On July 18 of 2017 moments after knocking out Alfred Khashakyan on Dana White’s Contender Series, Sean O’Malley famously pointed at White and said, “Hey Dana. Welcome to The Sugar Show.”
Seventy-three months later at Boston’s TD Garden in the UFC 292 main event this past Saturday night, ‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley became the undisputed bantamweight champion by scoring a second-round knockout win over Aljamain Sterling. O’Malley hooked up his backers as a +210 underdog.
It became apparent really early in the first round that this wasn’t going to be the one-sided grappling affair in favor of Sterling that many – including Your Truly – expected to see. O’Malley controlled the center of the Octagon in the opening frame, using his length advantage to control distance.
Sterling spent way more time circling away from and out of O’Malley’s striking range than attempting to get inside enough to even think about shooting for a takedown. Although neither fighter landed many shots of consequence in Round 1, it was a bad sign for the reigning champion.
Then 10 seconds into the second stanza, O’Malley appeared to make a big mistake when he missed with a kick and slipped down. As he jumped back up, Sterling grabbed a single leg and pressed O’Malley against the fence.
But O’Malley was able to defend the takedown attempt and escape. Moments later, Sterling threw a lunging left hand that was short, and O’Malley dropped him with a gorgeous counter right that landed perfectly.
O’Malley pounced on Sterling with a barrage of hammer fists and punches. He connected with about a dozen shots before referee Marc Goddard intervened 51 seconds into Round 2.
O’Malley calmly and slowly circled the Octagon staring at the spectators in the lower level. Then he jumped over the fence, was handed a beer, took a pull and then blew a kiss to the crowd.
When Joe Rogan asked him how it felt to become the champion, O’Malley screamed, “What’s up, Boston?!!?”
Then he continued, “It feels right, baby. It feels right.”
After Rogan asked if he expected it to go down the way it did, O’Malley said, “Honestly, this was the most nervous I’ve ever been for a fight. In my eyes, Aljamain Sterling is the best bantamweight of all-time. So yeah, I was a little bit nervous for this fight, but I never lost the confidence because I know what I fuckin’ possess in this right hand, baby!”
O’Malley continued, “This is just the beginning of the Sugar Era. I’m running this shit until 2035 baby! Did Chito [Vera] win? Was it boring? Probably. I’ll whoop Chito’s ass in December at T-Mobile [in Las Vegas on the last pay-per-view card of 2023].”
Sterling was all class in defeat. “I made a mistake. Sean capitalized on it. I paid for it.”
Gamblers taking ‘under’ 1.5 rounds cashed +205 tickets at BetRivers, where bettors received a +108 return on wagers for the main event to go ‘under’ 2.5 rounds. Prop bets on O’Malley to win by TKO/KO netted a +370 payout at BetRivers, while props on him to win inside the distance had +300 odds at DraftKings. O’Malley to win in Round 2 had +1400 (or 14/1) odds at FanDuel.
DraftKings has O’Malley installed as a -198 favorite for a potential scrap against Vera, who is a +164 underdog.
Vera handed O’Malley (17-1 MMA, 9-1UFC) his only career loss via first-round TKO at UFC 252 back on Aug. 16 of 2020.
In the co-main event, Weili Zheng dominated Amanda Lemos to defend her women’s strawweight title in a unanimous-decision win (50-43, 50-44, 49-45). Zheng, who cashed tickets as a -310 to -350 ‘chalk,’ enjoyed the largest striking differential in a bout (288-21) in UFC Women’s history.
In fact, her performance was so dominant that she, along with O’Malley, earned an extra $50,000 for a Performance of the Night bonus that is rarely granted to a fighter unless they get a finish.
Gamblers on the ‘over’ won varying payouts at BetRivers for ‘over’ 2.5 rounds (-110), ‘over’ 3.5 rounds (+145) and ‘over’ 4.5 rounds (+205). Wagers on Zheng to win via decision had a +420 return at FanDuel, although the payout was +350 at most shops.
The Heartbreak Hotel bets for the co-main event were on Zheng to win by KO (+140 at BetRivers and +145 at FanDuel), inside the distance (-150 to -180 at different spots) and in Round 2 (+460). The referee was extremely close to stopping the fight on about a half-dozen occasions when Zheng was delivering ground-and-pound punishment, especially in the second stanza when Lemos sustained a ton of damage after Zheng broke loose from a submission attempt and assumed top position with several minutes left to work.
Ian ‘The Future’ Garry put on a brilliant kickboxing display in a unanimous-decision win over Neil Magny, the welterweight division’s all-time leader in career wins (with 21) who took the fight on just nine days of notice after Geoff Neal pulled out with an injury. The scorecards went Garry’s way to the tune of 30-26, 30-26 and 30-24 in the lopsided affair.
The unbeaten 25-year-old from Ireland won as a -500 favorite but, like Zheng, his inability to get the finish left many of his backers disappointed. Magny got dropped a half-dozen times by leg kicks and could barely put weight on his damaged left leg from midway through Round 2 until the final bell.
