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Sean O’Connell ends his MMA career on top of the world thanks to the PFL

Once down and out, O’Connell gets to leave the octagon on his own terms.

It is very rare for a fighter to leave the sport of MMA on his own terms. Sometimes, you are failing to recapture that moment of glory (recently B.J. Penn) or you just lose that drive to fight. For Sean O’Connell, he is the rare exception in that his career ended in a classic fairytale story.

At PFL 11 inside Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater on New Year’s Eve, O’Connell (21-10) easily took take of Vinny Magalhaes to become the inaugural PFL Light Heavyweight Champion. After surviving round one, O’Connell dominated rounds two and three. Vicious shot after vicious shot was thrown and it wasn’t until round four when Vinny and his corner called the fight off, awarding O’Connell the win. An emotional O’Connell then thanked his family and friends before retiring, $1 million richer.

“There’s no better time to walk away,” O’Connell said during his post-fight interview with Carolyn Pierce. “In front of my friends and family in an iconic arena. I’m moving on. This is the last time you’ll see me competing, but I’m never leaving this sport.”

As the clock literally struck midnight, and New Year’s Day was upon us, a new life began for Sean O’Connell.

O’Connell’s journey to this moment is something to reflect on. 15-4 before joining the UFC, O’Connell joined the organization in 2014, losing to Ryan Jimmo on The Ultimate Fighter finale card. In total, he went 2-5 in the UFC, his last fight a round-two KO loss to Corey Anderson in 2016. Not fighting for about two years, he joined the PFL where he ended up going 4-1.

Never one to give up, O’Connell dug deep in order to prove he is the top dog in MMA today. Given a second chance thanks to the PFL, O’Connell was able to do that on a special New Year’s Eve show.

O’Connell stated he would still like to stay in MMA in some capacity. He could go through the trainer’s route, or he could be a special advisor to the PFL. The latter would show how valuable he was to the organization. Commentary is never out of the question. At the post-fight press conference, O’Connell wasn’t exactly sure what his plans are. All he knows is that he will spend time with family, and figure it out as the high of fighting comes down.

If year one of the PFL proved anything, it is that anyone can be given another chance. O’Connell seized an opportunity and wiped the floor with it. Now that is the beauty of the PFL and the combat sports world.

Daniel Yanofsky

Daniel is a Managing Editor at, and covers all things combat sports (MMA, Pro Wrestling and Boxing). He is also the lead New York Mets writer. When he's not writing, Daniel hosts a Sunday podcast, The Main Event.
Daniel Yanofsky


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