Sean O’Malley on UFC talks: ‘I don’t think I should be main-eventing for the money I’m making right now’

Sean O’Malley isn’t avoiding big fights, but he’s not exactly pursuing them either — at least not until he signs his next UFC deal.

In an appearance Monday on The MMA Hour, O’Malley revealed that he’s targeting December 11 at UFC 269 for his next bout. His opponent has yet to be decided, but one name it won’t be is Frankie Edgar after a proposed matchup between the two failed to come together for November 6 at UFC 268. O’Malley has voiced his philosophy in recent months about the relationship between his level of opposition and his UFC pay, but said that had nothing to do with the Edgar fight ultimately going to Marlon Vera.

Instead, O’Malley said a simple scheduling issue was the culprit — O’Malley’s head coach Tim Welch had an important jiu-jitsu tournament already planned for the weekend of UFC 268, and “Sugar” didn’t want to fight without Welch in his corner.

“One-hundred percent it was about the date,” O’Malley told host Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “I loved the matchup. I would love [to fight Edgar], but I’m not worried about it.

“At the end of the day, the UFC picks. If they offer me Frankie, like I said, I would love to fight Frankie. Frankie is a top-10 guy I think and he’s a big-name guy. I wouldn’t have said no, ‘No, I don’t want to fight him because I want to get paid more to fight him.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll fight Frankie on Dec. 11th in Vegas.’ I would’ve loved for that fight. That’s the fight I was hoping for and that’s the matchup I wanted. I’ll also fight Dominick Cruz on Dec. 11th.”

At 26 years old, O’Malley finds himself in a unique position in the UFC’s pecking order. He’s 6-1 in his seven octagon appearances and has emerged as one of the most exciting fighters in the bantamweight division, with five post-fight bonuses already to his credit. He’s also one of the most popular names in the weight class with nearly 2 million followers on Instagram alone.

He’s achieved all of it while being unranked on both the MMA Fighting Global Rankings and the UFC’s media-generated rankings. And with three fights still remaining on his current UFC deal, he’s not exactly in a rush to work his way up the ladder just yet.

“I feel like I’m the main draw at 135, I’m the biggest name at 135,” O’Malley said. “So there’s a lot of sweet, sweet, interesting fights at 135 that I would love to be a part of. Obviously I want to get paid fairly, but yeah, I think I’m not too far off from fighting for the title, main-eventing pay-per-views. … It depends. I really want to fight these three fights out and then start talking big names.

“I don’t think I should be main-eventing for the money I’m making right now. I think I should be getting paid more, so we’ll see.”

O’Malley has been a budding star for the UFC since his explosive debut in Zuffa’s Contender Series in 2017. His creative and flashy striking style has already generated an impressive highlight reel, and the UFC has been eager to push him as a future headliner, giving O’Malley prominent spots on multiple major pay-per-views over the past few years.

But O’Malley has also drawn ire within some circles for standing up for his belief that he’s worth more than the UFC is paying him to compete. He said he recently had a 30-minute minute conversation with UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby during UFC 265 fight week in Houston to clear the air after a “miscommunication” over comments he made on his podcast about the UFC’s desire to book him against Edgar at UFC 268.

O’Malley said his relationship with the UFC is in a good place now, but he’ll likely have two fights remaining on his contract at the end of the year, and he’s keeping his options open.

“I could probably renegotiate a contract right now with the UFC, but then I don’t get offers from other places. And I’m not necessarily looking to leave, I’m not necessarily looking to go other places, but we’ll see what other opportunities present themselves,” O’Malley said.

“I really do plan on staying with the UFC. I think I belong in the UFC. But also if I’m going to get offered twice as much money to go do something else — I love boxing. We’ll see where it goes. Like I said, I love the UFC, they’ve been nothing but great to me. And I think after this contract is up, I don’t think they’ll have an issue paying me what I think I deserve. But we might be on a completely different mindset there. They might not think I’m worth half a million or whatever the number is. I’ve been on like five consecutive pay-per-views.”

O’Malley noted that he’s “definitely made more money” in 2021 through his outside ventures such as his shows, sponsorships, and Twitch channel then he’s made in the UFC. He hopes to be able to change that soon, but he understands the game and the way it’s played. He’s keeping perspective of the fact that the path he wants to travel is a marathon, not a sprint.

So if the UFC wants to give him big fights right now, sure, he’ll take them. But until the numbers on his contract change, he’s more than content taking the slow road up the ranks.

“To be honest, I feel like I’m one of the biggest stars in the UFC, and if you see what I make, it doesn’t show that,” O’Malley said. “But also I understand that UFC gives me a platform to go out there and be able to sell merch, to be able to get all these sponsors. It gives me eyeballs for YouTube, Twitch, merch, all these other things. So I’m not getting paid directly from UFC a lot, but I am getting eyeballs. I’m getting money outside of it from the UFC. So it’s kind of a hit-or-miss perspective thing. I try to choose to look at it like I’m not making the money I believe I’m worth, but I’m also making money on the outside doing other things from the UFC.

“So it depends how you look at it, but yeah, I think if I’m going to make the money I’m making right now, why go out there and fight the toughest guys in the world? Why not fight these three fights fighting [against] not-the-toughest-guys in the world, renegotiate my contract, and then make real money fighting real tough guys? Kris Moutinho was a tough guy. Eddie Wineland was a tough guy. Thomas Almeida was a tough guy. I don’t know. To me, it’s just like I love fighting and it’s a business. I’m trying to make the right decisions.”

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