Sean O’Malley may be a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them.
Despite a resume that doesn’t include a single win over a top 15-ranked opponent, O’Malley will jump the line at bantamweight for his upcoming showdown against ex-champion Petr Yan at UFC 280.
On paper, it’s more difficult a matchup than anything O’Malley has previously faced, but one-time UFC title challenger Anthony Smith cautions anyone who thinks the always-colorful bantamweight is going to get blown out of the water.
“I think Sean O’Malley’s very smart with his matchmaking,” Smith said on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “I think that he’s very, very calculated, and I’m not saying this as a knock. I think more people maybe need to be better about doing that.
“Maybe my path to fight anyone, any time, any place, maybe that’s not the greatest path to success in the end. It’s the biggest fight with biggest named guy for the most money that’s the easiest, and maybe that’s the path, I don’t know. I will tell you that there are a lot of guys that are ranked below Petr Yan that Sean O’Malley would have a tougher time with.”
To O’Malley’s credit, he’s called for bigger fights against higher-ranked opponents in the past, but this is the first time the UFC has actually booked him against somebody with Yan’s credentials.
“I think stylistically, Yan is a good matchup for a guy like Sean O’Malley,” Smith explained. “He’s shorter, he’s stockier, he’s got a really large reach disadvantage. I think the way that he fights favors the style of Sean O’Malley. There’s a world that exists where you can see Sean O’Malley getting over on Petr Yan.
“Is that world as clear if it’s Cory Sandhagen? The path is not nearly as clear as with Petr Yan. That’s kind of my point. I think that he’s very smart. I think he’s getting an opportunity to skip a lot of people that are going to give him problems.”
Whether it’s Sandhagen, Vera or other potential matchups at bantamweight, Smith sees a lot of fighters giving O’Malley headaches that Yan doesn’t necessarily present.
“I really like Sean O’Malley, I love his game, but even a guy if they run it back with ‘Chito’ [Marlon Vera], I think that’s a tough one,” Smith said. “I’m not saying he can’t beat him but … that’s a tough fight.
“I think he has a tougher time with ‘Chito’ than he does with Petr Yan. I think he has a tougher time with Cory Sandhagen than he does with Petr Yan. I think he knows that. Credit to him. I think it’s a fantastic fight. I think it’s a stylistic dream to get the No. 2 guy that happens to have that skill set.
“You look at the Aljamain Sterling matchup, you look at TJ Dillashaw, those are all really, really tough matchups for Sean O’Malley. Petr Yan out of all of them is probably the easiest.”
While Smith is picking O’Malley to win at UFC 280, he doesn’t expect Yan to just fade away and there’s definitely a world where the former bantamweight king gets the win.
But in his opinion, Smith sees O’Malley offering a look that might frustrate Yan not to mention only having three rounds to work versus five rounds in a main event or title fight.
“If Petr Yan comes in, he’s mean, he’s angry, he lost his title, he’s trying to get back to it and he just starts walking him down and walking through all of his bulls***, it’s going to be a long night for Sean O’Malley, or a very short one,” Smith said.
“I just have this feeling that Yan is going to get stuck on the outside. I don’t think that Sean O’Malley’s going to finish him. I don’t think there’s going to be anything crazy. Petr Yan’s going to have a tough time getting to him, and I think that Sean does a really good job of running people into s*** sometimes, and he was very similar in the Munhoz fight. I think it’s going to be close like that. I don’t think it’s going to be as exciting as we all want it to be. I think it’s going to look very similar to the Pedro Munhoz fight where he’s just kind of on the outside, picking at him and I think the numbers are just going to add up. I am [going with Sean O’Malley].”