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Doctors weigh in on Sean O’Malley’s fight ending UFC 252 leg injury

What caused Sean O’Malley’s leg to give out from under him during his UFC 252 fight against Marlon Vera? Two doctors give their armchair opinions.

UFC 252: O’Malley v Vera Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

The “Sugar Show” imploded on Saturday night (Aug. 15, 2020) at UFC 252, and we still don’t really know what the hell happened.

Things started off so well between “Sugar” Sean O’Malley and Marlon Vera, too. The two were well on their way to a “Fight of The Night”-worthy performance when halfway through the round O’Malley’s right foot started giving out on him — the same foot that betrayed him in a 2018 bout against Andre Soukhamthath. Vera came in for the kill and ended the fight with 20 seconds left in the first round.

With no updates since O’Malley rushed off to the hospital for a CAT scan, we’re left to speculate on what led to his injury. Did he simply step wrong on the foot? Did he hurt his foot kicking Vera? Or did a calf kick from Vera damage the nerves in his leg and leave it useless? Conor McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh thinks it’s the latter:

“Leg kick directly onto right common peroneal nerve resulting in inability to dorsiflex ankle,” Kavanagh wrote. “An increasingly common attack in MMA #sweeptheleg.”

Brian Sutterer is an M.D. in physical medicine and rehabilitation and has a YouTube page where he breaks down sports injuries. He’s got a video on the eye poke from UFC 252’s Miocic vs. Cormier fight, and he put one together for Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera, too. Sutter breaks down the Lisfranc tear injury O’Malley suffered from in 2018, which is what “Sugar” reportedly told Megan Olivi he aggravated in the Vera fight.

Sutterer doesn’t speculate much on what may have caused the injury. But FightingDoc on r/mma does, attributing it to Vera’s calf kick and breaking down in detail how a kick to the calf can mess up your foot.

Sean was definitely hit with a high calf kick right as he was backing up to the cage. Shortly after, while the commentators were talking about how short Stipe’s legs are, you can see him buckle. The common peroneal nerve courses around the fibular head on the outside of the lower leg and Vera’s kick hit him right on that point. Damage to that nerve and its branches will cause foot drop, more unopposed ankle rolling inwards, and therefore buckling of the foot when trying to walk. We saw that happen. And with the rolling of the foot and hitting the top of the foot on the canvas, he may have aggravated his old Lisfranc foot injury too.

Lisfranc injuries also can lead to chronic mid-foot instability so it’s possible that all of the above just resulted in a perfect storm causing his right leg to just become non-functioning. Can’t take anything away from Chito though. Alex Perez TKO’ed Formiga several months ago with calf kicks and they both fight out of Team Oyama. Clearly those guys were drilling them during camp.

It’s a pretty compelling explanation for what happened, and one that gives Marlon Vera full credit for canceling the “Sugar Show.” Now, the only question is whether O’Malley himself will provide any additional information that backs it up. For some reason, I kind of doubt it.

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