5 reasons why the UFC is making a mistake by booking Henry Cejudo in a title fight over Sean O'Malley

UFC 276: Munhoz v O
'Sugar' Sean O'Malley [Image via Getty]

At UFC 280, Sean O'Malley proved many of his doubters wrong. He showed superb skill and surprising resilience in defeating Petr Yan via split-decision in a grueling war. It was an enormous leap in terms of the level of competition that 'Sugar' has faced prior.

Petr Yan is a former bantamweight titleholder and one of the best 135'ers in the world. Meanwhile, O'Malley's previous opponent was Pedro Munhoz. While he is a respectable fighter, Munhoz has never been a championship-level fighter.

Thus, many observers expected 'Sugar' to lose to 'No Mercy'. Instead, a new title contender was born after he defeated his Russian rival. In the wake of his hard-earned win, O'Malley became a potential challenger for Aljamain Sterling's bantamweight title.

Unfortunately, for 'Sugar', the UFC, according to renowned manager Ali Abdelaziz, have settled on Henry Cejudo facing 'Funk Master' in the near-future. This list explores five reasons why the promotion should have chosen Sean O'Malley.

#5. Sean O'Malley will draw more attention

While it's somewhat difficult to determine who the superior pay-per-view draw is, there's an undeniable aura that Sean O'Malley has that Henry Cejudo simply doesn't. Furthermore, 'Sugar' has far more followers on social media than the self-proclaimed 'King of Cringe'.

The 28-year-old has nearly three million followers on Instagram. Meanwhile, Henry Cejudo has 754,000 followers. The statistics play out similarly on Twitter, where O'Malley has almost twice as many followers as the Olympic gold medalist. Additionally, 'Sugar' earns louder crowd reactions inside and outside the cage.

His presentation also differs from Henry Cejudo's. Sean O'Malley portrays himself as a next generation version of Conor McGregor. His trash-talking and flashy style is attractive to younger fans. While Cejudo also engages in trash talk, his attempts are often mocked by fans and described as embarrassing and awkward.

If there's anyone the UFC should want to see defeat Aljamain Sterling for the bantamweight title, it's the flashy striker who seems like a bigger star. Lastly, people are more likely to watch 'Sugar' simply for the chance to watch him suffer a loss, as he has as many detractors as he does fans.

#4. The UFC spent more time building Sean O'Malley

Sean O'Malley has been a UFC fighter for five years. Despite his long tenure with the promotion, he has only recently become a threat to the title. Compared to him, Henry Cejudo needed only two years to mount his first-ever title challenge. The UFC has been exceedingly cautious in handling O'Malley's career.

Since his promotional debut against Terrion Ware, 'Sugar' has walked a carefully crafted path through the division. The rising star is yet to face a decent wrestler despite his five-year stretch in the UFC. He also enjoyed an extended run against evidently lesser competition.

Additionally, he faced his first top ten opponent in his ninth fight with the promotion. The UFC went to great lengths to build him into a successful fighter with a largely spotless record. Now that Sean O'Malley has proven himself against a former champion, the UFC should cash in on its investment.

The promotion should have done so by booking 'Sugar' ahead of Henry Cejudo for the title fight against Aljamain Sterling. After all, what was the point of carefully crafting his career if not to see him claim the title?

#3. Henry Cejudo might pull a Georges St-Pierre

One of the prevailing questions that UFC management has about Henry Cejudo's desire to return is whether he can be trusted. Two years ago, Cejudo defended his bantamweight title against Dominick Cruz. It was a fine performance that was overshadowed by the Olympic gold medalist's sudden retirement.

In a moment that many now understand was the former champion trying to use his status as a titleholder for leverage, Cejudo announced his retirement. The negotiation tactic failed in a spectacular way. Two years later, the UFC still hasn't surrendered to the Olympian's demands.

There is a tangible fear that 'The King of Cringe' might emulate Georges St-Pierre if he defeats Aljamain Sterling. 'GSP' returned to the UFC after four years. He defeated Michael Bisping for the middleweight title but relinquished it soon after without ever defending the championship.

Given Henry Cejudo's history of using championships as negotiation tools, this is something the UFC ought to be cautious about. There is no such worry when it comes to Sean O'Malley. At best, if Cejudo defeats Aljamain Sterling, he will likely try to challenge Alexander Volkanovski next.

#2. Sean O'Malley has more years to give

The UFC has poured a considerable amount of its resources into building Sean O'Malley. Conversely, Henry Cejudo is not a rising star who can spearhead the UFC's next generation of pay-per-view stars. Instead, the Olympic gold medalist is a 35-year old legend.

If he returns for a title fight, he's almost certain to fight no more than two or three times if he manages to defeat Aljamain Sterling. Alternatively, 'Sugar' is a long-term plan for the UFC. He is 28 years old and in his athletic prime. He has several good years of high-level performances to give to the UFC.

Meanwhile, 'The King of Cringe' turns 36 next year. If 'Sugar' fails to capture bantamweight gold, he could still be rebuilt for a second title run. Alternatively, he can settle into the role of an exciting attraction at the top of his division regardless if he becomes a champion.

However, Henry Cejudo is only returning for the sake of his legacy. He hopes to recapture the 135 lbs title so that it can serve as a springboard for him to chase featherweight gold. Once his goals are accomplished, he has no other reason to stick around.

While he is a short-term investment, Sean O'Malley is a long-term investment. He is a potential champion in the prime of his youth with much to give.

#1. The next era can be built around him

As things stand, there is no next Conor McGregor to carry the UFC into the next era. Regardless, the UFC pays close attention to fighters with pay-per-view drawing potential. Jorge Masvidal, for example, was afforded a second title fight against Kamaru Usman despite coming off a loss.

The importance of reliable stars in the promotion can't be understated. Despite losing more fights than he has won in recent years, Nate Diaz was one of the UFC's biggest stars. He was used to bolster pay-per-view events in need of compelling headlines or co-main events.

Sean O'Malley is in a similar position. Between him and Henry Cejudo, 'Sugar' is a potential superstar that Dana White can build the UFC around as the next reliable PPV draw. Someone will need to carry the torch. Besides Paddy Pimblett, not many young fighters seem to possess the qualities of superstardom.

Jorge Masvidal is 38 years old. Colby Covington turns 35 years old next year and fights infrequently. Sean O'Malley stands as one of the few candidates who can spearhead the next era of UFC pay-per-views.

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Edited by C. Naik
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