Undefeated UFC bantamweight "Suga" Sean O'Malley chats with Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole about his matchup Saturday vs. Eddie Wineland at UFC 250 in Las Vegas and what's next.
KEVIN IOLE: Hey, everybody. I am Kevin Iole from Yahoo Sports. And my next guest is one of the big stars of UFC 250, not in the main event, not even in the co-main event, but the guy that everybody is talking about on this show is that guy right there, Mr. "Sugar" Sean O'Malley. How are you, Sean?
SEAN O'MALLEY: I'm doing [BLEEP] awesome. How are you?
KEVIN IOLE: I am doing great too. And I can't wait till Saturday night. What has this been like for you? You know, you're finally active again, right? This is your second fight in-- what-- three months-- a little bit less than three months after that long period of time. You know, has it been refreshing finally to be able to get back in there being the gym all the time and have something to work toward?
SEAN O'MALLEY: Yeah, I was never not in the gym all the time. So but it is nice to have something, you know, like a little end date kind of thing. So it is nice having fights booked, I mean, like, having something to focus on. But, yeah, it feels [BLEEP] --in-- it feels like we're right on track. We're back to where we left off and feels good.
KEVIN IOLE: Your performance for the last time out at UFC 248 was phenomenal. And there were some question about how are you going to do. Like, when you break it down, when you went home and looked at it, you know, would you give it a thumbs up, thumbs down? How do you--
SEAN O'MALLEY: Yeah, it was-- I was-- like that after the fight decide two years for 2 minutes, it was like, [BLEEP] I want to keep fighting. That's what I do. But I can't complain about the finish. The performance was pretty much flawless. I got to go out there and show that I'm not just a fake hype train. I'm a real hype train.
So that was nice to be able to kind of prove that. And I think the high-level people on the sports that get the game, they're like, oh, [BLEEP] shit, this kid's for real. You know, some fans still like, yeah, but he hasn't fought anybody, which they're not wrong. I mean, Jose was super tough. So he was not really a nobody. But I'd still get to go out there and prove to a lot of people that I'm for real.
KEVIN IOLE: You know, the one thing like as a young fighter, there is a certain development curve you want to put a fighter on. You don't want to put them in too fast against guys that are way more developed than they are because you might ruin the development. But also, you know, you're a competitive guy and you want to get in there.
So you're going up against Eddie Wineland now. But you're already getting the guys-- Brian Kelleher, who's on the same card, is calling you-- calling you out, wanting to fight you, and all those kind of stuff. Is there a danger that they can move you too quickly?
SEAN O'MALLEY: Yeah, I'm on a different level than Bryan Keller. I'm up here. He's down here. There's not-- my skill level's-- you can't compare my skill level to his. It's just not accurate. So when he called me out, it's like, I'm going down. I'm trying to go up. I think Eddie's a perfect next step to go up. And then we'll continue to go up. If he goes out there and beats Cody Stamann, yeah, that's for sure a potential fight.
So we'll see. But I've also been called out by, I think, nine people. When I was out those two years, I got called up by nine people. So Brian's just the one that keeps chirping, keeps chirping. But sometimes you have be careful what you wish for. And if it happened, I'd gladly to go knock him out. But I'm definitely looking for bigger names and better people.
KEVIN IOLE: You know, Wineland's certainly been in there with a lot of great guys-- Urijah Faber, a Hall of Famer, Rani Yahya, Joseph Benavidez, who's going to fight for the title, Renan Barao, former champion. What is fighting a guy with that kind of experience? I know you spar with those kind of guys. But in the cage, like, what is the difference when you get him in the cage? And do you feel like this will be a learning experience for you?
SEAN O'MALLEY: Yeah, every fight's going to be a learning experience. You learn something. But I think it's going to be a learning experience for him even more that, oh, yeah, there's this level. Like, I fought a lot of people. But I haven't fought someone with this high level of a skill set. When it comes to striking, my ground game's extremely high level.
But I don't think-- you know, I've rolled with extremely high-level black belts. There's levels to that. I feel like I'm that level of strike. I'm extremely high level. He's going to have a really tough time getting to me-- have a tough time hitting me. And it's the shots that I hit him with that he's not even going to understand where it came from. So I think he's going to have a lot. He's going to be able to learn a lot from this fight too. But there's levels.
KEVIN IOLE: They always say in fighting that the shots you don't see coming are the ones that hurt you most. And, you know, you're certainly an unorthodox guy. And you have that ability to put everything together. I mean, you are like the true definition of a mixed martial artist, right? You know, you have a little bit of everything.
Is that's the secret to your success? Like, if you were the exact same striker but not as good on the ground, do you think that your striking wouldn't be as effective in the fights? But because you have that threat of the ground game, it makes your striking more effective?
