Sean O’Malley returns to the Octagon this Saturday at UFC 269, opening the main card at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas against Raulian Paiva.
UFC 269 marks the second consecutive time O’Malley (14-1) opens a pay-per-view, as he was in this same spot in July at UFC 264 when he obliterated Kris Moutinho. He faces a more experienced opponent this Saturday in Paiva (21-3), who is riding a three-fight win streak.
Still in pursuit of a bantamweight ranking, O’Malley can ill afford to lose this bout. He needs another convincing, entertaining opener, and while Paiva is tough, O’Malley’s striking does provide him with a distinct advantage.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, O’Malley discussed UFC 269, whether a fight against Dominick Cruz is still a possibility, and what it means to be UFC’s unranked champion.
Sports Illustrated: In your last fight, you put forth nonstop offense against Kris Moutinho, who absorbed an incredible amount of punishment. Is that the most one-sided fight you can remember from your career?
Sean O’Malley: The one right before was just like against Thomas Almeida. Maybe not as high output as Moutinho, but the dude took a whopping.
SI: You are on a two-fight win streak. Do you feel as though you have even more to prove since your lone loss against Marlon Vera?
O’Malley: I haven’t felt like that. I think that loss was a fluke and everyone sees it as a fluke, so I don’t feel like I have more to prove. Every fight I go into, I’m trying to back up what I talk about, and that’s me being the best striker in the UFC and that I put on performances. That’s what I want to prove every fight, and that’s what I will do this Saturday.
SI: If a win at 269 won’t get you ranked, what is your next goal?
O’Malley: I don’t think a win here necessarily gets me ranked, but I know who I want to fight next. That’s Adrian Yanez. That is a fight the fans have been asking for a long time, and that fight makes sense. But I need to go out there and perform on Saturday. My goal is to go in there and knock Paiva out, and everything else will fall into place.
SI: This is your second fight in a row opening a pay-per-view, a big responsibility.
O’Malley: That means something to me. It also means I know exactly when I’m fighting. When I’m on the card, my fight is the only fight that means anything to me, so I don’t care where anything else is placed. The UFC knows that I can help sell a pay-per-view since I’m on every time I fight.
SI: If you and Dominick Cruz are both victorious on Saturday, is that a matchup you would still want?
O’Malley: It would be an interesting matchup. I called him out for this fight [on Saturday], and I thought it would have been a big one. But he made it known he did not want to go fight backwards. For his ranking system, it didn’t make sense. I don’t know if that fight is ever going to happen. After this fight, I’ve made it known who I want to fight, and that’s Yanez. But my focus is on Paiva, who is a really tough opponent.
SI: You’ve called yourself the UFC’s unranked champ. Given your draw and reach among fight fans, it feels like an appropriate nickname.
O’Malley: I’m the champ of the unranked fighters. As far as draw and entertainment, I’m the champ.
SI: Are we going to see a knockout on Saturday?
O’Malley: I put people down in the first round. I’ve done that throughout my entire career. This is a tough opponent. Whether he stays down, or gets back up and keeps fighting, like I’m planning on him doing, I’m ending this fight in a knockout.