It’s crazy to think about people’s reactions when this fight was first announced, given everything that has transpired since, but that’s part of what makes this sport so incredible.
Yan had been the undisputed champion and the interim champion and was coming off four consecutive title fights. O’Malley was the first breakout star from Dana White’s Contender Series, and while he’d amassed a 7-1 record with one no contest in his first nine UFC starts, he’d yet to beat a ranked opponent.
Everyone was waiting for “Sugar” to get a step up in competition, and just a couple months after his fight with Pedro Munhoz ended in a no contest, the technicolor standout skipped several steps and jumped in with a former champion that was still at the top of his game.
Regardless of how you scored this fight — O’Malley won by split decision — there was no way to watch this contest and not come away impressed by each man. Yan showed that despite some recent setbacks, he was still one of the very best bantamweights on the planet, while O’Malley showcased toughness and grit that he was never previously forced to exhibit, taking some big shots and responding in kind more often than naught.
This was the night everyone learned without a shadow of a doubt that O’Malley was a legitimate threat in the 135-pound weight class, because as he told me before his title win earlier this year, “You don’t beat Petr Yan if you’re not as good as I am.”
Paul Felder vs Edson Barboza (UFC 242)
This is one of two instances in this list where fans tend to get lost in the official result and scoring of the contest and miss the forest for the trees.
As much as wins and losses are important and you want the judges to get it right every time, sometimes you have to just sit back and appreciate two veterans going toe-to-toe for 15 minutes, blasting each other with punches and kicks and knees and elbows, and seemingly having a wonderful time doing it.