With his first career loss now firmly in the rearview, flashy UFC bantamweight "Sugar" Sean O'Malley went back to doing what he does best on Saturday -- providing highlight-reel finishes.
If there was a criticism for O'Malley's performance from UFC 260 against Thomas Almeida, however, it was the fact that he twice allowed his injured opponent a chance to recover by prematurely walking off thinking he had finished the fight. Lucky for O'Malley (13-1), when he delivered the final boom, there was no one questioning whether the fight was over.
O'Malley, 26, landed a devastating leaped punch to a downed Almeida (22-5) late in Round 3 to cap a brilliant striking performance in a third-round knockout inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
"I want a sweet one," O'Malley said of his penchant for exciting knockouts. "What happened was good but I only have 15 minutes to perform, maybe a couple times a year. When I get in there, I want to do something sweet."
Seven months after his upset loss via first-round TKO to Marlon Vera when O'Malley seemed to succumb to leg strikes that caused an injury, the native of Montana proved in the opening moments just how wide the gap was in terms of speed and accuracy against the Brazilian slugger Almeida.
O'Malley switched to southpaw early in Round 1 and landed a flurry of spectacular strikes, including a spinning back kick to the body and a left high kick that visibly stunned Almeida. O'Malley instantly followed with a right hand that dropped his opponent against the fence, but O'Malley's attempt to walk away proved too early as he let a still conscious Almeida off the hook.
"I thought he was done," O'Malley said. "That dude is legit. He's a tough dude."
Although the 29-year-old Almeida was never quite able to work his way back into the fight despite landing hard leg strikes throughout, his toughness was on display as he got up from the knockdown and routinely attempted to walk O'Malley down.
But O'Malley was simply too dynamic in every facet of his striking. He went on to land a short left cross that dropped Almeida again in Round 3. After attempting to walk off a second time unsuccessfully, O'Malley leaped in for the finishing punch with a right hand at 3:52 of the final round to bring an end to the fight.
"There was a big storyline coming into this fight," O'Malley said. "A lot of smart people that I thought were smart were talking about how you just have to kick his legs. I've had a lot of amateur fights and I know how to check a kick. I had to prove to a lot of stupid people that they are stupid.
"He was out like before I threw that. He wasn't there, he was out. The ref told me after the first round, he said, 'Hey, if I don't stop the fight, you have to keep fighting.' It was an unnecessary shot -- nothing to the ref, but I looked in his eyes and he was gone. But if I have to land one more bomb, I'll throw it."
With the loss, Almeida dropped his fourth straight fight and fifth in his last six.
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