The biggest step up of Sean O’Malley’s career came against former champ and number one contender Petr Yan at UFC 280.
After a no-contest result against contender Pedro Munhoz, the step up in competition surprised many fans. For his part, this was the first three round fight and first non-title fight for Petr Yan since 2019 when he fought Urijah Faber prior to becoming bantamweight champion.
The fight turned out to be a thriller, though the decision will be the source of much discussion moving forward.
Yan came out pressuring Sean O’Malley, forcing him backwards and landing a body and a leg kick. Both men switched stances over and over again, trying to gain an advantage in some way. O’Malley kept on his bicycle, moving back and forth as Yan pressured forward to escape. However, Yan was able to close off exits with body and leg kicks a few times.
O’Malley landed a big right hand at one point in the first, but Yan ate it. Halfway through the round, Yan shot a takedown and shucked to the back of O’Malley in the body lock. Sean got wrist control and separated but Yan landed a knee on the break. A big overhand left landed for Yan with ninety seconds left in the round and then he ducked down on a double, lifted O’Malley, and slammed him to the mat against the fence. Yan settled in full guard as O’Malley tried to throw up submissions. O’Malley wall walked and was able to get back to his feet. To everyone’s surprise, Sean O’Malley shot a takedown of his own at the very end of the round but Yan was able to stay on all fours and then escape, pushing O’Malley away. The round was competitive throughout.
Yan came right out in the second with a power body kick while shifting, and then O’Malley landed a big right hand that rocked Yan. Yan almost went down but he got back up and then landed a big right hand of his own that wobbled O’Malley badly. That let Petr get Sean to the canvas and end up on top in full guard in the center of the cage. Yan dropped down ground and pound, struggling through the long-legged guard of O’Malley.
O’Malley threw up an armbar and when Petr passed it Sean tried to get up. Yan dragged him back down but then O’Malley got back up and got to the fence in the clinch. Petr ducked back down on the hips but this time O’Malley defended and they got back to the feet. Yan then pulled out one of his trips from the first Sterling fight and got O’Malley down, but Sean got back up and tried one of his own, which failed. The pressure of Yan was relentless on the feet and racked up hard kicks to the body of his foe. With one minute left, Yan attempted another takedown against the cage. He was able to lift despite the overhook of O’Malley and get Sean on his back, landing his fourth takedown of the fight. Despite getting hurt early, Yan stormed back and almost definitely won the round.
The final round actually started with O’Malley pressuring Yan back but Yan turned the pressure around, landed a flashy switch kick, and attempted a takedown that was defended. O’Malley was evasive when Yan started pressuring, sliding out of the way when Yan came forward with strikes. Yan came forward with a combination and attempted a takedown after two minutes but Sean defended it well. O’Malley came forward with a flurry that cut Yan open and then landed a big knee. But Yan came back with two massive left hands of his own and then charged forward for a takedown after taking a head kick. The pair ended up in the clinch. Yan got in on a double leg and it appeared that O’Malley tried for a guillotine, allowing himself to be put to the canvas with two minutes left. Yan took the back body lock as O’Malley got back to his feet. With one minute left Yan landed back to back left hands that staggered O’Malley and let Yan get the back body lock in the clinch again. He tried to drop O’Malley to the canvas but a Granby roll got O’Malley out and back to his feet. With twenty seconds left, Yan hit a reactive takedown on Sean and ended the fight on top dropping ground and pound.
The fight went the distance and was thrilling throughout. O’Malley proved a lot of doubters wrong by being competitive with one of the best in the world, but who had done enough to get the win? When Buffer read the scorecards it was a split decision, and Sean O’Malley got the decision with two 29-28 scorecards much to the displeasure of the jeering Abu Dhabi crowd.
Official Result: Sean O’Malley def. Petr Yan by Split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)