MMA notes: O'Malley open to short-notice fight; Diaz holds keys to McGregor's return

·Combat columnist

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‘The Sugar Show’ is must-see TV

Sean O’Malley couldn’t have been more impressive than he was during his knockout of Eddie Wineland in the pay-per-view opener on Saturday at UFC 250.

O’Malley fired a crackling straight right hand that landed on the chin, dropping Wineland and ending the fight at 1:54 of the first.

It was an impressive performance and leads to the question: Where does the UFC go to get his next opponent? O’Malley still is a developing prospect and hasn’t had the elite level of experience most prospects get.

Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya fast-tracked to the title and won the interim belt within 13 months of joining the UFC, but he had a lot of MMA experience as well as kickboxing experience before he debuted in the UFC.

O’Malley’s trainer, Tim Welch, suggested after Saturday’s fight that he would be interested in a bout with Cody Garbrandt. The former bantamweight champion ended a three-fight losing streak with an impressive knockout at 4:59 of the second round of Raphael Assuncao in the co-main event.

At the post-fight news conference, Garbrandt dismissed O’Malley as a potential challenger and said he was looking for an opponent ranked as high as possible. O’Malley still isn’t ranked.

Sean O'Malley prepares to fight Eddie Wineland in their bantamweight bout during UFC 250 at UFC Apex on Saturday in Las Vegas. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Sean O'Malley prepares to fight Eddie Wineland in their bantamweight bout during UFC 250 at UFC Apex on Saturday in Las Vegas. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

O’Malley said he’s interested in fighting at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, which will host shows on July 11, July 15, July 18 and July 25.

“I’d like to continue to fight in Vegas, I guess, but if Fight Island’s a thing, we can start to look at other opponents who are outside the United States,” O’Malley said after the fight Saturday. “I don’t have a name right now. It depends on who’s healthy, who’s coming off a win and how some of these fights might play out. There are too many things I should be able to figure out, but I should be able to figure it out fast.

“I have no injuries. My shin hurts [because] I think I landed on his elbow, but other than that, I’m healthy and ready to go.”

His next opponent will say much of what the UFC thinks of him and where he is. If he keeps this level of performance up as he increases his level of opposition, get ready to hear a lot about “The Sugar Show.” He’s the real deal and has everything needed to be a star.

Diaz holds the keys

Conor McGregor’s announcement that he’s retiring — yawn — is a sign of frustration more than anything. McGregor wants to fight an important, meaningful fight, but there is not much that makes sense for him now.

Justin Gaethje won the interim lightweight championship by defeating Tony Ferguson last month at UFC 249 in a bout he took when champion Khabib Nurmagomedov was stuck in Russia and couldn’t travel because of the pandemic.

The UFC wanted McGregor to be the backup for that show, which McGregor spoke about before and after his victory at UFC 246 on Jan. 18 over Donald Cerrone. But he didn’t want to train as a backup and so when someone was needed, Gaethje got the call.

You have to give Gaethje credit for not only destroying Ferguson, but for recognizing that in order for him to be considered the best fighter in the world, he’d have to defeat Nurmagomedov. A win over McGregor would get him attention, but no one would consider him the best in the world for beating McGregor.

Ferguson is recovering from his injuries and not available to fight. Jorge Masvidal is in a contract dispute with the UFC and isn’t fighting.

So old friend Nate Diaz could be the guy for McGregor. The problem there is, it’s difficult to get Diaz to move. He slow-plays everything, even when he wants to fight and there is no sign now he does.

But if Diaz is itching to get back, he’s the perfect opponent to get McGregor to end his most recent retirement.

What’s next for Amanda Nunes?

Superstar Amanda Nunes, who holds the UFC’s women’s bantamweight and featherweight titles, said she wants to take the rest of the year off. Her partner, Nina Ansaroff, is pregnant with the couple’s first child, Raegan Ann Nunes, who is due in September.

Nunes isn’t sure whom she wants to fight or at what weight class. At featherweight, there are precious few challengers. If Nunes and the UFC wanted to spur the growth of the division, they should make Nunes defend that belt next.

So while she’s out, there could be activity in the division to try to come up with a significant challenger. The UFC could even sign fighters to the division with the hope of building it.

The UFC doesn’t even have enough female featherweights to do rankings. If they change that by taking the division seriously and having a champion who wants to defend the belt, maybe it can grow it in the champion’s maternity leave.

He said it

“I’ve been looking forward to stepping back into the Octagon and my gym for a while now. I missed my team and the competition. We have a great game plan. The eye injury did put me out longer than anticipated, and I know my fans have been anxious for me to step back in the cage, but it was important to make sure my health was 100 percent safe before committing to a fight. I’m feeling great now and looking forward to bringing home another belt to add to the collection Aug. 15.” — UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic on his upcoming rubber match with Daniel Cormier at UFC 252.

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