix fighter Sean O’Malley upsets Aljamain Sterling for UFC bantamweight title
Aug 20, 2023, 2:05 PM | Updated: 2:06 pm
(Photo by Paul Rutherford/Getty Images)
BOSTON (AP) — In his first bid for the UFC bantamweight title, Sean O’Malley stopped defending champion Aljamain Sterling 51 seconds into the second round of a scheduled five-round main event at UFC 292.
Early in the second round, O’Malley (17-1), of Phoenix, dropped Sterling with an overhand right. With Sterling on the mat, O’Malley hammered him with left hands to the head until referee Marc Goddard stopped the fight.
“The fight played out the way I thought it would,” O’Malley said early Sunday. “I thought the longer I could keep the fight on my feet the better chance I’d have. The odds of not getting taken down once in 25 minutes was very high. I’m glad it played out like it did.”
O’Malley, 28, entered Saturday night’s fight ranked second in the bantamweight division and was fighting in a five-round bout for the first time. He vowed to hold the title for a dozen years.
“In my mind, Aljamain Sterling is the best bantamweight of all time,” O’Malley said. “But I’m looking to take this all the way to 2035.”
The 34-year-old Sterling (23-4) entered the fight with 10 straight wins and was making the fourth defense of his title.
“I have no excuses,” said Sterling, who is from Uniondale, New York. “He did the one thing I knew he’d be good at, the stepback counter. He caught me. I made one mistake and I paid for it.”
Sterling expressed an interest in a rematch.
“I’d 100% want a rematch,” he said. “He’s good at what he does. I’m good at what I do. I’d like to run it back.”
Sterling attempted a takedown with 30 seconds left in the first, pinning O’Malley against the fence before the round ended. All three judges scored the first round for Sterling.
“I have no excuses,” Sterling said. “He did the one thing that I thought he’d be good at, the stepback counter. I made one mistake and he capitalized on it.”
O’Malley first reached prominence in 2017 when he was the champion of the first season of Dana White’s Contender Series.
The only fighter to defeat O’Malley, Marlon Vera of Ecuador, won a three-round unanimous decision against Pedro Munhoz of Brazil in the opening bout of the main card. The scores were 30-27 (twice) and 29-28. Vera, who stopped O’Malley in the first round on Aug. 15, 2020, improved to 21-8-1 and is the sixth-rated bantamweight in the UFC.
“In my mind (the loss to Vera) didn’t happen,” O’Malley said. “I’d still do it again.”
O’Malley also talked about fighting Gervonta Davis, a lightweight boxing champion, in a boxing match.
“If it’s big enough, the UFC could definitely get involved in it,” he said. “I absolutely want to do it. I don’t really follow boxing that much, but he’s undefeated and I want to do crazy big fights.”
In the co-main event, Zhang Weili of China retained her strawweight title with a five-round unanimous decision against Amanda Lemos of Brazil.
The scores were 50-43, 50-44 and 49-45.
“The only challenge I have is myself and the only thing I try to do is be better than I was yesterday,” Zhang said.
Zhang (24-3), who was in her second reign as champion, kept Lemos (13-3-1) on the mat for most of the fight.
In the fourth, Lemos had a little success while they were on their feet, landing a right hand that briefly put Zhang on the mat. But Zhang got up and brought Lemos to the mat with a takedown and landed several knees to the head.
“She’s unbelievably tough,” Zhang said. “I respect her. There were so many times in the fight I thought I had her out.”