Editor’s Note: Helena’s native Sean O’Malley is fighting for the World Bantamweight Championship at UFC 292 on Saturday in Boston. MTN Sports will be ready for the “Suga Show” and will provide updates. all fight week
O’Malley is a superstar both inside and outside the octagon. And while probably Montana’s most celebrated athlete, MTN Sports takes Helena’s time to visit Sean’s family and the people who played a role in raising him. and was there at the beginning of his mixed martial arts journey. This is part 2 of a four part series leading up to battle night. For part 1 click here.
HELENA — Everyone knows “Suga” Sean O’Malley as the acrobatic, stylish, and dominant mixed martial artist who stands out in the UFC. Next Saturday in Boston at UFC 292 against Aljamain Sterling.
But this is not always the case.
In fact, those who know O’Malley well will tell you that combat sports violence used to be too much for future fighters.
Sean’s father, Dan O’Malley, told MTN Sports, “Daniel and Mykel[Sean’s brothers]and I would sneak downstairs. I had DVDs of old UFC fights because his mom didn’t like the fact that we were going to fight. Watch the violence.”
“Sean ran downstairs. He was fierce and mad. And maybe in his underwear, just acting crazy and he’s like, And I said, ‘What are you watching?’ And I said UFC, and he was like, ‘What are you watching?’ ‘How did you see it, disgusting’ ran upstairs, squinted my eyes, my wife came down. let us shut down take my dvd And I’m like Sean.
“And now he’s number 1 in the UFC.”
O’Malley meets MMA
As he grew older, O’Malley’s interests began to change.
Frustrated with O’Malley High School, needs some advice.
Enter Johnny Aho and Steven Jimenez, aka Steve Chai, two former fighters and current coaches who take young, energetic athletes to the Team Proven Grounds gym.
“I’m familiar with Dan. Dan and I know each other. And one day he came to me at the training ground and pulled me outside. and said that he had a son He was worried that he might have gone the wrong way,” Ajo told MTN Sports.
“He wanted to prevent that, if possible, so he said I wanted to hold him in your hands. See what you can do, and the next day, he takes Sean to practice. And I pulled Sean out, one on one, and actually asked him what his goal was and why he wanted to train. I need discipline and i would like to Learn to fight.'”
So the seeds of battle were planted, and O’Malley was gone.
“At first he was a bit lazy and wanted to do everything his way. And he was beaten several times. All the women touched him. It choked him,” said Ajo. “He was frustrated, you know, always coming home with blood on his face. and after a while when he began to listen to us He jumped above everyone else.”
Eventually, O’Malley started to get better. And when gym members get together to watch a UFC match, his coach has to tell O’Malley his potential.
Jimenez said “You’re better than half of the people up there anyway. Fighting, one day you’ll be there. Just keep working hard and we know it,” Jimenez said. get there So we know he will always be there.”
O’Malley’s work ethic is second to none, according to the coach. both in training but also in small details.
“He was the first person in the gym, no, going there to clean the mats, disinfect them, get everything ready. Organized everything,” Jimenez said. “Then he was the last person out there to help us put everything in order. I like to say he’s probably one of the hardest working fighters I’ve ever had a chance to work with.
“Even though he has back problems. He’s got lower back problems, you know. Sit down, give him a good massage. Boom. Start training. I mean, he’s not making excuses. He will appear, “Even if you are sick, you can practice.”
His smooth and unorthodox style soon took on a life of its own in battle. And his coach let him run after it instead of changing it.
When combined with the team An appropriate tradition was also begun in O’Malley’s style.
“I used to paint his nails before every fight. We’ll be in the hotel room. And there was a picture of it,” Aho recalls. “I put my hands on the floor and kneeled. As for him, he sat back on the sofa. And I’m painting his toenails hot pink.”
He added with a smile. “Because that’s the last thing you want to see before you get kicked in the face.”
And then there’s the history behind the nickname.
“I’ve been watching him for a while now, and yes, he’s lovely to look at,” Aho says. “Sugar has to be sugar.”
“Oh, he just smoked everyone. It was unbelievable and I would tell him every time. and he will tell you the truth. I will tell him You can knock Georges St-Pierre, Sean, you can knock.” And he believed me. and he will go in and do it. never asked myself Throughout my career I only had two fighters with whom I held hands throughout my fights. They never wavered. And Sean was one of them. Stable as a rock, unshakable.”
“I realize that as a coach, You can’t change someone’s style. That’s one of the things that makes me different in the sense that Sean has his own style. And we did tricks and stuff. that i am showing He adapted it to what he was doing. He was stronger than most of the guys he fought,” Jimenez added.
