Sean O’Malley: Aljamain Sterling looks ‘nervous’ ahead of UFC 292 title clash

Sean O’Malley thinks he might be in Aljamain Sterling’s head.

The two bantamweight stars are set to clash at UFC 292 next Saturday with Sterling’s championship belt on the line, and they’ve had plenty of time to trade verbal jabs over social media. Most recently, Sterling mocked O’Malley for direct messaging him to engage in trash talk.

O’Malley was asked about his beef with Sterling on The MMA Hour, and he made it clear he’s not shying away from pre-fight mind games.

“He has what I want, he has the belt,” O’Malley said. “It’s as simple as that. I just let him know, I said, ‘Hey champ, you look a little nervous,’ when I saw him on the TV. I was just being honest. He looked a little — this moment might get to him a little bit. What was that, 14, 13 days out from weigh-ins? I’m sure he still has a lot of weight to cut, he’s dealing with these injuries. So I just thought he looked a little nervous, I thought I’d let him know, and I did.”

Sterling seeks the fourth defense of his bantamweight title when he takes on O’Malley at TD Garden in Boston. A win would extend his record for the most consecutive UFC title defenses at 135 pounds and possibly signal the end of his run in the division, as he has mentioned moving up to featherweight. A move would both make space for Sterling’s close friend and teammate Merab Dvalishvili to contend for the title and allow him to make a less stressful weight cut.

O’Malley figures that the weight cuts have been a headache for Sterling and any issues ahead of their fight can only be to the challenger’s benefit.

“I’ve heard him say he has trouble sleeping sometimes,” O’Malley said. “Obviously, he has trouble not trouble making weight, I guess you could say trouble making weight. It’s not fun. I mean, I don’t cut as much weight as him and I don’t f****** like cutting weight, it sucks. So for me, having fat-ass dinners a couple of weeks out, I guarantee he’s not having those, and if he is, it’s just going to make his weight cut that much worse.”

If Sterling’s social media activity is any indication, his weight cut is going just fine, as he’s posted several images of his impressive physique as he prepares to battle O’Malley. “Sugar” isn’t letting himself get psyched out by the photos.

“He always looks jacked,” Sterling said. “He’s just got them genes, he’s shredded. Even when he’s out of shape, out of camp, and fat, the dude’s still f****** ripped. That’s just good-ass genes and obviously he’s working hard.”

Whether there’s a size difference or not on fight night, O’Malley will be the underdog on fight night, not just due to Sterling’s past success but also his grappling-heavy style that could be a nightmare for the striking-minded O’Malley. Sterling is coming off of a split decision win over Olympic gold medalist and two-division UFC champion Henry Cejudo, so the respect for his accomplishments has arguably never been higher.

O’Malley has heard all of the doubts about how he’ll fare against Sterling, but he’s not veering away from his long-held claim that he will be the one to end Sterling’s reign — and in definitive fashion.

“I’ve definitely been hearing that. It is what it is, I’m not really too worried about what people say,” O’Malley said. “Going into that Petr Yan fight, I heard a lot of the same things, obviously not about the wrestling or grappling, but that Petr was going to destroy me, I shouldn’t be in there with him. Then I go out there and beat him, get the job done, so I’m not too worried about it. I agree, I think his wrestling and grappling is very f****** good.

“It’s whether I can crack him and put his f****** lights out before he grabs me. It’s a striker vs. grappler matchup, there’s no secret in our game plans. I truly believe I’m 100 percent capable of putting his lights out. I’m f****** fast right now, I’m sharp right now, I’m accurate right now, I will land this right hand. You go and look at my UFC career, whether I’ve finished them in the first round or not, I’ve dropped a lot of people in the first round.

“He’s cutting a lot of weight and that plays a role. It does 100 percent play a role in the shots you can take. So I plan on going out there and delivering the shots that he can’t take.”