When it was announced that rising star Sean O’Malley was taking a leap up to face off with former bantamweight champion Petr Yan on this Saturday’s UFC 280 card in Abu Dhabi, surprise was the first reaction from many fight fans who have been clamoring to see if “Sugar Sean” was indeed the real deal at 135 pounds.
Was Yan as surprised as they were that O’Malley took the fight?
“Listen, it's not Sean who took this fight,” said Yan through a translator. “It was me who accepted the fight since everyone in the Top 5 were busy. I didn't want to have a long layoff because I wanted to return to the title picture as soon as possible. It's a big opportunity for Sean that the number one contender took the fight with him, so he is lucky that everything worked out that way.”
Most wouldn’t describe facing 15 minutes in the Octagon with someone nicknamed “No Mercy” as lucky, but it’s obvious that no matter who jumped first to sign the contract, O’Malley is confident that he has the goods to not just hang with Yan for three rounds, but to beat him. Yan doesn’t necessarily agree with that line of thinking.
“I understand that he is a popular fighter that the UFC is banking on,” said Yan of O’Malley. “He definitely has some skills, but I believe I'm better than him in all aspects.”
Petr Yan vs Sean O'Malley Preview | UFC 280
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Petr Yan vs Sean O'Malley Preview | UFC 280
Yan, still four months away from his 30th birthday, has the resume to back up his claims. Ten UFC fights, with eight wins over the likes of John Dodson, Jimmie Rivera, Urijah Faber, Jose Aldo and Cory Sandhagen. It’s been quite a run thus far.
“I would describe my four years in UFC as an incredible journey,” he said. “My career progressed very quickly, so I had to deal with many new challenges that I didn't face before, but that made me smarter and wiser in a short period of time, so I'm glad how everything played out.”
There is no growth without having to deal with adversity, though, and Yan has had that in the form of his only two UFC losses, which came against current champion Aljamain Sterling – the first via disqualification and the second a close split decision.
If those defeats are haunting the former champ from Yekaterinburg, Russia, he’s not showing it, but he does want to get his belt back, and he thinks that a win over O’Malley will put him back in a title fight against the winner of Saturday’s co-main event clash between Sterling and TJ Dillashaw.
“I believe after the win at UFC 280 I will be the next in line for the title shot, because I'm confident that I'm the most deserving challenger among everyone else.”
Confidence may be the key to determining the winner of this weekend’s matchup, with overconfidence perhaps being the downfall of the favorite, should he expect to walk through the Arizonan. Not so, says Yan.
“I’m not overconfident before this fight,” he said. “As always, I have an understanding about how this fight can play out and my goal is to win, no matter what.”
It’s an attitude shared by one of boxing’s best, hall of famer Kostya Tszyu, a fighter Yan watched during his formative years and who faced a similar challenge when he met up with Zab Judah in 2001. Both were at the top of the 140-pound weight class, with Judah the rising star with flash, speed, and knockout power, while Tszyu was the veteran punisher who didn’t always start fast, but often finished in a chilling and emphatic fashion.
In their unification fight, Judah had moments in the first round where it looked like he was going to be too much for the Russian-born Aussie. But in the second, Tszyu struck, dropping Judah with a right hand. The New Yorker rose to his feet on wobbly legs, only to stagger back to the mat, and the fight was stopped.
Could history repeat itself?
Yan, like Tszyu, isn’t one for bold predictions, so he isn’t going to reveal how he sees Saturday’s fight going but, in his eyes, there will only be one winner.
“I believe in UFC history no one won the (bantamweight) belt three times,” he said. “That's why my goal is to accomplish that, so my next title run will start with the win in the next fight.”
UFC 280: Oliveira vs Makhachev took place live from Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on October 22, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!