UFC 292 Preview: Aljamain Sterling v. Sean O’Malley

Aljamain Sterling and Sean O’Malley will fight for the bantamweight championship to headline UFC 292 on Saturday.

Following his most recent victory over former two-division champion Henry Cejudo, reigning bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling (23-3) will defend his title as he takes on No. 2 ranked bantamweight contender “Sugar” Sean O’Malley (16-1, 1NC) on Saturday at the TD Garden in Boston for the main event of UFC 292.

Continuing his nine fight win streak, Sterling aims to win his fourth title defense in this much anticipated match up. 

Looking at this striker versus grappler match up, O’Malley has finished 10 of his 16 opponents by knockout or technical knockout while Sterling has three knockout wins and eight submissions. O’Malley, also, has a 4-inch height advantage over Sterling, which has both its benefits and drawbacks.

While O’Malley’s length may create good range between himself and his opponent, it can also result in weaker shots against Sterling. This is attributed to O’Malley’s focus on precision striking, whereas Sterling concentrates more on power punching. 

O’Malley has undoubtedly brought one of the most creative and exciting fighting styles to the division. In addition to strategically setting up striking combinations, he’s light on his feet and uses faints and low kicks to deceive his opponents. To counter Sterling’s strong shots and takedown attempts, O’Malley must utilize his height advantage as he has prior. To do this, he must keep the fight standing up, maintain a strong takedown defense and employ his long-range weapons.

Conversely, Sterling needs to close the distance while striking in order to win against O’Malley. Consistently applying pressure will allow him to limit O’Malley’s range and implement more successful takedown attempts, winning the fight by submission yet again.

Comparing the two fighters, Sterling  recently came out of a fight which cemented how legitimate of a champion he is, defeating Cejudo at his own game: applying pressure on the feet, forcing takedowns and succeeding. On the other hand, O’Malley is coming out of a controversial split decision win against Petr Yan.

Claiming that Yan is the only high level athlete which O’Malley has defeated, Sterling believes that O’Malley has not proven himself as a bantamweight title contender.

“The difference in the caliber of opponents and the level of opposition that I face is night and day,” said Sterling.

Although some may argue that O’Malley hasn’t defeated high caliber athletes, he has always succeeded against the opponents in front of him in the octagon and also won against a well rounded fighter like Yan.

Despite this being O’Malley’s first five round fight and title shot in the UFC, he has always maintained a champion mindset fueled by pressure and the doubts of others.

“Eating right, being in the gym consistently, recovery-wise, prioritizing sleep…I feel like I’ve lived like a champion for a long time and I think that’s what it’s about, just living like a champion,” said O’Malley.

With both talented fighters maintaining the mindsets of champions, O’Malley claims that it is only a matter of who will make a mistake first in the octagon, which will allow the opponent an opportunity for a finish. As for Sterling, he remains confident that his level of UFC experience and well rounded fighting skills will ensure that he walks out of the octagon Saturday night with the championship belt back around his waist.