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Sean O’Malley on UFC 269 Bout: ‘I’m Ending This Fight in a Knockout’

The self-proclaimed champion of UFC's unranked fighters plans to cut off the lights to open Saturday's main card.

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.

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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.

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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.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.