Why Sean O’Malley will likely never make ‘Conor McGregor money’

Sean O'Malley might be a superstar in the making but will he ever get paid like one?

By: Stephie Haynes | 1 month ago
Why Sean O’Malley will likely never make ‘Conor McGregor money’
IMAGO / USA TODAY Network / Bob DeChiara

Sean O’Malley walked out to Lupe Fiasco’s ‘Superstar’ and by all accounts, he fits that bill to a T. His title bout with Aljamain Sterling set records just by virtue of his being there. How do we know? Because Dana White said so. Yet despite his star power and despite the record-setting, he likely won’t ever make the fabled ‘McGregor money’—once referred to as ‘Anderson Silva money‘—even if he were to land that boxing match with Gervonta Davis he called for in his presser interview after the fight with Sterling.

In the latest Hey Not the Face! episode, John Nash discussed the factors that present major roadblocks to Sean O’Malley’s ascension up the mega-money ladder. Our main topics were:

  • Why Sean and Aljamain Sterling should’ve made more
  • How much could he potentially make from a boxing match with Gervonta Davis
  • The possibility of having to cut the UFC in on outside ventures like launching a dispensary

Sean O’Malley, no points for you!

At the post-fight press conference, Dana White stated that UFC 292 broke bantamweight attendance records and that it was “the Sugar Show” that catapulted them into that prime position. In the week leading up to the event, Bloody Elbow staff noted that O’Malley trended much higher that Sterling, to the tune of 20 times greater impact on Google Trends. To say his footprint is massive is an understatement of gargantuan proportions.

Bearing that in mind, most would assume that the sky is the limit for a needle-mover like Sean, but they’d be wrong. First, he won’t get a penny off the PPV. Only champions get PPV points, and even there, not all champs make them. Conor McGregor, Nate Diaz and a very small handful of others that weren’t belt-holders at the time have made points in the past, but those were exceptional examples.

Sean will make decent money by bantamweight standards for this card, though. He might have had what’s called a side letter, which is a letter of agreement that pays him extra on top of his contracted purse. So, he’s easily going to be well-paid compared to other UFC fighters in the bantamweight division.

According to Nash, this fight is a perfect example of what the antitrust lawsuit is about. Here you have a fight between two athletes that obviously added much more value than the standard UFC contest. Why? Because they sold more pay-per-views, they did a bigger gate, there was more interest. That’s called marginal revenue product.

“Theoretically, because they’re the people adding that value, they should get the vast majority of that MRP, but they’re getting very, very little. They added probably tens of millions of dollars to the event revenue, and when it’s all said and done, they’ll get a very small percentage of that.”

Sean O'Malley defeats Aljamain Sterling
Sean O’Malley defeats Aljamain Sterling : IMAGO / USA TODAY Network / Bob DeChiara

Can Sean O’Malley make ‘McGregor money’ in boxing?

The first callout Sean O’Malley made after winning the belt was boxing superstar and WBA lightweight champion Gervonta Davis. Why would he make that callout? Because he almost assuredly knows he’ll never be making the kind of money a bout like that would generate inside the UFC. Sean seems to have a keen business sense and makes great use of his considerable reach. He certainly knows how to keep the media talking about him. But just how much could he make from that hypothetical bout? What about one with Ryan Garcia, who offered to fight O’Malley after hearing of his challenge to Davis?

The answer to our main query is no. When McGregor fought Mayweather, it was lightning in a bottle. Conor was at peak popularity and Floyd was still fairly fresh into his retirement, with less than two years separating his bout with Andre Berto from the one with McGregor. Mayweather was still in his money-making prime, too, as that bout ended up expanding his fortunes by a reported $300M and Conor’s by around $130M.

The gate was in excess of $75M and the PPV buy rates were the second highest of all time at 4.3M. Conor McGregor also had an entire country behind him. Sean O’Malley does not. It was the perfect storm to produce that elusive lightning in a bottle effect.

By comparison, Davis just had his biggest fight when he bested Ryan Garcia. The contest drew great numbers and reportedly netted both men around $30M each. That event sold 1.2M PPVs and had a $22M gate—a significant downgrade from the numbers Mayweather and McGregor turned in but still fantastic. We’d have to imagine there might not be an equal split, as was the case when Mayweather and McGregor fought, especially with Davis—John estimates a 70/30 split would be the magic number.

Then we have to figure in co-promotion, because the UFC would act as co-promoter and thus extract a fee, at least 50% or even more since ‘Sugar’ isn’t in as sweet a spot for deal-making as Conor was in 2017. While Nash thinks Sean O’Malley could make a nice payday from a fight with either boxer, he reckons it could end up coming in under eight figures once the UFC gets their cut.

Why is your hand in my wallet?

Sean said earlier this year that he wanted to open a cannabis dispensary (or chain of them) to begin a business empire to rival or eclipse that of Conor McGregor’s. But that may have a major drawback thanks to a slick change in the latest UFC contracts that could allow the company to take a piece of any business venture a fighter on their roster launches.

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Nash gives an example of how this might play out. “Let’s say Sean O’Malley starts his own dispensary or some other venture—a munchies store that sells a ton. But the UFC cuts themselves in on the deal and get a large percentage of it. So, it’s no longer just him making all the money. He has to give up a portion of it to the UFC, which is pretty amazing if that does happen.”

“It’s also pretty amazing that the UFC can pay him so little for how much he’s drawing, because the argument the UFC makes and fans will make, is that the UFC made this guy a star and that’s why they deserve a cut of everything, because they’re the ones that gave him the platform, without which he never would have been a star.”

“But I think Sugar Sean developed his whole persona. He’s the one that’s been out there building himself up as this person, right? It’s not the UFC marketing team that did this. All the UFC did is offer him the chance to fight the best fighters because they have the best fighters locked up under contract. Again, we go back to the antitrust lawsuit. Because the UFC had control of these specific assets, they can dictate terms where Sugar Sean has to give up so much, even though he’s the one doing it all. His performances in the cage and his personality outside of it is what’s made him a star.”

Nash ended the episode with a very important question: “If the UFC is so good at promoting and can turn anybody into a star, why aren’t they doing a better job at making more stars?”

Sean O’Malley is a superstar, he should be paid like one.

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About the author
Stephie Haynes
Stephie Haynes

Stephie Haynes has been covering MMA since 2005. She has also worked for MMA promotion Proelite and apparel brand TapouT. She hosted TapouT’s official radio show for four years before joining Bloody Elbow in 2012. She has interviewed everyone there is to interview in the fight game from from Dana White to Conor McGregor to Kimbo Slice, as well as mainstream TV, film and music stars including Norman Reedus, RZA and Anthony Bourdain. She has been producing the BE podcast network since 2017 and hosts four of its current shows.

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