“That’s the unbelievable thing about him being so fast. The way he fights now It’s just a better version of what he did when he was an amateur. and he has the same style He really hasn’t changed at all. It’s just his style that others can’t imitate, you know, it’s just his power, his speed, what most fighters don’t even think about. He has it.”
Christopher Smith is a longtime training partner of O’Malley’s in Helena and is a highly decorated fighter in his own right. Smith and O’Malley trained together for many years. And as a bigger fighter, Smith flogged O’Malley a few times.
but even so He saw what the new generation of fighters were capable of.
“I clearly remember one moment in training. and he is saying “And this is when he’s less experienced, you know, and I’m quite experienced. And I said, ‘No, you’re going to get better.’ I knew without a doubt that he was going to get a lot better and that he would be a champion, you know, and I mean, look at him now, you know, he’s doing it on a grand scale. You know, he’s doing what he says he’s going to do. and then some
“I know all of us. Although we are not together from the team. But we’re all watching. And we all cheered for him. And people who don’t support him are just haters, all of us, we scream, we shout, we’re behind the scenes saying ‘let’s go’, you know, because we know what he’s capable of, you know, we know, what he’s willing to do. will do
“I have been training alongside them for a long time, you know, we do a lot of the same things together. We train with all the same generation. And I know what he’s capable of. So I mean I don’t think it will be a difficult deal for him. I think he’s really out there. And he’ll do what he has to do to get home and pay the bills, you know, baby needs shoes.”
Going a step further in Phoenix
Finally, the day came when O’Malley had to leave Montana to fight all-out and find the high-level training he needed.
although understandable But it was difficult for the team to see him go.
“That was one of the saddest days of my life, saying goodbye to him, letting him go,” said Ajo. “You know, it’s almost like parents. I’m more like his high school teacher. Now he had to go to a college professor. That was the next step in his evolution. And I know it’s going to happen, it’s really sad. And he is the star of our team. simple and plain He shone and everyone knew he was the man. And everyone knew that he would be that man.
“And he is the next man.”
O’Malley found his way to the MMA Lab in Phoenix, Arizona, where he worked with his current coach at Great Falls native Tim Welch, but he also met UFC veteran Joe Riggs. who currently resides in Great Falls and owns Deisel’s Counter Punch Gym.
O’Malley lived with Riggs while he began training in MMA.
“He’s been great with my kids, which is huge for me. He honored my wife, which was very important to me,” Riggs told MTN Sports. “I remember when I first met him when he came down, he had a Nissan Altima. I think he still had it and he had it. 5000 dollars, that’s all, and he didn’t plan on getting a job or anything because he was still Amateur at this time and he said that this money will stay with me for a year.
“I’m like, what, but he’s frugal. When he was with me, he didn’t have to pay anything. Because that’s just pay forward, you know, help the guy, he’s probably going to make it for years, he really can do it and yeah, it’s unbelievable.
“Sean doesn’t seem very humble. especially at that time I think he has a tattoo on his chest. Slightly afro-shaped And then he was very skinny. He was stingy. I didn’t see him move or do anything for the first two weeks. Then I saw him spar. And then I saw a gifted boy.”
The growing pain was there, but O’Malley never stopped.
Dan O’Malley said, “He went to Phoenix. He’ll be there for two weeks, he’ll call me and cry for a week.” “And he’s like a father. These people are stronger than I thought. I don’t know if I will be cut off because of this. I was concussed and beaten. They are real fighters out there at laboratory in phoenix
“I said, ‘Go home Sean, you’re just going out to taste it, who cares, you can try it,’ and he was like, ‘No, I’m going to quit.'”
The rest is history.
“I see him every day in the gym, everyone talks, I want to be like Sean. I want to be like Sean O’Malley, I want to be that champion in Montana. “You know, and we’re starting to see some champions. We won the BKFC from Great Falls (as Kai Stewart).
“I mean It’s amazing to see how dedicated people are to that kind of work. And it started with Sean O’Malley because everyone wants to be Sean O’Malley.”
Watching O’Malley grow as a child into who he is today was the most special part of this journey for his former coach.
They, like the rest of the Treasure State, now have a point on August 19 when O’Malley steps into the cage in search of UFC gold.
“I told him when he was 16. I said, ‘Remember my words. and you heard it here before You’ll be a household name, Sean O’Malley will be a household name,’” Ajo says. ‘You really think that, Coach?’ I said, ‘I do.’ ‘I’ll be the best in the world at 135. I’ll be the world champion at 135.’ Look at him today.”
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