BOSTON –– Sean O’Malley trotted up three steps to the cage door as he prepared for the most monumental opportunity of his career thus far. The bantamweight title challenger turned to face the crowd, raised his arms, and basked in the deafening cheers of a sold-out TD Garden crowd.
After circling around to his corner, O’Malley practiced combinations, namely a step-back counter right hand.
In the second round, O’Malley’s practice paid dividends, connecting on a perfect step-back, counter right hand to the jaw that dropped Aljamain Sterling. O’Malley finished the fight on the ground, pounding away with punches that earned the ultra-popular star a technical knockout victory, dethroning Sterling on his quest to record his promotional record fourth bantamweight title defense.
“Punching backwards is a skill that not a lot of people possess,” said O’Malley. “I can punch going backwards and I knew that he was going to be pressuring me, I know he likes to throw to shoot. He likes to throw for me to counter so he can shoot under, so I knew he was going to be lunging in with shots. It wasn’t really even a bad punch that he threw, it’s just that I’m that accurate. I sniped him. That’s definitely a punch that I’ve visualized all week.”
O’Malley completed a full circle journey to becoming a UFC champion. After his initiation to the limelight in 2017 on Dana White’s Contender Series, the UFC put their chips all in on the curly-haired, lanky striker. Through flashy knockouts and a brash personality, O’Malley became the promotion’s new cash cow, drawing comparisons to Conor McGregor with his flashy knockouts and brash persona.
“Sean O’Malley, coming into Boston, everywhere I went, yesterday and today – and I’m sure you guys experienced this too – hair, shirts, the whole deal, everybody was wearing O’Malley stuff,” said UFC President Dana White. “You saw the reaction when he won tonight, how the place just erupted.”
The Garden crowd, raucous in their support of O’Malley, erupted when referee Marc Goddard stepped in to wave off the contest. The hype extended beyond the walls of TD Garden, as White confirmed that UFC 292 marked the highest grossing bantamweight pay-per-view fight in promotional history.
In the co-main event, Zhang Weili defended her women’s strawweight title in dominant fashion, cruising past Amanda Lemos for a unanimous decision victory.
Weili controlled the entire duration of the fight, incorporating powerful takedowns to create offensive opportunities on the canvas. Weili outstruck Lemos 288-21, resulting in the largest strike differential in UFC history. The champion’s athleticism was on full display, dictating the entire bout to a degree that the outcome of the match was never in doubt.
Up on the scoreboards through four rounds, Weili kept her foot firmly on the gas pedal, dropping Lemos with a scorching right hand that briefly dazed the challenger. Lemos displayed a world of heart, valiantly trying to stay in the contest and never giving up on her dream of becoming a world champion.
“She’s unbelievably tough, I respect her,” said Weili. “There’s so many moments during the fight where I thought that she was almost out, but she stayed in the fight.”
Weili’s fight IQ and overall skill set proved too much, overwhelming Lemos at every turn. In her second stint as champion, the promotion’s first Chinese champion defended the title for the first time in her reign.
For their incredible performances, O’Malley and Weili were both awarded with Performance of the Night bonuses, pocketing an additional $50,000.
A multitude of celebrities descended upon Causeway Street. Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla, former Red Sox stalwarts Johnny Damon and Jonathan Papelbon, former Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich, and former Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton all kept a close eye on the action. Vegas Golden Knights star Jack Eichel, a native of North Chelmsford, watched several rows back. Local UFC stars Calvin Kattar, Rob Font, and Joe Lauzon were also in attendance, as well as boxing legend Mickey Ward.
UFC 292 represented the global MMA leader’s seventh time putting on a show in Boston. The card was sold out and garnered a $7.25 million gate, the most aside from a Celtics or Bruins finals, as the promotion’s first show at the TD Garden since 2019 and first pay-per-view since 2018.
Cam Kerry can be reached at email@example.com.