PHOENIX — Last month, Helena native Sean O’Malley introduced himself to the world when he used a spinning wheel kick to knock out David Nuzzo at a Legacy Fighting Alliance MMA event and improve his professional record to 7-0.
Video of the spectacular finish went viral, spreading across social media and into online fighting forums where word traveled like wildfire.
This kid from Montana is pretty good.
“You could see right after I knocked him out I just walked away,” O’Malley told MTN Sports this week in a phone interview. “I was just relaxed. In my post-fight interview I said I expected that outcome and I really truly did. I was working on that exact same situation in practice.”
— Tom Wylie (@WylieTom) May 9, 2017
The buzz surrounding O’Malley eventually reached the sport’s highest level. His highlight-reel ability and spotless professional record caught the attention of Ultimate Fighting Championship talent scouts, which led to a rare opportunity for the 22-year-old Helena Capital grad.
Next month, O’Malley will fly to Las Vegas to compete on a new series called “Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series” on the UFC FightPass network. The show will feature five live fights in each episode, showcasing up-and-coming talent with the winners vying for a UFC contract.
“I heard about the series before my last fight, so I knew it would be a perfect opportunity if I could go out there and knock this kid out,” said O’Malley. “So that’s what I did and I figured I was going to have a good shot of getting on the show. My manager pushed for it and got me on. I’m super pumped for it, it’s going to be a perfect opportunity. And (UFC president) Dana White is going to be sitting right there.”
O’Malley is set to fight Alfred Khashakyan (8-3) in the series’ second episode on July 18. Khashakyan is known as a striker, which sets up perfectly for O’Malley’s creative and counter-heavy skill set.
On O’Malley’s left side is a tattoo that reads, “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee”. And the immortal words of the great Muhammad Ali feel appropriate when describing O’Malley in the ring.
“I don’t feel like it’s a fight,” he said. “I feel it’s more like chess. It’s more my brain versus your brain.”
And O’Malley has evolved into a smarter, more cerebral fighter since he joined the professional ranks in 2014 after wowing Montana crowds in scores of amateur bouts. He’s spent the past three years living in Arizona, training full time at the prestigious MMA Lab in Phoenix. His training partner is Great Falls native Tim Welch, who is also on the verge of signing with a big promotion.
O’Malley credits Welch with helping him navigate the pitfalls of being a young professional fighter and advancing his career to its current level.
“When I was 16 I turned on the TV and saw (Tim) fighting on Bellator,” O’Malley said. “I didn’t know him at the time, but I got on his Facebook and told him he gave me hope, motivation for the future. Now he’s my best friend, and in the gym he’s beaten dudes in the UFC. He’s got such a good understanding of the game and he’s so good everywhere.”
Welch, who had a stint on season 22 of “The Ultimate Fighter”, will accompany O’Malley to his potentially life-changing fight in Las Vegas. And though the two fighters are on the cusp of stardom, their Montana roots are never far from mind.
“Coming from Montana with all the support I have, that’s another reason I’m down here,” O’Malley said. “Rich (Hollis) and Cory (Smith) – those guys sponsored me and that’s what helped me fund my living down here. Even when I was an amateur I wasn’t working, I was living on sponsorship money. Without Montana, it would be a lot harder to be where I’m at.”
“I personally couldn’t have worked a 9-to-5 job,” he said. “I couldn’t do it. I always liked fighting and considered myself marketable. And I always thought if I got good at this, people could promote me and I could be big.”
And now O’Malley is one knockout away from realizing that dream.
“I’m calling it now, I want another knockout that’s going to go viral,” he said. “I feel like I have so many weapons that people like to see that I can do and I practice. I feel the attention going away from me from that last kick and I want it back. You’re going to know this curly headed kid from Montana.”
With that kind of confidence and talent, it’s smart to keep your eyes on O’Malley. You never know when his next chess match will go viral.