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'Molded who I was': Sean O'Malley credits growing up in Montana as 'huge role' in UFC success

Posted at 6:16 PM, Aug 16, 2023

BOSTON — Sean O'Malley was one of the last fighters to take the podium on Wednesday during media day, but no matter at what time he spoke, it was clear he is the star of the card.

All fighters on this Saturday's UFC 292 card met with media at the Hyatt Regency in Boston on Wednesday afternoon. O'Malley is one half of Saturday's mixed martial arts main event as he gets set to take on current bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling.

But when it comes to the "Suga Show," all of this week's festivities and build up, wouldn't be possible without his start in Montana, something O'Malley noted on Wednesday.

"I remember when I was 16 years old, I just went and started kickboxing, boxing and just kind of sparring," O'Malley said in response to a question from MTN Sports. "And just kind of had this natural ability and I think some people are truly born knowing how to fight, and I found that and I became obsessed with it."

Montana isn't known for MMA, and the sport is scarce across the state outside of regional shows, or local talents like O'Malley or Hunter Azure making it all the way to the UFC.

But O'Malley found a way to make it work, as did his head coach and best friend in Great Falls native Tim Welch, who was also on hand on Wednesday.

They found a love in this sport, and it was that passion for fighting that O'Malley found in Helena, that eventually stuck with him.

"Before I found fighting, I wanted to be in the NFL because I wanted to be rich and famous," O'Malley, who now fights out of Phoenix, Arizona, said. "Realized real quick that I was 5-11, 100 pounds, so I realized that wasn't realistic. I didn't know what I wanted to do. Then I found fighting and I'm like this is it. I'm going to make money, this is how I'm going to do it. And it's literally all played out damn near perfect.

"Even just my first couple of coaches early on, Johnny Aho, would tell me if I had to fight (Georges St-Pierre) I'd beat him and I was like, 'Hell yeah I would.'

O'Malley is sometimes criticized locally for not mentioning Montana very often.

It's true, his star and profile has blown up drastically, but it was clear on Wednesday that he holds Montana near and dear, and for him it's special knowing it's how he got his start in MMA, and it helped get him to this point in his career on the doorstep of UFC gold.

"I think being from Montana was a huge role," O'Malley said. "I was knocking people out at an early age at 16, 17, 18. I was all in Montana fighting and there was times I fought three times in a month so being from Montana was a massive part of my career. I gained a ton of confidence down there, gained a ton of experience. I had 14 amateur fights and I moved to the (MMA) Lab and people were trying to get their second amateur fight and I had so much experience which definitely gave me a huge advantage."

"It kind of molded who I was being from Helena, Montana. Small town. It was a good place to grow up."