In an upcoming showdown set to take place on August 19th at TD Garden in Boston, UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling (23-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) is set to defend his title against the highly-touted Sean O'Malley (16-1 MMA, 8-1 UFC). However, Sterling has expressed doubts about O'Malley's credibility as a challenger.
Back in 2017, O'Malley rose to prominence with a remarkable performance on Dana White's Contender Series. His fight not only caught the attention of rapper Snoop Dogg, who was commentating, but also had UFC president Dana White on his feet. Since then, O'Malley has secured five bonus-winning knockouts, but Sterling questions the level of his competition.
"Dana White's Contender Series, (O'Malley) gets a beautiful knockout, gets hyped up... has some OK fights, then he starts knocking out a couple of guys no longer in the UFC," Sterling expressed on his YouTube channel. "Terrion Ware, no longer in the UFC. Andre Soukhamthath, no longer in the UFC. Raulian Paiva, I don't think he's in the UFC. Thomas Almeida, he's no longer in the UFC."
Continuing his critique, Sterling mentions O'Malley's victory over Kris Moutinho, although he believes the fight should have continued.
“Who else did he knock out? Kris Moutinho TKO, even though they probably should have let the fight keep going. … You get this guy who’s kind of come in, has had these tailor-made fights that were handpicked for him to look like a superstar, and in all fairness, I’m not even mad at that.”
O'Malley did suffer a TKO loss to Marlon Vera in August 2020, but that setback did not hinder his rise. He subsequently went undefeated in his next five fights, including a narrow decision win over former champion Petr Yan, which earned him a shot at the title.
Expressing his annoyance, Sterling said, "What I'm more annoyed with is the fact that he has an opportunity to really stake his claim and declare to the division, 'Hey, guys, this is who I am and I'm here.' Instead, he goes out and fights 'Chito' (Vera), literally the fight lasts like three minutes. He throws a couple of kicks, he gets kicked once, he falls over, gets punched like one time, and his lights get shut out and TKO'd. He gets knocked out by 'Chito,' somehow moves up. He ends up fighting Pedro (Munhoz), Edward Scissorhands his eyeballs on his fingertips, and he ends up fighting Petr Yan."
In stark contrast, Sterling had to go through a grueling journey of 14 UFC fights to earn his shot at the gold. Along the way, he defeated notable opponents such as Jimmie Rivera, Pedro Munhoz, and Cory Sandhagen. When comparing resumes, Sterling firmly believes that his accomplishments speak for themselves.
"You had this fight (against Yan) and it's like, dude, we are not the same. We are just not the same," Sterling emphasized. "I've cut my teeth in this sport and in this division. What am I, 15-3 now? What are we even talking about? I got the resume. So I don't think Sean deserved the spot."