If The World MMA Awards were to introduce a category for “Worst Promotion of an MMA fight,” the UFC 292 main event between UFC Bantamweight Champion Aljamain Sterling and top contender Sean O’Malley would be the early front runner.

I can’t say it’d win yet because it’s only May and Dana White is just getting warmed up.

There are two basic paths to fight promotion. One involves announcing a fight when it’s ready, then spending months leading up to the fight airing highlights and promos, explaining to the public who the combatants are, what makes them great, and why they are worth the price of ordering the Payperview.

The other path involves rushing the fight announcement out, prompting outrage from one, if not both, of the fighters involved, then dumping on the fighter(s) for complaining while the fighters go back and forth in the media over meaningless bullshit that only serves to make anyone with $80 in hand decide to stay home and watch Fast X as many times as needed to lose consciousness (my guess would be 1.5 times).

When it comes to Sterling vs. O’Malley, the UFC President has certainly made his choice on which path to take.

A long and winding road UFC 292 will be

Let’s break down the timeline of events:

On May 16, Dana announced a bevy of upcoming fights, including headliners for UFC 291 on July 29 and UFC 292 on August 19. While UFC 291 is being headlined by Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje in what is *totally* not a gimmick fight for a championship that is “super necessary,” UFC 292 is getting the Funkmaster General going to battle vs. Suga’s Rainbow Coalition.

Sorry. Military metaphors aren’t my thing. It’s clearly been a rough day at the office…

Immediately after the fight was announced, word came out from Sterling’s coach Ray Longo that he had no knowledge of the fight being set. This was then followed days later by Sterling saying that, while he’s verbally agreed to the date, he hasn’t signed on for it yet because he isn’t sure if he’ll be physically ready to compete by then.

Dana, as promoter of the biggest MMA organization in the world, then decided to pour gasoline on the fire at the UFC Vegas 73 post-fight presser by not only doubling down on the fight happening, but taking a shot at his own champion, saying Aljamain Sterling “can’t get out of his own way.”

All of this has forced Sterling to fight a two front war, one against Dana for not showing him enough respect (an accusation that Dana, of course, denied) and one against Sean O’Malley for not having the “discipline” to automatically agree to a three month turnaround when he’s still dealing with a nagging bicep injury and had Henry Cejudo wrapped around his legs over the course of 5 rounds less than a month ago.

So far, this fight has been the gift that keeps on vomiting all over itself before tripping onto a pile of broken glass. How can anyone get excited when this is just the beginning of the promotional push?

Neither champion nor challenger are above it

Sterling, to his credit, hasn’t done himself any favors, saying the day before the fight was announced that he could be open to defending in August (or even sooner). His messaging, though, has been consistent, that he’s hurt, that he would have liked the date to be pushed out more, and that whether he’s ready to go by August is dependent on more than just the business needs of the UFC.

But Aljamain is also acutely aware of how critical his title reign is viewed by a portion of the fanbase. To some, admitting he’s hurt could be viewed as an honest and refreshing take that demonstrates his unwillingness to bend just because he’s expected to compete whenever Dana wants him to. To others, he’s just preparing an excuse for his next fluke win.

O’Malley, for his part, is coming out of this looking like a clown (no offense to actual clowns), by suggesting Sterling can just rest an injury that takes at least 3-4 months to heal properly (with surgery) and still have time for a full training camp.

I don’t even know why O’Malley would want the fight under these circumstances. I get a title fight is a title fight and the record books won’t care if O’Malley won it by beating a physically compromised champion, but does he not think his reputation won’t take a hit if he’s campaigning to fight an injured champion? This is the man who had no problem sitting down when Cejudo wanted to jump the line and now he’s demanding his opportunity must happen in August? What’s it to him to wait an extra month or two if he still gets his shot either way?

Suga is also trying to goad Sterling by dragging Israel Adesanya’s name into this, claiming the UFC Middleweight Champion “fought four times in 12 months,” which isn’t true.

Adesanya’s last four fights, title defenses on February 12 and July 2 on last year, and the two Alex Pereira fights on November 12 and April 8 of this year, played out over 421 days or almost 14 months. The average amount of time between those fights was 140 days, or a little over 4.5 months.

If Sterling fights on August 19, it would be 106 days since he fought Cejudo on May 6, which is just under 3.5 months. That means Adesanya, on average, had a full month extra to prepare for his title fights than Sterling is being afforded here. So, the comparison doesn’t really work, does it? Not only has Sean proven to have questionable taste in fashion, he’s also not much of a math whiz either.

Well, that or he wants people to forget he’d be entering the fight having not fought in almost 10 months, or 302 days to be exact.

…what? I figured if he’s throwing numbers around, someone should crunch them. John Nash isn’t the only one around here who can do that.

And let’s not forget about Dana, the ringmaster general of this cavalcade of pathetic. Not only was he the one who announced the fight before all parties were fully onboard (likely to shake up the news cycle from some other big story that just got out), he was the one who chose to put his champion on blast for being “hard to work with,” something Francis Ngannou can easily relate to.

Dana White’s at the center of it all (as usual)

Dana also said that, if Aljamain is unable to make the date, then no big deal. They’ll just book an interim title fight or find something else to headline the card, as if Dana doesn’t already know the damage has been done. He’s put Aljamain in a situation where Aljo is screwed no matter what he does. He either sucks it up and accepts the fight or he pulls out and everyone craps on him because Dana already said the fight was happening and real fighters show up, right?

Real fighters, like TJ Dillashaw, right? Right?

It must make a champion feel good to have a promoter be so nonchalant about how they’re being booked. Dana doesn’t care if Aljamain fights or not because there’s going to be a fight for the bantamweight title on August 19 one way or another. It’s either going to be Sterling vs. O’Malley, or it’ll be O’Malley fighting for the Interim UFC Bantamweight Championship, probably against Cejudo. UFC’s ESPN PPV requirements are satisfied either way.

Henry might smell the rosiest in this pile of dirt for his willingness to step in if the fight falls out. But we all know he’s just taking an obvious opportunity to poke at the cracks and keep himself on Dana’s good side so that his next fight is, at worst, a number one contender’s match. Cejudo plays the game better than most, even though I’d probably focus a bit more on Brandon Moreno right now if I were him…

The worst part about all this is that Sterling vs. O’Malley should be a good fight. No matter how you feel about the champ, his last three fights have been great, so this one should be as well. It’ll be significant too because, if Sterling wins, he’ll set the record for most title defenses in the division.

Plus, we may get to see Merab Dvalishvili bust out this season’s winter wear. I hear tartan is in.

If UFC is supposed to be the place where the best fight the best, why isn’t it also a place where the promoters promote the best as being the best? Seems like, if Dana really wanted the focus to be on the fighters and the fights and not on this kind of drama, he’d keep all the focus where it needs to be and not feed into it as a way of making himself the subject of all the headlines.

Suggesting that a champion keep their mouth shut so that the company president doesn’t have to answer awkward questions at a press conference is not giving Sterling credit. Dana should have the discipline to know how best to represent his fighters to the media. If he doesn’t, I’m sure Suga Sean could teach him a thing or two.

About the author
Evan Zivin
Evan Zivin

Evan Zivin is a writer, having joined Bloody Elbow in 2023. He's been providing his unique takes on the sport of MMA since 2013, previously working as a featured columnist for 411Mania. Evan has followed MMA and professional wrestling for most of his life. His joy is in finding the stories and characters within all combat sports and presenting them in a serious yet light-hearted way.

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