'Best buddy to have': Sean O’Malley makes lasting impact outside the UFC octagon

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Posted at 1:57 PM, Aug 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-14 17:55:07-04

Editor's note: Helena native Sean O’Malley is fighting for a bantamweight world championship at UFC 292 on Saturday in Boston. MTN Sports will be on hand for the “Suga Show” and is providing updates throughout fight week. 

O’Malley is a superstar in and out of the octagon, and at the moment is likely Montana’s most high-profile athlete. MTN Sports spent time in Helena visiting Sean’s family and the people who played a role in his upbringing and were there at the beginning of his mixed martial arts journey. This is Part 3 of a four-part series leading up to fight night. For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here.

HELENA — Four years ago, Helena native “Suga” Sean O’Malley suffered the most memorable loss of his career.

In a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu bout against Isaac Godoy, a fighter with Down syndrome, O’Malley allowed his opponent to take him down and apply a choke, before tapping out to raucous applause from the crowd on hand. The heartwarming clip went viral on social media and blogs.

But it wasn’t an isolated incident.

Throughout his career, O’Malley has made a positive impact on countless people’s lives through actions big and small.

“Sean is extremely compassionate,” Dan O’Malley, Sean’s father said. “Very compassionate towards everything. People, animals and especially people with disabilities.”

“He’s the best buddy to have”

For example, when Sean made the decision to move to Arizona to train full time, he needed to save money to afford life as a fighter.

He got a job at Spring Meadows Resources in Helena, a non-profit that provides services for individuals with developmental disabilities. He worked there for a year and developed strong bonds with residents and patients.

Sean formed a special friendship with Mikey Chambers, who has Down syndrome.

“He’s a funny guy. Me and him hung out all the time,” Mikey told MTN Sports. “He’s the best buddy to have.”

It helped that Mikey is a huge fan of combat sports and an even bigger fan of Sean.

“I love WWE, Ultimate Fighter, boxing,” Mikey said. “I want Sean to win the championship belt. I want him to kick that guy’s butt in the championship. He’s going to win and knock his teeth out.”

But little did Mikey know that during the course of the interview for this story, Sean had prepared a little surprise. Dan O’Malley walked up to Mikey with a message from Sean on his phone.

“Mikey, what’s up buddy, it’s the Suga Show. I heard you’re going to be on TV and the next superstar,” Sean said in the video. “I appreciate you brother, watch me fight in August.”

Sean took time out of training to send a video to Mikey, just to make his day. And according to Mikey’s caretaker Dawn Knowles, it wasn’t the first time.

“Sean also did this about a year-and-a-half ago for Mikey’s birthday, he recorded a video and gave him a shirt,” Knowles said. “I think it’s pretty amazing that he still thinks of Mikey and is active with him.”

And Mikey could care less that Sean is one of the best fighters in the world. He’s just happy to have a friend that takes the time to make him feel loved.

“He’s a goofy guy with goofy hair,” Mike “He’s pretty cool.”

Sean’s first and biggest fan

Nathan Pruttis of Great Falls always made it a point to attend mixed martial arts fights in central Montana, though it’s not always easy.

Pruttis grew up as an active teenager who thrived in sports. But a bout with cancer in his spinal cord has left him confined to a wheelchair for more than a decade.

In 2015, Pruttis attended the Small Town Throwdown in Choteau and was sitting in the stands before a chance encounter changed his life.

“I met Sean’s coach, Johnny Aho, first and he yelled up to the bleachers, ‘Hey you!' I looked around wondering who he was yelling at,” Pruttis recalled. “They invited me to come sit with them at a ringside table. They asked me if I was going for Sean and I said, ‘Who’s that?’

“It was just a great night of fights, Sean won in like 30 seconds with a spinning back kick.”

From there Pruttis became a member of the O’Malley inner circle, even walking out with Sean to the cage during one of his early professional fights. During one event, Sean, Dan and another family friend lifted Nathan up so that he could stand during the national anthem.

It was the first time Nathan had been able to stand in years.

“They were having a benefit for the military that night. It was awesome, very cool,” Pruttis said. “The anthem was a lot longer than I remember so it was hard on my body. But those guys just have the biggest hearts.”

Role model for Helena youth

Nevaeh Cline of Helena is a Sean O’Malley super fan.

She has a full wardrobe of Suga Sean gear, a signed picture and even a personalized signed sweatshirt.

“He really just kind of inspired me everyday to keep going,” she said. “Because he’s from a small town and he’s made it so big. And it just inspires me to keep going and keep chasing what I love.”

Nevaeh’s connection to Sean is through her mother, Miriah Cline, and it’s a story that has a rough beginning, but a happy ending.

Miriah is a recovering drug addict. Sean’s dad, Dan O’Malley, spent over 20 years as a criminal investigator and a narcotics officer for the Lewis & Clark County Sheriff’s Officer. Over the years, he was responsible for putting Miriah and other members of her family in jail for drug charges.

But Dan saw a spirit in Miriah and became her advocate, helping her through treatment and allowing her to regain custody of Nevaeh.

“Dan saved my life. He came into a place where I was not doing the best,” Miriah explained. “He had to break into a hotel room where I was half-dead, overdosing. He picked me up and saved my life. He had a soft spot for me in his heart and took care of me through the whole process.”

That started an unbreakable bond between the O’Malley family and the Clines. Miriah and her children are invited over for family functions and have become like family. They’ve gotten to know Sean as well and consider him a friend and role model.

“They’re just such a humble, amazing family. They’re such an inspiration to me and my kids, we just love them a lot,” Miriah said. “To us, Sean is not famous. To us, he’s just Dan’s son. Watching him through the whole process be so humble and so kind to us and to my daughter. It’s just an awesome experience.”