What seemed like a sure-handed rapid ascension came to a halt when O’Malley was pulled from a scheduled bout against Jose Quinonez at UFC 229 due to a potential Anti-Doping Policy violation, for which he was suspended six months. A hip surgery followed, as did a second six-month suspension that forced a scratched matchup with Marlon Vera at UFC 239.
Going from a rising, undefeated star to a pair of suspensions and a pair of surgeries, O’Malley said there was a certain amount of “depression” and “anxiety” to work through while he was out of action. While he still carries some frustration regarding the circumstances around the suspension, he does try to spin the situation in a positive manner.
“(People) get sentenced for stuff they have never done, and that’s how I feel, in a way,” he said. “But it’s so much smaller than stuff like that. I have food. I have water. I have shelter. So, my life is still really good; I just have to make sure I keep that perspective that it could be a lot worse.”
He added that the time off allowed him to allow lingering injuries to fully heal, as well as work on his skillset. His coach at The MMA Lab, John Crouch, has been particularly impressed with how O’Malley handled the layoff.
“I’ve seen a really strong man,” Crouch said. “He’s steadfast in his belief. He hasn’t let it get him down. He’s seen the positive of it as a good chance for him to get better.”
Part of that improvement lies in O’Malley’s taking to Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
As he started taking kickboxing classes as a teenager, he remembers seeing the preceding jiu-jitsu classes rolling in their gis and not wanting any part of it. In fact, he admitted he didn’t really want to get into mixed martial arts because he didn’t want to learn jiu-jitsu.
“It’s funny looking back now because I love jiu-jitsu,” he said. “If I had to go pick what I’m going to go do that day, I’d go do jiu-jitsu. Competition rolls, live from your feet grappling, that, to me, is the best sport in the world.”