Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight rivals Aljamain Sterling and Sean O’Malley will clash TONIGHT (Sat., Aug. 19, 2023) at UFC 292 inside TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.
There’s been controversy and criticism along the way, but a nine-fight win streak with three title defenses is pretty undeniable. Sterling detractors have gone quiet, in large part because he pretty thoroughly beat up Henry Cejudo without too much argument otherwise. Now, he looks to shut up one last doubter and leave the division with his head held high.
As for O’Malley, his talent has always been undeniable. One of the most gifted strikers and most famous athletes in the division, “Suga” has been awarded unique opportunities because of his popularity. He’s still had to actually capitalize on them though, which is how he made it into a title fight.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Petr Yan (UFC 273, UFC 259), Corey Sandhagen (UFC 250), Henry Cejudo (UFC 288), Pedro Munhoz (UFC 238), Jimmie Rivera (UFC on ESPN 1), Renan Barao (UFC 214), TJ Dillashaw (UFC 280)
Key Losses: Marlon Moraes (UFC Fight Night 123), Raphael Assuncao (UFC on FOX 23), Bryan Caraway (UFC Fight Night 88)
Keys to Victory: Sterling has proven himself one of the best backpacks in UFC history. However, he’s also repeatedly demonstrated that his striking is wonky-but-elite, ultimately beating men like Cejudo, Rivera, and Munhoz largely in the stand up.
In this fight, the obvious path is obvious. O’Malley got taken down six times by Petr Yan, the only particularly good wrestler he ever faced. Then, he turned his back to stand up more often than not. Given the apparent strength differential between them as well, it seems only a matter of time until Sterling finds his way behind his opponent.
Can O’Malley handle a brutal, physical wrestling match? We really don’t know. Yan never managed to keep him down for terribly long, but that isn’t his game. Sterling, conversely, is one of the best top players in the business, excellent at making his opponent carry his weight.
Sterling should commit to his strengths and make it ugly.
Record: 16-1 (1)
Key Wins: Petr Yan (UFC 280), Raulian Paiva (UFC 269), Thomas Almeida (UFC 260), Eddie Wineland (UFC 250), Jose Alberto Quinonez (UFC 248), Andre Soukhamthath (UFC 222)
Key Losses: Marlon Vera (UFC 252)
Keys to Victory: O’Malley has the combination of speed, power, and length that is really hard to deal with. He’s a crafty kickboxer with good offense tricks while moving forward and backwards, which just makes him consistently dangerous.
Despite the above section reading rather ominous, O’Malley has a clear path to victory here. His advantage on the feet is significant, in large part because Sterling’s defensive tendencies are pretty awful. Sterling gets away with it primarily because he’s long and has the wrestling threat — O’Malley automatically cancels out the first one with his own build. If the two stand for any length of time, particularly while Sterling is a little tired later in the fight, a knockout is extremely possible.
The issue is the wrestling, something O’Malley has theoretically been preparing for specifically for over a year now. That’s obviously a wide topic, but in mind, there are three massive keys for O’Malley to win enough of the wrestling exchanges to score time in kickboxing.
- Avoid the fence
- Fight hard when taken down/don’t accept bottom position
- It’s better to spend time on bottom than give up the back
If O’Malley can survive without getting dominated and keep Sterling working hard, his opportunities will come.
The Bantamweight future is up for grabs.
Sterling appears intent on moving up to Featherweight win or lose. Obviously, it’s better for his legacy and potential 145-pound title shot chances if he’s victorious here. “Funkmaster” will likely never fully overcome some of the controversies of his reign, but can you really argue with five straight title wins? History won’t remember the semantics.
As for O’Malley, his entering his prime with a title shot. That’s pretty ideal! Like him or not, “Suga” is a special talent with unique gifts. If he can parlay those weapons into a win over Sterling, it really shows that his push into contention was deserved. If not, there will likely be another opportunity after just a couple wins.
As for the division as a whole, there’s going to be at least one opening for a Bantamweight title fight following tonight’s event, possibly two. Merab Dvalishvili and Cory Sandhagen are the clear-cut top two men deserving of such an opportunity. If O’Malley is victorious, his history with Marlon Vera could also create an intriguing opening for “Chito.” Finally, if Dvalishvili and/or Sandhagen are injured for longer than expected, never discount the possibility of Cejudo talking himself into another title shot.
At UFC 292, Aljamain Sterling and Sean O’Malley will go to war in the main event. Which man leaves the cage as champion?
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 292 fight card right RIGHT HERE, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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