BOSTON — The “Suga Show” came to the TD Garden and struck quickly to capture a UFC championship.
Helena native Sean O’Malley used a second-round TKO of favored defending champion Aljamain Sterling to win the bantamweight belt in the main event at UFC 292.
Early in the second round, O’Malley struck Sterling with a powerful right-handed punch to knock Sterling to the canvas. O’Malley then blasted Sterling, regarded as the best bantamweight of all-time, with a barrage of strikes to force the referee to stop the fight 51 seconds into the round and give 28-year-old "Suga Sean" the undisputed title.
Longer video of Suga Sean’s finish of Aljamain Sterling for a bantamweight championship.— Tom Wylie (@WylieTom) August 20, 2023
How’s Montana celebrating tonight? pic.twitter.com/xKJROLnXOZ
The victory fulfilled a prophecy for O'Malley, though he said the reality of it hadn't set in afterward.
"It definitely feels surreal," O'Malley said in the post-fight press conference. "Feels like I'm playing a video game and I just got cheat codes and I'm like, 'Alright, I'm going to knock out Aljo in the second on Saturday,' and it's just like ... it's crazy.
"A lot of people kept telling me, 'I have a weird feeling it'll be in the second.' I had that feeling. I don't know if I ever said that out loud. I feel like that fight kind of played out how I expected it to."
The bout saw a relatively uneventful first round, but the 5-foot-11 O'Malley soon brought the crowd, which was clearly in his corner, to its feet. Early in the second round, the 5-7 Sterling attempted a left-handed punch, which gave O'Malley, perhaps the best striker in the division, an opening to blast Sterling with a heavy right to force the champion down.
After raining blows on a prone and bleeding Sterling, the fight was stopped and O'Malley had his title. The win pushed O'Malley's record to 17-1 and snapped Sterling's nine-fight winning streak, which was the longest in bantamweight history.
O'Malley said that due to a muscle strain he hadn't grappled in six weeks, so his goal was to avoid being down on the mat with wrestling-savvy Sterling and to instead stay upright and try to win with his striking ability.
"The longer the fight stayed on (our) feet the better chance I had of knocking him out," O'Malley said. "I knew it would get him frustrated, him not being able to grab me. I thought he was way too confident that he was going to be able to come in and just grab me.
"I don't know if he's ever sparred (with) someone as good as I am or fought someone as good as I am. I truly believe I am a level above most people in the striking department. I just felt like he was very confident. It wasn't his fault — he just never experienced someone that fast in front of him."