At UFC 280, Sean O’Malley undoubtedly faced the biggest test of his career. After a back-and-forth three round war, O’Malley answered many important questions about his durability and resilience. That said, his split decision win raised controversy, as many felt that Petr Yan had done enough to win.
In round 1, both fighters landed good strikes on the feet. O’Malley’s reach clearly gave him an edge in the striking, but Yan protected himself well. Yan scored some impressive takedowns but Sean defended well on the ground.
In round 2, both fighters picked up the pace. Sean rocked Yan and had the Russian fighter on wobbly legs. Yan remained composed and hurt Sean back, and controlled O’Malley on the ground for much of the round. Despite losing the round, O’Malley defended himself and remained in the fight.
In round 3, Sean scored an epic highlight by cutting Yan with a devastating knee. Yan nevertheless managed to rock O’Malley with several counters. Both fighters landed flashy kicks on each other, and Yan scored more takedowns, although Sean got up relatively quickly.
Coming into this fight, O’Malley had not shown an ability to win a back and forth fight. He lost quickly against Marlon Vera after a low kick compromised his leg. However, he squashed those doubts in this fight. Yan hit him with many powerful strikes, but O’Malley continued to fight back. He kept a high pace and was not afraid to press the offense. Sean also showed that he has enough grappling prowess to compete with the top bantamweights.
While Sean’s performance was impressive, most feel that he should have lost the decision. Yan clearly won the second round, so the decision hinged on round 1 and 3. The striking was back and forth in these rounds, and Yan scored several takedowns. Arguments for Sean emphasize the strikes O’Malley landed. Yan, however, landed good strikes as well and clearly won the grappling exchanges.
Regardless of the score, both fighters showed championship caliber skills and toughness. Sean O’Malley erased any doubts that he could handle a tough fight. While he still has difficult challenges ahead of him, he proved that he belongs at the top of the division. Likewise, Petr Yan should not be overlooked despite the result. Despite losing, Yan is as dangerous as ever and remains a real threat in the bantamweight title picture.