Suga Sean and Tarzan: Kings of the Octagon

“Suga” Sean O’Malley and Sean “Tarzan” Strickland pulled off some of the biggest upsets in UFC title fight history and are now champions of their respective divisions.

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In what has been an unexplainable two months in the UFC, some of the most dominant champions of all time tasted defeat in what were two of the organization’s largest upsets ever. At UFC 292 in August, the world watched one of MMA’s most respected champions Aljamain Sterling get knocked out by one of social media’s favorite rising stars—Sean O’Malley. We then witnessed Israel Adesanya, one of the middleweight GOATs, fall short to Sean Strickland at UFC 293 in September. As a result, many fans wondered: how did these two gentlemen get to championship status with wins over some of the best fighters in all of UFC history? Despite the “overrated” hype behind their names, “Suga” Sean O’Malley and Sean “Tarzan” Strickland proved how tactical they are in the fight game, coming through with two monster performances when the lights shined bright.

Leading up to his fight with Aljamain Sterling, the MMA community was still not quite sold on “The Suga Show.” Known for winning many fights against unranked opponents, fans could not believe it when O’Malley fought and defeated one of the UFC’s former champions Petr Yan, back at UFC 280 in October. Despite many calling it a fluke or a robbery, O’Malley continued to feed off the negative press, using it as fuel for his title run. Becoming the poster boy of the UFC, he strived not only to use this hype to become champion but also to make a statement to the world. Even using his hair as motivation for people to hate on him, “Suga” Sean did everything on his track to the title fight to not fall short of his own expectations. The night of the fight, O’Malley had done a good job of stuffing Sterling’s takedown attempts, forcing him to fight on his feet, for the most part. Frustrated with his repeatedly failed takedown attempts, Sterling whiffed on a jab in the second round, opening his body up too wide, and O’Malley took advantage of the ripe opportunity to become champion with one crucial blow. Using a move he literally practiced in the locker room pre-fight, “Suga” Sean became the new bantamweight king. No longer a child of the hype, he proved himself as a top-tier fighter who could hang with anyone in the division.

Similarly, everyone counted “Tarzan” out leading up to his title fight against Israel Adesanya. With glorious victories over UFC warriors like Robert Whittaker, Marvin Vettori, Jared Cannonier, and Alex Pereira (who actually beat Sean Strickland at UFC 276) on his resume, many expected the champion to completely wash Strickland, leaving no question as to who the middleweight GOAT was. That all changed with a Philly Shell and a dream as Strickland—the +450 betting underdog—put on a show for crowds to remember for a lifetime. After consecutive heated press conferences and months of bad-mouthing each other on social media, the two finally went at it in the octagon. Within the first two rounds, fans could see who was really backing up their talk. Contrary to popular belief, Adesanya had been the one struggling to keep up with the challenger, as Strickland’s advanced defense mechanisms and solid one-two combos worked wonders all night. In the end, as the crowd lit up multiple times, and as Strickland demanded Adesanya to throw hands in the last minute of the fight, fans had seen one of the best to ever do it get outclassed by the new champion.

King of the jungle and now king of the middleweight division, “Tarzan” proved the doubters wrong, winning by unanimous decision against the most formidable opponent of his career. Was it an off night for Adesanya or a true masterclass from Strickland? With a rematch in the works, that could be decided sooner rather than later. For now, the two unlikeliest champions in their respective divisions have taken over the fight game, and there isn’t anything anyone can do to stop them. These two kings have proven that they rule the octagon now.