Although Sterling won the first round on every scorecard in Saturday’s pay-per-view headliner, Atlas saw a foundation laid for the knockout that O’Malley delivered in the second round.
“I think that this whole night came down to the first round, and here’s what I’m gonna tell [you], because everyone’s gonna say Teddy, what are you talking about?” Atlas said on the UFC 292 post-show on ESPN+. “That first round was a no-no round. It was a terrible round, [a] nothing happened round.
“No, something did happen. They were both being very careful. Nobody wanted to make a mistake. And then at the end, Sterling got in on him, and got a little aggressive, and you even said it to me – you said, ‘Now he’s getting closer, he’s pressing forward, he’s gonna be able to continue doing it.’ That’s the problem. In his mind, the end of that round, the success of the end of that round led to his demise, because now he’s gonna be a little more aggressive.”
Sterling’s aggressiveness was seen in an early charge that led to the finish. As he lunged in with a punch, he left himself exposed for O’Malley’s counter right hand. Sterling got caught on the chin, hit the canvas, and took several shots before referee Marc Goddard stopped the contest 51 seconds into the second frame.
“You can’t be aggressive with a counter puncher,” Atlas continued. “You could be aggressive if you do it in absolutely the right way, like I was suggesting yesterday, where you do it behind the jab, where you do it with feints to get him to make his moves too soon, to get him to set the traps too soon. But if you just come in naked with aggression, you’re gonna get knocked out with a great counterpuncher.
“That’s why McGregor knocked out [Jose] Aldo. The style was perfect for him. McGregor’s a great counterpuncher, and he can bang, and Aldo reached it a little bit. He caught them. Those guys were used as a comparison, which was a perfect comparison. And that’s exactly what happened here, again, is that he got too aggressive against a counterpuncher, and you can’t do that. He reached – you cannot reach, you have to fight a perfect fight with a counter puncher.”
The post-show producers did a side-by-side comparison between McGregor’s knockout and O’Malleys. The only thing different about their finishes were the hands they used to land the fight-changing shot. The tactic of slipping just out of range to fire the counter after their opponents missed a punch was the same.
That’s why Atlas had a hunch the belt would change hands.
“I picked him,” the boxing analyst told ESPN analysts Chael Sonnen, Michael Chiesa and Michael Eaves. “The one that knows the least in your business, but I know what I know in the striking business. And I know that when you’re fighting a counterpuncher, you cannot make a mistake.
“And for the same reason you guys like Sterling – and you guys are usually always right – [was] the reason why I liked O’Malley, because you figured that he would try to be the boss, that he would be a little aggressive, he would find a way to be aggressive, and when you’re aggressive with a counter puncher, you’re really having a chance to have an ending like that.”