With his extravagant tattoos, explosive punching power, and huge, colourful hair, Sean O’Malley is perhaps the most flamboyant fighter in the UFC.
Even his dog has got caught up in the hype.
O’Malley went for a rainbow design in his hair at UFC 250, when the American produced a brutal first-round knockout of Eddie Wineland to earn a co-main event spot for Saturday’s UFC 252.
Next up for the unbeaten bantamweight, 25, is Marlon Vera so this time he has dyed his hair the red, yellow and blue of his Ecuadorian opponent’s national flag. And, for the first time, his Bichon Frise had his hair dyed too.
«That’s my boy Cush,» O’Malley tells BBC Sport. «He wanted his hair like his dad so we made it happen.
«I’m just showing my Ecuadorian fans some love. Every fight I like to do a little something different and have fun. The fans love it, the media love it, it’s something to talk about.»
Since returning to action in March after two years out, he has become one of the sport’s most talked about fighters.
«I’m knocking people out, I’ve got colourful hair and I’m talking a lot of smack so that’s how it goes,» he says. «The more that talk the better.»
‘Welcome to the Sugar Show’
One of O’Malley’s first MMA coaches nicknamed him ‘Sugar’ because he’s «sweet to watch», and UFC fans soon got a taste when he appeared on the first season of Dana White’s Contender Series in 2017.
He showcased his eye-catching style with spinning kicks and flying knees before producing a one-punch knockout of Alfred Khashakyan which brought UFC president White to his feet.
O’Malley celebrated with a backflip before climbing on top of the cage and roaring «Welcome to the Sugar Show». Meanwhile, rapper Snoop Dogg, providing alternative commentary, screamed his name over and over, adding: «I gotta meet this kid, man.»
It was no surprise to see O’Malley awarded a UFC contract that night before hanging out with Snoop in his trailer.
O’Malley, who trains in Phoenix, Arizona, then showed he has grit to go with the glamour by claiming a decision win over Andre Soukhamthath on his full UFC debut in March 2018 despite suffering a foot injury.
After taking his professional record to 10-0, O’Malley had to conduct his post-fight interview while he lay on the canvas, and the rising star was then forced into a two-year break.
‘I’m co-main event because I’m making Snoop Dogg go crazy’
In October 2018 and then August 2019, O’Malley was given six-month bans for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, ostarine, although the UFC acknowledged the second occasion was a case of «supplement contamination» and there had been «no evidence of intentional use».
It still meant a total of two years out of the octagon.
It also gave O’Malley time to reassess his career and build his brand. He does a podcast with his friend and coach Tim Welch, he live streams on Twitch and has a YouTube channel.
Last month, O’Malley launched his own merchandise range, with the first batch of 100 jerseys selling out in 39 seconds, but he says fighting comes first.
«I got a bit of notoriety from the Andre fight and I think those two years off gave me a lot of time to think and understand that I have to stay grounded, keep the same circle around me and enjoy the little things in life to keep me humble,» he says.
«There’s a lot of free time as a professional athlete and I capitalise on that. I enjoy doing all those things. But I’m not in the co-main event spot because I’ve got a million followers on Instagram, it’s because I’m knocking people out, making Snoop Dogg go crazy.»
Sugar Show 2.0
In his first fight back, O’Malley finished Mexico’s Jose Quinonez in the first round in March. He dubbed it «Sugar Show 2.0», but really it’s the same old Sugar.
«I don’t go in there thinking I’ve got to be fancy, it’s just what I do,» he says. «I’m a natural-born fighter. I think my style, my body type, is the best for fighting.»
O’Malley followed that up with the victory over Wineland and he now has his third fight in five months.
It again takes place in an empty arena in Las Vegas, so he’s asked fans to film their reaction «when» he knocks Vera out.
«I just see another highlight reel KO,» he says. «Knowing I’m going to have millions watch me do what I love to do is my motivation. I enjoy watching how I make people feel and the fan reaction to my last knockout was amazing.»
O’Malley has an Irish grandmother and Conor McGregor would be his «dream fight», but he feels challenging for Petr Yan’s bantamweight title in 2021 «would make sense».
To do that, he must first beat Vera in a «striker versus grappler match-up» in the latest episode of the Sugar Show.
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