Sean O’Malley may have come up short at UFC 252, but the loss has done little to diminish O’Malley’s fame.
In the last few months, “Suga” has really established himself as one of the biggest names in the sport. There’s a reason he was named pay-per-view (PPV) co-headliner above a former Heavyweight champion in Junior dos Santos: people want to see him fight. Whether talking Instagram followers, YouTube views or even clicks here at MMAmania.com, all the metrics point to O’Malley being a star-in-the-making.
One such metric that has proven particularly profitable for O’Malley is the retail market. “Suga” made headlines both for getting ripped off by Reebok (after $1 million worth of sales) then immediately selling out of his custom jerseys and making a significant profit. Last week, the latest O’Malley merchandise became available, custom gloves designed by O’Malley and produced by combat sports equipment company Sanabul, which has dubbed O’Malley MMA’s “King of Retail.”
“We wanted to create a glove that offers a glimpse into Sean’s personality and fighting style; flashy and entertaining at first glance, but at its core, refined and technically sound. Sean O’Malley is a very unique athlete because he’s constantly evolving both in and out of the Octagon,” said Imran Jawaid, Founder and CEO of Sanabul. “He has an insatiable desire to learn and grow that drives him to train every single day, meditate religiously, and consistently gather knowledge from books and podcasts. At 25 years of age the future is bright for Sean and he will inevitably become a UFC champion.”
O’Malley has actually been a part of the Sanabul team since 2017, this being their second collaboration. Given their long partnership, Sanabul founder Imran Jawaid has a good deal of insight into O’Malley as an athlete and product. I spoke with Jawaid about the up-and-comer, discussing the process of creating with O’Malley and his unique marketability, as well as recent bout with Chito Vera.
On Working With O’Malley
“We’ve been with O’Malley since 2017 after his debut on “Contender Series.” Before that, he was relatively unknown ... over that period of time, we really began to develop a relationship together, business and personal.
“Since we started working with him, we’ve organically evolved into more of a friendship as well,” he continued. “It’s been fantastic, because the guy is somewhat of an enigma. We all try to put him into a certain category as a fighter, as a personality, whatever we see out there. But, there is definitely a lot of depth to him, both as a fighter and human being, that I think has not been shown very much in the media. It’s been a great opportunity to experience that firsthand.”
Sticking With ‘Suga’ During USADA Troubles
“That was a difficult time, looking back on it for us as a new brand and for him being relatively new in terms of being a UFC fighter. I had a personal conversation with him, and we had a very candid talk. I asked him what happened, and after I genuinely felt like he did nothing wrong, that he was a victim of circumstance.
“Now, it’s known that it’s a tainted supplement that he had taken,” he continued. “For us, we stuck by his side. I believed him. I thought it was a very difficult time for him to go through that, just as soon as he started off his UFC career. We made sure that we stuck by him, and that was a time where most sponsors and other brands would have left. We decided to stay, because we kept this big picture in mind. He’s going to come back from this, he’s going to come back stronger, and that was apparently the case.”
MMA’s ‘King Of Retail’
“He’s just a very unique personality, and he’s built a following that really resonates with him, whether that’s on a personal or professional level. I think that’s the most important for his branding or image, it’s the fact that he has a very authentic personality. The audience that comes about is very likely to convert when he recommends a product or service.”
On O’Malley’s Injury, Loss To Vera
Note for context: Jawaid graduated from medical school prior to founding Sanabul, which is itself is a nod to the company name which is an interpretation of two Latin words, combining sanare (to cure) with abilis (able).
“When I was watching the fight live, my first concern was that he might have re-aggravated or re-fractured his previously injured foot. That was my biggest worry, the Lisfranc fracture that had occurred prior, maybe that happened again from rolling his ankle ... luckily, the x-ray came back negative.
“Watching the fight over again, seeing that leg kick from ‘Chito’ Vera, reminded me a lot of the Michael Chandler fight against Brent Primus,” he continued. “There’s a very small portion of the leg, where the peroneal nerve runs, which ‘Chito’ kicked and it basically deadened the nerve. It has never happened to most fighters and likely might never happen again to Sean. It was just one of those things, an unfortunate perfect storm for it to occur. Fair play to ‘Chito,’ he won the fight, but I think 99 percent of people would have liked to see the fight go longer.”
“If he would have won this fight, I think he would have fought somebody in the top 7 or 8. But now, I think it’s going to be closer to the Top 15 or even unranked ... In terms of Sean’s opponent, I’m thinking about it again, I think Song Yadong would actually be a pretty good fight.”
Next up for Sanabul is a collaboration with Michael Bisping, who will being crafting his own signature glove, targeted to launch in late October.
As for O’Malley, he remains unbooked, though Jawaid expects him to aim for a quick turnaround. Until then, however, O’Malley has proven himself a significant earner even in the off-season, which seems unlikely to change.