As massive a star as Sean O'Malley has become during his rise in the UFC, there seems to be a growing group of critics, discrediting all his performances despite him losing only one of his eight fights in the octagon.
Those same critics made sure to voice their opinions this summer when O'Malley fought to a no contest against Pedro Munhoz at UFC 276 after an accidental eye poke left Munhoz unable to continue.
"I hardly watched that one back," O'Malley said. "It wasn't a fun one for me to watch back. I watched it, realized I didn't get hit, and it just wasn't that entertaining. It obviously didn't play out like I had wanted to."
Known for his entertaining style, his thrilling performances, and his confident personality, a no contest didn't do him any favors with people still on the fence of whether to back him or not. But O'Malley didn't care. Feeling that he was on his way to victory in that fight, O'Malley (15-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC) called for the bantamweight division's No. 1 contender, Petr Yan (16-3 MMA, 8-2 UFC).
Although it would be a massive jump in competition, O'Malley got his wish, and at "UFC 280: Oliveira vs. Makhachev" in Abu Dhabi, O'Malley will fight the former 135-pound champion in the featured bout.
"It's the first time I've been an underdog, which is kind of cool," O'Malley said. "It doesn't really change anything. As far as home turf, no matter where I fight, people want to see the 'Sugar Show' win. I haven't really thought about this being his home turf or not because I have more fans than him, so, it's my home turf.
"All my training camps are very disciplined, very serious," O'Malley said. "I pretty much had back-to-back 12-week training camps. Pedro, took four, five weeks off, got right back into 12 weeks. … I'm very prepared for this fight."
Yan has been considered one of the best bantamweights for years, dominating legends in Urijah Faber and Jose Aldo en route to a world title. That's where O'Malley's incentive stems from, because if he can go into Etihad Arena and stop Yan, what will people say then?
"I don't think he has very many holes," O'Malley said. "I think he's one of the best in the world, pound-for-pound, and that's what makes it so exciting. I go out there and beat him and then people can't really say much."
Stylistically, this matchup is one of the most compelling in the division. Yan has time and again proved that he's as well rounded as they come, defending takedowns well while putting on a clinic every time an opponent tries to stand and trade with him.
O'Malley's done pretty much the same. No, he hasn't fought former champions like Yan, until now, but the way he's finished opponents like Raulian Paiva, Thomas Almeida and Eddie Wineland is nothing short of spectacular.
O'Malley recognizes that and exudes confidence heading into UFC 280, knowing he can get the job done on the feet and beat Yan where he feels most comfortable.
"I feel like I'm just better than him (on the feet), I'm faster than him" O'Malley said. "Obviously it's a fight, it's physical, but I think it'll be a mental battle and I feel that I'm prepared to win that.
"I know I'm capable of going out there and dominating, and I'd like to do that. I would rather go out and dominate him than go through a war and take unnecessary damage. I'm prepared for that and if I had to guess, yeah, we're going to go to war for 15 minutes, but I would not be surprised if I go out there, piece him up and get out of there unscathed."
In a recent interview, UFC President Dana White said that it makes sense to pair the winner of O'Malley vs. Yan with the winner of UFC 280's co-main event between bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling and T.J. Dillashaw.
Despite hearing this just a few days out from the biggest fight in his career, O'Malley wasn't surprised, feeling a title fight coming for a long time. What he's focused on the task at hand Saturday night and proving all his critics wrong.
I've had the championship mindset and the skillset for a while now, it's just now is the opportunity (to prove it)," O'Malley said.
"I think a lot of people respect Petr, they understand how good he is. He could arguably be champion. There's going to be people out there that say, 'Yeah, but,' but the majority of people, fans, fighters, coaches, they're going to be like, 'motherf-cker's the real deal.'"
This story first published at UFC.com.