SEAN O'MALLEY: Yeah, it's nice. Well, that last fight was pretty much the first fight I've ever went into a fight thinking like, if it goes to the ground, I'm good there. All my other fights for them, like, it was a little bit of a question, like, OK, I hope I don't get held down by someone. That was always kind of my fear of someone take me down and holding me.
Now, I'm just-- I'm so active off my back that if someone takes me down there, they're going to be defending. I'm going to be winning off my back. And that's something I feel like I haven't really got to show yet much of. But it's still kind of a secret weapon, because I don't think Eddie's going to go in there and try to take me down, at least, not for a little while until he realizes he can't get me.
But other guys, like Brian, or people that think that the way to beat me is take me down just not the answer. So that'll be sweet when I get to go out there and show that. But, yeah, it's nice. Those two years really let me improve my jujitsu so much where if Eddie takes me down, I'm good. I'm ready to go to the ground and fight. I do more jujitsu than I do anything.
KEVIN IOLE: Right after you fought last when you beat Quinonez, obviously, the coronavirus pandemic started. How did that impact your training? Were you able to train normally in the job all your training partners? Or was it impacted in some way by the virus?
SEAN O'MALLEY: Honestly, I don't pay much attention to the news and what's going on. My training schedule didn't really change. The lab closed down for a while. But I go there a couple times a week. So we were just having those couple practices that I usually have at lab at Tim's. He owns his own gym.
So we go in there and do what we need to do. And then I train with Brandon Harris. He's my strength and conditioning coach. He has his entire setup in his backyard. So I wasn't missing any practices. And it was enjoyable. I had a good time.
KEVIN IOLE: And what about training partners? You had all your normal training partners with you, so you could roll and do those kind of things?
SEAN O'MALLEY: Yeah, we had guys asking high-level guys, you know, asking us, hey, can we come train? People, like, high-level guys that have the same mindset as me wanting to be world champs-- they want to-- hey, how can I train? So they're hitting us up. It was nice. We were scheduling our own practices with really good guys. So I wasn't short of training partners at all.
KEVIN IOLE: You know, I know this isn't a huge deal. But when you're fighting in a empty arena, I'm sure, you know, you guys have adrenaline going. And it gets you fired up to hear the crowd and all that. And I know you're a guy that feeds off that energy of the crowd. How do you think it's going to be fighting where it's more like the gym-- more like during training? I mean, is it going to be any different or take some adjustments?
SEAN O'MALLEY: No, I don't think so. I mean, we'll see. It's hard to say. But I think I've never not shown up for a fight. Every single fight I show up. And I just let go of everything. Once I'm in that cage, nothing on the outside of the cage matters. What's going on inside the cage, the only thing that I'm thinking about.
So it's not like when the arena's sold out, I'm thinking. Like, when I'm in the cage, I'm not thinking about that. So whether it's sold out or no one, as long as Dana White's there and Joe Rogan's there, I'm ready to go.
KEVIN IOLE: [LAUGHS] Like, when you walked to the cage last time, I mean, you know, you just put off the epitome of cool, right? Like, you were enjoying it and soaking in all the surroundings. Did I read that wrong?
SEAN O'MALLEY: No, that's exactly what happened. You know, those two years out, I was like, damn, that was an eye-opening experience. Like, I'm not be able to fight forever. There's going to come a day where I can't make this walk again. So I was really just making sure to enjoy that walk and just be there and soak it all in and just experience how it feels to make that walk.
KEVIN IOLE: So now the fact that you had a successful fight-- you come back on Saturday. If you win, when do you want to fight again? When is realistic? I mean, could you come back in another month? Or how long would it take you?
SEAN O'MALLEY: Yeah, if I get out of there, just like that last fight, I'm ready to go in a couple months. You know, if there's an opponent out there that makes sense [BLEEP] two months-- one month. It depends how-- if I get out of that fight like I did last fight and no injuries, I'm ready to go literally whenever. If there's a sweet fight that next weekend-- two weekend, I'm ready to go.
KEVIN IOLE: Do you have interest in Fight Island?
SEAN O'MALLEY: Yeah, that's going to be legendary. I think every single person on the roster will probably say yes.
KEVIN IOLE: So and, you know, the other thing I wonder about is, will you call anybody out? Like, you mentioned before, nine different people have called you out right now. I mean, so it's almost like you're-- even though you're not a champion, you're just a young guy starting your career out.
It's almost like you're at the top of the food chain and the fact that other people are shooting at you. So is it counterintuitive for you to call somebody else out? Do you just let them call you and Dana pick?
SEAN O'MALLEY: Well, technically, there's not a champ in the division right now. So there's no reason I can't call myself a champ. I feel like every single fight I go into, I'm the champ. I'm the main event. I'm what people want to watch. And there's no different in this fight, except for there really is no champ.
I know Petr-- Jose's getting scheduled. But neither of them are the champ right now. So yeah, I'm just going to keep that same mindset-- I'm the champ. And we'll see what happens after the fight. I don't know. I guess you'll find out.
