Is Sean O’Malley taking his focus off Aljamain Sterling?

Is Sean O’Malley taking his focus off Aljamain Sterling?
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Sean O’Malley is one of the UFC’s biggest stars. He recently landed lucrative sponsorships, and does a lot of press on top of running his own podcast and YouTube channel. He currently does all of that without a manager, and has sternly warned fighters to stay away from them.


But some are concerned that this is not the time for O’Malley to be focused on the business and politics of MMA when he’s got a title shot against Aljamain Sterling coming up tomorrow at UFC 292.

Stephen R. Sylvanie | USA TODAY Sports / IMAGO

Sterling heavily favored over O’Malley

In their prefight breakdown, The Athletic had this nifty summary table that shows why so many are picking Sterling over O’Malley.

Screenshot 2023 08 18 at 3.46.46 PM


Respected MMA analyst Kevin Iole has more:

“The odds heavily favor Sterling. The styles of the fighters — Sterling is a wrestler and O’Malley a striker — favors Sterling. The quality of opposition favors Sterling. Just about any metric you want to use favors Sterling.

“O’Malley, though, didn’t get a title shot because of his good looks. Being one of the most popular fighters in the sport didn’t hurt his chances, but he’s racked up an 8-1 UFC record because of his elite-level striking and high fight IQ.

“O’Malley’s never faced the kind of big, burly wrestler he will when he faces Sterling, who is relentless and never stops trying to put his opponent on his back. Even O’Malley knows he is in for trouble if that happens too often.”

O’Malley has plenty of his time to run his mouth against management

Despite the fact that many expect Sterling to chew him up on the ground, O’Malley seems willing to bite off even bigger challenges — taking on the notoriously corrupt world of UFC fighter management.

“I’d say make sure when you get these manager’s contracts, read them… have a lawyer look through them. Don’t just sign just because these guys say they can get you in the UFC,” Sean O’Malley said on the UFC 292 media day.

“They’re taking 20% of your purse. They’re taking your win bonus, taking your fight bonus, your performance bonus. I would be very very skeptical on signing their contract.”

Sean O’Malley blasts “scumbag” managers with close ties to UFC

Apart from his issues with managers taking a big cut of everything, Sean O’Malley also brought up a long time issue regarding managers: conflict of interest. As the bantamweight star noted, there are several top managers that have very close ties with the UFC, putting in question whether they really have their supposed client’s best interests at heart.

“You can sign with a manager, but make sure you have stuff in there that’s fair to you,” O’Malley said. “Because none of these contracts are fair to these fighters, and these managers know that fighters are not going to read it — we’re fighters for a reason.

“Be very very careful of these managers that are very close with the UFC,” he warned. “Mostly just be careful with these guys. They’re not good at their jobs. They’ll manipulate you.

“It’s a little bit of both,” O’Malley answered if the issue is managers not being good at their job or having a conflict of interest with close ties to the UFC. “You meet scumbags on all levels of life. You can be broke and have broke scumbag friends, you can have a lot of money and there’s those rich, high level scumbags out there. (MMA managers are) good at being scumbags. They’re good at that.”

Sean O’Malley vows to expose MMA managers, hurt their business

Sean O’Malley went on to say that he wants “to say more” about specific instances with MMA managers, and will release it all “when the time is right.”

In a separate interview with TSN, O’Malley said he has to discuss how to approach it with his lawyers, but promises to expose these managers that “steal” from fighters.

“I’m waiting to release it the right way. I think it’ll be a big deal, it’ll be massive, and it will hurt someone’s business and rightfully so,” O’Malley said. “So I’m gonna put it out there the right way – I gotta talk to my legal team and make sure we’re doing everything right.

“MMA managers are so bad. It’s horrible, it’s embarrassing. They’re stealing money from fighters. They’re taking percentages of these guys’ bonuses. That really pisses me off, to be honest,” he continued. “I’m going to be fighting for fighters’ rights.

“They do not deserve 15% or 10% or their ‘negotiation’ with the UFC. That’ll be a whole series of things to come.”

Sean O’Malley took shots at former managers

Sean O’Malley declined to name names or reveal specifics on this instance, but he did jab at his former manager Daniel Rubenstein in the past, who went on to manage his last opponent Petr Yan.


“He probably takes 30% of Petr’s purse and his bonus,” he told ESPN about Rubenstein prior to the fight.

When he previously announced that he will manage his own career, O’Malley described managers as unnecessary middlemen, who take too much of his money.

“Well, say UFC gets a sponsorship deal and then whoever handles that at the UFC, they’re like ‘oh, UFC wants Sean O’Malley, I’m going to go to his management’ and then their management takes 20%, 15%, whatever, just to tell me about the deal. Not to do anything, just to say ‘hey, UFC called, you want to do this deal?’ then I’m like ‘sure.’ 

“Same thing with fight pay money too. You want 15% of my money because you did what? No, that ain’t happening. Oh, you want some of the bonus, too? Yeah, not happening.”

This has long been an issue in MMA

It’s not just Sean O’Malley who has legitimate gripes with management. There’s been many long term issues with MMA managers, including how the few top agents in the sport have close ties to the UFC.

Luke Rockhold also cursed out managers that “work for the f—king UFC.”

“How the f–k are they going to work for you when it comes down to it? When you’ve got that title money, when you get the [leverage] right, when you f–ng play hardball? Because hardball is what gets you f–ng paid and gets you f–ng relevance in life,” he said. 

“And when you have managers that work for the f–ng UFC, they ain’t going to stand up for you when you f–ng want that worth. When you want that f–ng paycheck, when it really comes down to it and you don’t want just your win and your show [purse] — get your f–ng worth.”

This conflict of interest has repeatedly been shown in many instances through the years.

Previously, Ali Abdelaziz even went on record to say that he would be against getting Henry Cejudo a one-and-done deal that he wanted. Instead of looking out for his clients interests, he openly admitted that “I value the relationship with the UFC and Dana (White) and all these guys in the UFC… It makes the title not good for them. It’s not good for (UFC’s) business.”

Even outside of negotiations, some managers have previously restricted media access to their stable of fighters to defend the UFC, or to push their own personal agenda, which actively hurts their supposed clients’ interests.

It’s a numbers game for MMA managers

MMA fighters are supposed to have their managers furthering their career, but a lot of times, it’s been the other way around.

So why would powerful managers work against their clients’ interests? Because they don’t need to satisfy one client / fighter in the grand scheme of things. To them it’s more important to satisfy the UFC, and get as many clients in there that they can take a percentage out of.

As Chad Dundas previously noted, the system is the way it is because it’s all a numbers game:

Adbelaziz’s business is a numbers game, after all. He deals in bulk, making his nut not by getting tons of money for each individual client, but by having a ton of clients who all get deals that are “good for business” for the UFC, Bellator, PFL and others. Perhaps the most crucial part of that equation is maintaining a chummy relationship with the UFC. However, if you were Cejudo – or any of Abdelaziz’s one hundred bazillion clients – how could you read this (and other) quotes from him and not ask, “Who’s side are you really on, man?”

Why would MMA managers truly go to bat for a couple of clients and potentially upset the UFC, when most of their money comes from having as many clients signed to them as possible? Don’t expect UFC MMA managers to fight for fighters and advocate for change, when their money is tied to keeping the current system going as long as possible.

Related: How bad are MMA managers?

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About the author

Anton Tabuena

Anton Tabuena is the Managing Editor for Bloody Elbow. He’s been covering MMA and combat sports since 2009, and has also fought in MMA, Muay Thai and kickboxing.

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