The coach of Sean O’Malley, Tim Welch, believes the UFC wants to see his fighter leave Boston as the undisputed UFC bantamweight world champion.
On August 19, ‘Sugar’ will get his long-awaited title opportunity as he is set to square off with reigning 135-pound champion Aljamain Sterling when the promotion heads back to ‘Bean Town’ for UFC 292. O’Malley, who is 8-1 in the UFC, secured his status as the No. 2 ranked contender in the division with a closely-contested split decision victory over former titleholder Petr Yan in October. Since then, O’Malley has been biding his time, waiting for the perfect opportunity to challenge ‘Funk Master’ inside the Octagon.
With the bout just a few short months away, O’Malley, alongside his coach and close friend, Tim Welch, is preparing to go toe-to-toe with a man they believe is the most dangerous bantamweight of all time.
Ahead of their highly anticipated clash, Welch joined Ariel Helwani on Wednesday’s episode of The MMA Hour to discuss his fighter as he marches toward the biggest matchup of his career. Kicking off the conversation, Helwani asked Welch about the moment he knew Sean O’Malley was a potential superstar.
“I knew he was a great athlete and it’s rare when the lights go on, they show up in the cage every time and I saw that early on,” Welch said. “He had a lot of amateur fights. I think he had 14 amateur fights, but he didn’t wrestle in high school. He didn’t have that grappling background. That’s so hard to catch up on these days, but he was so disciplined. Going to the gym twice a day, taking his a** whoopings over and over, and has just been sticking with it.
“Probably after his third professional fight, I knew this kid was probably going to be something special because he’s so athletic. He’s so gifted. His eyes are so good. His speed is so good. His reaction time is so good and it’s just backed by a really good committed work ethic.”
Tim Welch Wanted to Face Henry Cejudo Instead of Aljamain Sterling
While most fighters slowly work their way through the rankings, Sean O’Malley jumped the line late last year with his win over Petr Yan. However, that victory did come with a heaping dose of controversy as many fight fans had Yan grappling his way to certain victory before coming up short on two of the three judges’ scorecards. Speaking about the incredibly close contest with Yan and the subsequent backlash, Welch said:
“I knew it was going to be close because it’s just so hard with each judge,” Welsh said. “You don’t know how they’re going to score these takedowns. Even if he gets a takedown and does nothing, you don’t know if that judge wrestled in the past and he’s counting something for those. I knew it was going to be close, but it’s based on damage. Look at Petr’s face, look at [O’Malley’s] face. I knew there was a possibility we were going to get our hand raised and we did.”
Earlier this month, Aljamain Sterling successfully defended his title against returning Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo at UFC 288, thus setting the stage for a showdown between ‘Sugar’ and the ‘Funk Master’ this summer. But if Sean O’Malley and Tim Welch had gotten their way, they would be preparing for a scrap with ‘Triple C’ and not Aljamain Sterling.
“I was hoping Henry, just because of the accolades he has,” Welch responded when asked which fighter they would rather face. “He’s a double champ, Olympic champ, and if Sugar laid him face first and KO’d him, it would be that much sweeter. Plus he is kind of annoying and I think a lot of people wanted that, but Aljo won so we gotta get prepared for him. I think Aljo’s the most dangerous bantamweight of all time and it’s going to be a fun challenge getting ready for him.”
Is the UFC Pushing Aljamain Sterling into Another Title Fight to Give Sean O’Malley an Advantage?
With Aljamain Sterling fresh off his latest title defense, fight fans, and even Sterling, were shocked when the promotion announced that he would make a relatively quick turnaround to once against defend his title against Sean O’Malley at UFC 292.
“It does kind of suck for Aljo just getting pushed in there and not really getting a say, but the UFC knows what they’re doing. I just try to stay out of that. I do see Aljo going off about who’s the smarter one taking all these fights. I’d be curious to see who made more money in those months. I know Aljo fought three times and Sugar only fought once, but still. With his brand deals. With his merch deals, I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a similar amount of money. So who’s the smarter one?”
Some have suggested that the UFC pushing Sterling into another title fight right away is a ploy by the promotion to get the bantamweight belt out from under him and onto a much more marketable and fan-friendly fighter like Sean O’Malley. Tim Welch thinks that is completely reasonable.
“Having Sugar be the champion… What other bantamweight in history has just one-punched people and walked off, like Mark Hunt? Bantamweight. This tall skinny kid with tattoos and curly hair one-punching people and walking off. The UFC knows what they’re doing. Sugar’s a big superstar and the UFC helped with that so I’m sure the UFC would love to see a KO artist that’s as flashy as Sean be the champion.”