KEVIN IOLE: Do you ever-- you know, I'm sure you do this. But do you look at Petr Yan Or do you look at all-- Jimmy Sterling? You've got guys on this card. Sandhagen-- good prospects-- guys that are, you know, champing at the bit to fight for the title. Do you judge yourself? And where do you think you are in relation to a number, say, 1, 2, 3, 4 in the division right now?
SEAN O'MALLEY: I've never been a fan-- not a fan. But I've never really cared about the rankings. You got Jose Aldo coming off a loss. He's ranked number six, never won a division, fight the bell. You got-- Dominick Cruz hasn't fought. I never think who's in the division. I don't know who's number one. I don't know who's number two. I don't know any of their rankings.
They're all [BLEEP] high-level guys. They could all be champion. Every single one of those guys you just named could be champ. But I feel like I could be too. I don't feel like, oh, I'm not as good as this guy. I feel like I'm just as good as any of those guys.
KEVIN IOLE: Have you had that conversation then with Dana? Like, hey, I like to fight for the title by the end of this year? I mean, is that a realistic thing? And, you know, if Cejudo was there, it probably wouldn't have happened, because he had certain guys in mind that he wanted to fight. With him out of the picture, now, do you think that opens the door for you? And have you talked to Dana about it?
SEAN O'MALLEY: No, I haven't talked to Dan. I'm sure Dan has got's-- he's a gangster. He's figuring out all this, the hotel. He's got so much on his mind. I'm sure he's jacked about my fight. And I'm sure he would love to see me be champ. I have a bigger following than all those guys put together.
Like, the people want to see me be champ. But I get to still go out there and prove that I have the skill to be champ. So I'm in no hurry, really, to be champ. If it happens by the end of the year-- happens early next year-- sweet. But if not, I guess I'm not in a hurry.
KEVIN IOLE: I see you've done a lot of media already. You know, you were on with the man himself, the schmo. I mean, so that's obviously a big step up to go on with the schmo, right? So does it-- all the media you have to do by being the star you are, you know, and you're looking at maybe some of the people who are higher up on the card than you aren't doing that. Is it frustrating? Or is this part of the job that you like? Do you like to be out in front of the public?
SEAN O'MALLEY: I like doing interviews. If it's a good-- like, I like doing interviews with you. You ask good questions. You understand the sport. I've definitely done interviews from people are just-- they're just not good at their job. If it's doing a podcast with a schmo, that was fun. Doing an interview with you is fun.
I enjoyed doing the interviews, because the reason-- not the reason I fight is because you guys-- but because I love fighting, truly. But it makes it so much more enjoyable that there's people out there like you and other good media outlets that enjoy the sport and, you know, think about this stuff all day. They watch all the fights. They watch all the interviews. So I enjoy doing it.
KEVIN IOLE: Last thing. I would be remiss not to ask you about this. You know, I'm jealous of that, right? I mean, I wish I could copy that. And so is there a significance to the color? Is it just what you felt like doing? Or is there some secret meeting in that color?
SEAN O'MALLEY: No, that was just kind of-- we actually thought about it a long time ago. I think from my debut, we talked about, hey, we should crazy color hair. But just never felt like it was the right time. I feel I got to establish myself in the UFC.
And with everything go, I don't know. It just happened. It just happened. My girl does hair. And she did a really good job. She's like a high-level hairstylist. So it took 10 and a 1/2, 11 hours to get it done. And--
KEVIN IOLE: Wow, 10 and 1/2 hours. Oh.
SEAN O'MALLEY: Yeah, [BLEEP] yeah. So she did a really good job, made sure it wasn't going to, you know, cut my hair forever. So it's a quality job done.
KEVIN IOLE: That is a serious girl. She's spending 11 hours on your hair. So you've got to keep that one.
SEAN O'MALLEY: Yeah.
KEVIN IOLE: No doubt. Well, on Saturday, UFC 250-- really good fight to keep an eye on, not the main event, but a guy has a lot of interest. Sean O'Malley, "Sugar" Sean fighting Eddie Wineland. You want to see that on ESPN Plus, because you can't be there, unfortunately. Sean, I really appreciate--
SEAN O'MALLEY: Pay per view, right?
KEVIN IOLE: What's that?
SEAN O'MALLEY: It's on pay per view, right?
KEVIN IOLE: It is on pay per view. OK.
KEVIN IOLE: So people can see it. They can't see it live. But they can see it on pay per view either on is Don King. If you can't see it on the scene, watch it on the screen.
SEAN O'MALLEY: There you go.
KEVIN IOLE: All right, Brother. Good luck to you. I appreciate you. Thank you so much for your time.
KEVIN IOLE: Absolutely. Thank you. Have a good one.
KEVIN IOLE: You too. Sean O'Malley, everybody.