In fact, Magny ran out of the Octagon when the fight ended before the leg tightened up and left him unable to walk without assistance.
Prop bets on Garry to win by TKO/KO at an even-money price (or for small plus money at a few shops) appeared poised to cash at any moment in the last seven minutes of the fight, but Magny’s veteran savvy and durability prevented that from happening.
In his Octagon interview with Rogan, Garry called out one of the 170-pound loop’s most decorated strikers in Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson. However, White revealed to the media at his post-fight presser that the promotion already reached out to Thompson and that he turned down the fight.
Nevertheless, DraftKings posted a number for the potential scrap, making Garry a -125 favorite vs. Wonderboy (-105).
When pressed by media members on what would be next for Garry, White said he’ll be on the November card at Madison Square Garden in New York City that’s being headlined by Jon Jones’ first defense of his heavyweight title vs. former two-time heavyweight kingpin, Stipe Miocic.
Then White said the UFC will take Garry to be featured on a card in Dublin in 2024.
In a bantamweight battle, Mario Bautista won his fifth consecutive fight with a unanimous-decision victory (29-28, 29-28, 30-27) over Da’Mon Blackshear, who tied a UFC record held by many for fighting twice in a seven-day span. Blackshear had won last weekend via first-round submission with only the third twister in the promotion’s history (Bryce Mitchell and The Korean Zombie have the other twister subs.)
Bautista prevailed as a favorite in the -205 to -230 range. Bets on ‘over’ 2.5 rounds at a -122 price were winners, as were prop wagers on Bautista to win via decision (+150 to +175).
In the pay-per-view opener, Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera won a unanimous decision over Pedro Munhoz by scores of 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27. However, I was extremely surprised to see that, according to MMADecisions, 14 of 17 media members scored the bout in favor of Munhoz, who still has never been finished in all eight of his career defeats.
In what was a very competitive and entertaining kickboxing match that didn’t feature any grappling or takedown attempts, MajorWager had it 29-28 in favor of Vera. The 30-year-old Ecuadorian won as a -185 to -200 favorite.
Vera is 11-3 in his last 14 fights since August of 2018 and improved to 21-8-1 overall and 15-7 in the UFC. Like Munhoz, who is now 2-5 with one no-contest in his last eight Octagon appearances, Vera has taken all eight of his career defeats by decision. He bounced back from a split-decision loss to Cory Sandhagen at UFC San Antonio in March.
Sandhagen, who is ranked fourth at bantamweight, would certainly balk at Vera getting a title shot ahead of him. However, it’s No. 1 ranked contender Merab Dvalishvili that’s way more deserving than Vera or Sandhagen to get the first crack at O’Malley strap.
Dvalishvili, a Serra-Longo Fight Team training partner and teammate of Sterling’s, is on a nine-fight winning streak since losing the first two fights of his UFC tenure. By the way, White brushed off questions about who would be next for O’Malley late Saturday night.
In the prelims headliner, Brad Tavares avoided a three-fight losing streak by beating former middleweight champion Chris Weidman by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27). Weidman was making his return from a gruesome leg fracture suffered at UFC 261 that sidelined the Long Island native for 28 months.
Tavares won as a favorite in the -225 to -265 range.
“I love Chris Weidman,” White said at this post-fight presser. “I love him, I love his family and I think he should retire. We talked to [Doctor Jeff Davidson], Doc D thinks he blew his MCL/ACL — he blew one of his [cruciate ligaments]. The guy’s just coming back from a gruesome injury. Listen, father time is not our friend at all but definitely not for a professional athlete.
“First of all depending on the damage to the knee, you’re talking another year. I would say Chris, I love you, please, please retire.”
Before White offered those comments, Weidman defiantly told media members, “I’m not done. I’ll be back better than ever, but this was a good opportunity for me to get back in the Octagon.”
There were only four finishes on the 12-fight card. In addition to O’Malley, Gregory Rodrigues, Kurt Holobaugh and Karine Silva won with finishes. Rodrigues scored a first-round knockout (elbows) win over Denis Tiuliulin as a -375 ‘chalk’ in a middleweight clash.
Holobaugh beat Austin Hubbard by second-round sub (triangle choke) as a +135 to +150 underdog, and Silva defeated Maryna Moroz at the buzzer of the opening frame (4:59) via guillotine-choke sub as a -130 favorite.
In the Prelims’ curtain jerker on ESPN, Brad Katona became the first and only two-time winner of The Ultimate Fighter. Back in 2018, Katona won Season 27 of TUF by winning a unanimous decision over Jay Cucciniello in the finals of the featherweight tournament.
Katona then went 1-2 in his next three UFC bouts and was cut by the promotion. But after going 4-0 and winning the Brave CF promotion’s bantamweight belt (and successfully defending it once), he was invited to be a part of the TUF 31 cast.
After advancing to the finals with decision wins over Carlos Vera and Timur Valiev, Katona faced Cody Gibson in Beantown on Saturday night. Katona prevailed via UD (29-28, 29-28, 30-27), with he and Gibson earning an extra 50K by winning Fight of the Night honors.
Katona won as a -182 favorite.