June 29 was an important day for the UFC’s bantamweight division. Surprisingly enough- it had nothing to do with the division’s championship. It didn’t even involve the top-15 of the weight class.
Louis Smolka was forced to pull out of his scheduled bout against Sean O’Malley at the upcoming UFC 264. Suddenly one of the division’s biggest names found himself without an opponent on potentially the year’s biggest card.
Everyone who calls themselves a bantamweight seemingly stepped up to participate in the “Suga Show.” Even those that couldn’t safely make 135 attempted to get the fight. So who would the UFC send the contract to?
Kris Moutinho. The 9-4 prospect made the jump from the regional scene to the UFC as he agreed to take on O’Malley in less than two weeks. It’s a big opportunity for a man who competed as recently as May.
Was Moutinho the right call in this? Social Media, more specifically Twitter, exploded with frustration from fans and fighters alike. Accusations of ducking and not being willing to cut weight flooded various fighters’ social media.
You can’t help but wonder if a prospect from the regional scene was the right call from the UFC. Many veterans stepped up including Ricky Simon, Brian Kelleher, Merab Dvalishvili… you get the picture. Big-name veterans were willing and ready. So why forego the name value in this one?
O’Malley is a fun prospect with an exciting future in the UFC. Fighting an up-and-coming fighter with no value, on the biggest card of the year no less, was not the right move. Marketing-wise, the UFC made a mistake.
Maybe “Suga” would have lost against a solid veteran, it’s happened before. More often than not, he’s added to the highlight reel and done it against a big name. Thomas Almeida and Eddie Wineland are his biggest wins so far. Both saw him make a huge jump in popularity.
At some point, you have to trust that your future superstars will seize the opportunities you give them. The card’s “Notorious” headliner is a good example of that.
What if he takes a step up and loses in front of millions of eyeballs? Well, what if he loses against a debutant? MMA is a game of risk and the UFC is afraid to play it with O’Malley.
Before this fight was announced, many criticized the original booking against Smolka. He does have a solid name but his career certainly isn’t the same as it was five years ago. He wasn’t the right fight to make and now Moutinho isn’t the fight to make either.
O’Malley has all the skills and charisma to become a superstar. Even a loss to Marlon Vera couldn’t derail that. The UFC has to trust their man just like they did with Conor McGregor and even Cody Garbrandt in the past.
Take off the training wheels and let the man seize the opportunity.