UFC 252: Sean O'Malley says he misses the fans, confident that stardom won't compromise him

O'Malley says he'll KO Vera, wants top-five opponent next (0:55)

Sean O'Malley predicts that he'll knock out Marlon Vera at UFC 252 and says he expects his next fight to be against someone ranked in the top five. (0:55)

Bantamweight super prospect Sean O'Malley returns to the Octagon at UFC 252 this weekend, in a co-main event slot against Marlon Vera.

O'Malley, 25, has only had four appearances in the UFC, but he's already on the cusp of stardom thanks to his knack for highlight-reel knockouts inside the Octagon, and his charisma out of it. He is coming off a sensational KO over Eddie Wineland at UFC 250 in June and has already caught the attention of the likes of champion Petr Yan, Cody Garbrandt and Henry Cejudo.

ESPN caught up with O'Malley ahead of his 135-pound matchup with Vera. O'Malley's comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.

In my mind, this whole training camp, and in my team's mind, this is the fight. Co-main event on a legendary card, Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier trilogy. I think this fight is that next fight that really, like, rocket ships me out of here. I just have to go out and perform.

Chito is a black belt in jiu-jitsu. He's super tough, never been finished. I think I saw a stat where he has over 10 wins in the UFC? [Vera has nine.]

Rankings don't mean nothing. They just don't. Realistically, it doesn't matter. I feel like I could be No. 1, I could be champ -- and I'm ranked No. 15 or something [No. 14 by the UFC]. They don't mean much from my perspective. I give [unranked] Chito a lot of respect. He's definitely top 15 in the world in my eyes.

If you're not a good wrestler, I don't think you're going to be able to take me down. I have really good footwork, really good wrestling defense. I have a really good guillotine and good chokes. I feel like it will be hard to take me down unless you've had that high school wrestling, college wrestling. Chito has a weird clinch he likes to do. He's going to try and push me up against the fence and he has some nice trips along the fence. His game plan can not be to strike with me. That just doesn't make sense. We're in a smaller Octagon, he's going to try his little trip that he has and win the fight like that.

I'm going to try to keep the fight standing. I really enjoy knocking people out. It's a lot different without the fans, it's tough. I was rewatching my Jose Quinones fight [at UFC 248 in March] on YouTube from a fan's perspective up in the stands, and seeing the fans erupt when I dropped Jose -- I dropped Eddie in a way more vicious, gnarly, more exciting, explosive way. And just rewatching that fight, it isn't the same. It would be way more enjoyable to watch it with the crowd going wild.

It sucks. I feel like I'm being robbed of that moment in a way. But I also know a million people or whatever are watching at home, and I told everyone, "Record your reaction. I want to watch it." I watched every single one I could find after knocking out Eddie.

What are we, five fights in my UFC career? I think it's going to be hard not to give me someone in the top 5 after I knock out Chito. They're going to see my skills are legitimate and fans are going to demand to see me fight one of the top guys. After this fight, you've got to give the fans what they want and I think everyone knows exactly what I'm talking about.

I can't imagine my life changing too much. I've always had the same, pretty small group of friends, same group of training partners. And I want to be a legend. I want to win the belt and defend the belt, potentially move up and fight at 145 pounds. I'm 25 years old. I have a long time, a lot of training left.

And if my life changes to where I'm not training as much -- I moved to Phoenix when I was 19, and since then, everything has been consistent. In the gym, getting better. That can't change. My life can't change too much. I don't have time for my life to change. I need to be training in the morning and afternoon, because the ultimate goal is to be a legend and be remembered forever. You can say, "Why do you want to be remembered?" I don't even know, but that's just what has motivated me.

I'm looking for a house with some land that I want to put the Suga Factory on. I've got a cage, I would love to have a basketball court, foam pit. Live there and train twice a day. Life is good. I don't want to travel too much, because that takes away from training. I don't think too much will change as I get bigger.