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Sean O’Malley takes Aljamain Sterling’s title in 2nd-round TKO

Sean O’Malley climbed out of the Octagon, spread his arms wide and took a beer from a fan. He chugged it as the TD Garden rocked with cheering fans.

The UFC has a new superstar. Welcome to the “Suga” era.

O’Malley, the Gen Z pink-braided, tattooed striker, sniped Aljamain Sterling with a right-hand counter to collect the UFC bantamweight title in the main event of UFC 292 on Saturday. The TKO finish came at 51 seconds of the second round.

“It only takes one mistake against me,” O’Malley said. “I don’t even know if that was a mistake. I’m just that f—ing good.”

Sterling waded in with strikes, O’Malley parried, took a step back and landed a perfect counter right on Sterling’s jaw. Sterling dropped to the canvas, and O’Malley followed up with several punches on the ground until the fight was stopped.

ESPN had Sterling ranked No. 7 on its pound-for-pound MMA list coming in. At bantamweight, Sterling was ranked No. 1 and O’Malley No. 4.

“Honestly, this was the most nervous I’ve ever been for a fight,” O’Malley said. “In my eyes, Aljamain Sterling is the best bantamweight of all time. … But how can I not be confident when I possess this f—ing right hand, baby?”

UFC president Dana White stated Sterling vs. O’Malley was the UFC’s biggest bantamweight title main event ever on pay-per-view, and he credited much of that to O’Malley. The UFC 292 gate was $7.25 million, White said.

“O’Malley isn’t gonna be a star — he is a star,” White said.

O’Malley (17-1, 1 NC) stated afterward that he came into Saturday’s fight with a muscle strain under his ribs and hadn’t grappled in six weeks.

A Montana-born fighter who fights out of Arizona, O’Malley, 28, is 9-1 (1 NC) in the UFC. He has just one career loss, versus Marlon “Chito” Vera at UFC 252 in August 2020, though he doesn’t consider it a defeat because he suffered a leg injury during the fight. O’Malley entered Saturday’s fight off a win over former champion Petr Yan at UFC 280 last October.

In his postfight interview, O’Malley called for a rematch with Vera at UFC 296 in December. Vera defeated Pedro Munhoz on the UFC 292 undercard. He also said he wants to knock out boxing champion Gervonta Davis and that he believes a boxing match between the two will happen.

“This is just the beginning of the ‘Suga’ era,” O’Malley said. “I’m running this s— until 2035, baby.”

O’Malley has 13 finishes in 17 career wins and 12 knockouts. His six UFC bantamweight knockouts are tied for second in division history.

Sterling (23-4) had won nine a row, the longest winning streak ever in the UFC bantamweight division. The New York native had three successful title defenses, tied for the most ever in division history. A win Saturday would have put him ahead of both Dominick Cruz and TJ Dillashaw, who each had three title defenses over two reigns. Sterling, 34, had not lost in six years and has been champion since 2021.

“I’ve lost before,” Sterling said. “I’ve been knocked out before. I’ve picked myself up and become UFC champion. Don’t be surprised if you see me back here again.”

O’Malley won as a +200 favorite, according to Caesars Sportsbook. Sterling was the favorite because he’s a skilled, dominant wrestler and grappler, and critics have said that was a hole in the game of O’Malley, a talented kickboxer.

Sterling said before the fight that, whether he won or lost at UFC 292, he would move up to featherweight, where Alexander Volkanovski is champion. He said in his postfight interview that he would have to reassess things now.

“If [O’Malley] caught me like that,” Sterling said. “I could only imagine what Volkanovski would do to me.”

Sterling said it’s his preference to fight O’Malley again next.

“I would like to think I’ve earned my right to get an immediate rematch,” Sterling said.

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