Sean O’Malley has managed to catapult himself to stardom with cinematic flair. His headlining act at UFC 292 against Aljamain Sterling wasn’t just a fight; it was a seismic event that rocked the sport. O’Malley’s scintillating second-round knockout not only snatched the UFC Bantamweight title but set him on a rocketing trajectory toward mega-stardom.
As O’Malley’s gloved fist connected with Sterling’s jaw, the air in Boston’s TD Garden became electric. UFC President Dana White didn’t need to say much; a whisper in O’Malley’s ear was enough to imply that riches and endless possibilities lay ahead for the new champion. “We broke the all-time gate record,” White exclaimed at the post-event news conference, comparing the night’s $7 million gate to Bruce Springsteen’s recent $5 million haul at the same venue. In his words, “This is also the biggest bantamweight championship fight ever on pay-per-view, globally. It broke the record.”
However, not everyone is buying into the ‘Suga Show.’ Henry Cejudo, the former two-division UFC champion, has a knack for stirring the pot and isn’t easily impressed. Cejudo didn’t mince words when he stated, “Guess what, guys, I have friends at ESPN. You guys want to know what Sean O’Malley’s buys did at pay-per-view? He did anywhere between 300K to 350K. That’s it. That’s all Sean O’Malley made in pay-per-view buys.”
As most of us can attest, getting hands on reliable pay-per-view numbers is akin to catching smoke. Though some rely on Google Trends and industry insiders, definitive figures are closely guarded secrets unless released by the UFC or their partners at ESPN. Yet O’Malley was quick to counter Cejudo’s claim with his own set of numbers. “I just talked to the UFC and I heard upwards of 570K,” O’Malley declared, also taking the opportunity to remind Cejudo that his title bid against Sterling had mustered a measly 135K buys. He added another dig, claiming, “Also Henry 5’2 lol,” despite the official UFC website listing Cejudo’s height is 5’4″.
The debate over O’Malley’s pay-per-view sales isn’t just a game of numbers; it’s a battle over his rightful place in the echelon of MMA stardom. Is he destined for greatness, or is he just a flash in the pan? Cejudo clearly has his reservations: “Everyone was projecting that this event was one of the biggest of the year. It’s not true. So, my question is to Sean O’Malley: Do you have that sauce to sell, to be a pay-per-view superstar?”
Whether or not O’Malley has that elusive “sauce,” he certainly has the attention of both the fans and the MMA community at large. Cejudo’s scepticism aside, UFC 292 undeniably carved out its place in history. Not only did it reportedly become the biggest bantamweight championship fight ever, but the event also garnered the highest gate in TD Garden’s history, previously held by the NBA Finals.
Moreover, O’Malley’s star power extends beyond the octagon. With a jaw-dropping 3.6 million followers on Instagram, rainbow-coloured hair that defies convention, and an unabashed advocacy for marijuana, he’s more than just a fighter; he’s a cultural phenomenon. This despite a 2020 loss to Marlon Vera, a defeat O’Malley still doesn’t acknowledge, and an uphill battle to legitimise his stardom against elite fighters like Petr Yan and now, Aljamain Sterling.
In the high-stakes world of MMA, where athletes often fade into obscurity just as quickly as they rise, Sean O’Malley appears to be breaking the mould. The data may remain elusive, but as White so confidently declared, the numbers on this occasion seem to tell a story of unparalleled success for the young champ.
So is O’Malley the sport’s next big thing? Is he the future Conor McGregor that Dana White seemingly implied he could be? While the jury might still be out, O’Malley is forcing everyone to sit up and take notice, and from all indications, this is just the beginning.