LAS VEGAS – It’s been only three months, but a lot has happened in the world since Sean O’Malley last stepped into the octagon at UFC 248 on March 7.
Shortly after a first-round knockout of Jose Quinonez, the Helena native flew to Montana to watch his sister Mashayla O’Malley and the Helena Capital girls basketball team compete in the State AA basketball tournament in Bozeman.
That was also right around the time a global pandemic started to shut down states, businesses, and sports leagues across the country.
“We were able to go down there and we got to watch her play one game,” O’Malley told MTN Sports from his hotel in Las Vegas on Wednesday. “And then the next game was supposed to be the championship and then it got canceled that day."
The COVID-19 crisis threw the sports world into chaos, leading to an uncertain future for O’Malley and other professional fighters. But the Ultimate Fighting Championship was one of the first organizations to return to action.
On Saturday, the undefeated O’Malley (11-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) will return to action against veteran bantamweight Eddie Wineland (24-13 MMA, 6-7 UFC) at UFC 250 at the APEX facility in Las Vegas.
“Just the next step up, and I think it's a perfect opponent for me. He’s going to come out and try to strike with me,” O’Malley said. “It's a little bit smaller cage, so I think that might play a little role in some things. But other than that, I’m going to go out there, do what I do and get the job done.”
It’s a return to the site of one of O’Malley’s best professional highlights. In 2017, O’Malley knocked out Alfred Khashakyan on Dana White’s Contender Series to earn a UFC contract. Three years later, it will be nice to enter the APEX again, despite the absence of fans.
“I think we'll look back and these are going to be some crazy times and it will be kind of cool memories,” O’Malley said. “It’s pay-per-view, though, so it doesn't matter really to me. If I could pick, I'd rather have fans just because it's more fun, but I don't care that much.”
While many fighters have had to gym hop for training with facilities across the country shut down during the early parts of the pandemic, O’Malley’s trainer, Tim Welch, a Great Falls native, runs a gym in Phoenix that O’Malley and his training partners had access to.
Though the training schedule was fairly normal, O’Malley’s time in Las Vegas has been anything but. Much of the city is still shut down and the UFC is enforcing several restrictions to ensure safety.
“We had a COVID-19 mouth swab and then the UFC rented out the entire hotel, so the only people staying here are fighters,” O’Malley said. “They have security at every door checking your credentials. No one else can come in. So yeah, they're pretty strict.”
O’Malley hopes things return to normal sooner than later. His younger siblings Mashayla and Dan plan to move to Arizona soon.
“I think we'll be able to have a better relationship, more face-to-face kind of relationship than on the phone here and there,” O’Malley said. “I'm really excited for them to get down to Arizona. I've been bugging my whole family about coming down here for the last six years, so it's getting close, and I'm really excited about it.”
UFC 250 airs on ESPN+ on Saturday, June 6. O’Malley’s fight with Wineland is the first bout on the main card, which is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.