Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately: Sean O’Malley didn’t deserve the nod. Petr Yan landed a ton of huge shots, and he landed a good few takedowns to boot. They weren’t meaningless takedowns either, as Yan did good work from top position. The former champion deserved to have his hand raised. It was a competitive fight, but not one where I felt the decision was up in the air until the judges did their thing.
Nevertheless, the more important takeaway here is that — regardless of anyone’s scorecards — “Suga” is the real deal. He answered a lot of questions last night, and some of those answers contradicted previous performances and results in a positive manner.
Prior to this bout, O’Malley had fought two Bantamweights who have proven themselves top talents: Marlon Vera and Pedro Munhoz. Vera snapped O’Malley’s ankle and then pounded him into unconsciousness, whereas Munhoz was winning prior to the eye poke that ended things early. Simply put, the results weren’t inspiring, and there appeared to be some flaws.
Did O’Malley have an answer for opponents who don’t walk into his counters? Could his body hold up for a hard 15 minutes? Will O’Malley’s hands stay fast in the face of pressure and takedowns?
There were reasons to doubt O’Malley in all of the above. Yet, when Yan, an elite talent in the areas of defense, endurance, and pressure, put him to the test, O’Malley showed off his skill and an admirable resolve.
Yan’s guard was high as he advanced. He pressured, but he didn’t walk into silly punches. Instead, he forced O’Malley to be creative and to lead. O’Malley’s biggest lands were a long right hand preceded by a double jab, as well as a perfectly timed counter knee. O’Malley wasn’t able to jab, pull, and line up his right hand repeatedly, but he still landed some cracking shots.
We’ve known O’Malley is special offensive talent, but perhaps his durability was more surprising. Even aside from the knockdown, O’Malley took some brutal hooks and overhands. At one point in the third, Yan landed two or three full power counter hooks that snapped O’Malley’s jaw around, but “Suga” didn’t back off or get discouraged.
Hell, there was a body kick in the second that seemed like it should’ve folded the beanpole Bantamweight, but O’Malley didn’t bat an eye. Durability is an underappreciated aspect in becoming a champion, and O’Malley proved himself in that regard.
Finally, O’Malley handled Yan’s pace about as well as anyone. I don’t believe he won the third round necessarily, but he still fought well. His jab was still stinging, and that sequence with the counter knee and high kick through the guard that cut Yan up was tremendous. Yan is the division’s best bruiser, a pressure fighter who grounds his opponents down to shells, but “Suga” held up to his barrage like a veteran.
Had the judges scored the fight correct, O’Malley’s stock would have risen despite the loss. Instead, he might just be walking into a title shot next, and ultimately, he proved himself ready for the occasion.
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