It’s been a life changing year for Sean “The Real OC” O’Connell. This time last year, O’Connell was unsure of his future in MMA. He had been cut by the UFC after losing three straight fights and wasn’t receiving the interest he thought he would get outside the market leader. He had a good job in broadcasting, working college football games and seemed content to continue doing that. But then the Professional Fighters League came calling and he decided to take a chance on them, though he was skeptical at first.
“The PFL thing almost seemed to be too good to be true when first talking to them about it. But they have overperformed in what a lot of us fighters expected in terms of media, the attention, the treatment they give us. It truly is a first class organization. You never know when you start negotiating with someone, you start talking about something just in the fledging stages and was just going to launch. It’s hard to expect that given the history of various organizations in mixed martial arts, hard to expect that they’d be awesome. But PFL has been unbelievable and I’m really, really proud to be part of the first season.”
It’s been quite the first season for O’Connell as well inside the cage and outside the cage. The heavy-handed fighter would commentate fights and then go back stage, change and reappear in the cage. The Real OC was successful in his regular season debut by finishing Ronny Markes with strikes in the second round. However, he lost his second regular season bout to Bozigit Ataev but still made the playoffs. In the playoffs, O’Connell defeated Dan Spohn and Smelainho Rama to earn his spot in the PFL Championships against Vinny Magalhaes for a chance to win a million dollars.
The playoffs weren’t easy for O’Connell as he was down the initial round in his opening matchup against Daniel Spohn. In the opening round of the playoffs, the first round was the tiebreaker so O’Connell knew he really had to bring it in the second round, which he did.
“My mentality doesn’t change too much, if you watch me fight you know I’m always trying to finish, always trying to knock people out. It’s always a little bit more sobering to know that you lost the first round and that the judges see you as behind. Again, it’s important to have a good coach, I have Jeremy Horn in my corner and he said “look you lost the first round, you got to finish him or get a 10-8.” So, I knew whatever work I had to put in in round two had to be my best and I’m just one of those guys whose going to bite down and keep going until you put me all the way away. So, I was able to do that, thankfully I was able to catch Dan and put him down and stay on top of him and dominate that round, so the judges saw it fit to give the 10-8 and give me the win in the fight. Which I don’t think anyone complained about. I mean, Dan and his camp were really cool about it, I think they acknowledged he lost the overall fight.”
And though he did enjoy commentating and fighting on the same night, don’t expect O’Connell to commentate at the championship event on New Years Eve at Madison Square Garden in New York City. After his loss in the regular season, the organization decided not to let him commentate on the same card he is fighting on so it can’t look like a distraction.
“I don’t think there’s enough time, it’s a short card with just the championship bouts and Kayla if I’m not mistaken, there won’t be enough time. Even if there was, Carlos and Ray and the rest of the crew wouldn’t let me broadcast and fight again in the same night. They saw it be successful the first time around and then saw what happened on the second one and they put my bad fight a little bit on lack of focus but I strongly dispute that. There’s no reason to get it all muddled up, I’m there for one reason only and it’s to win that fight against Vinny and take home a million dollars.”
To do that, he will have to get passed known jiu jitsu expert Vinny Magalhaes. But Magalhaes has shown he is more than a submission expert this season, dominating all of his fights this season, even defeating Brandon Halsey by head kick knockout. O’Connell has been impressed by his opponent’s performance so far but still expects himself to be victorious.
“I gotta fight a guy who not only has some of the best jiu jitsu in the game, now he really has rounded his striking and his striking defense into form that kinda catches up with his wrestling chops. That’s always been the knock against him before and I don’t think its fair criticism of him now to say that he’s not as complete of a mixed martial artist that he should be. He demonstrated during this season that he can be dominate on the feet, on the ground and he’s going to be a very tough test but we’re working on the things we need to work on and I think we’ll solve this problem on New Years Eve.”
When comparing the fight to this year’s college football teams whom he covers in his other job as a college football analyst, O’Connell says Magalhaes is the Alabama Crimson Tide who went undefeated in the regular season and is the number one seed in the college football playoffs. O’Connell believes he is like the Oklahoma Sooners, all offense and no defense who also overcame a loss in the regular season to make the playoffs. But quite simply, he O’Connell thinks he’s any of the underdog teams who will beat Alabama.
“He’s Alabama and I’m the team that’s going to beat Alabama.”