Number three-ranked bantamweight contender Merab Dvalishvili is likely one of the next names in line for a shot at the undisputed 135-pound title. But since his close training partner Aljamain Sterling is the man to beat, the 32-year-old Georgian isn’t willing to make a fight happen.
UFC president Dana White, however, isn’t a fan of the idea of fighters refusing to take on matchups against their friends.
“You can still be friends and want what your friend has. It would be a really bad idea for Merab to go down that path,” he said at the UFC Vegas 41 post-fight scrum.
But apparently, Merab had already had a previous run-in with the UFC about the same issue.
“Actually, that wasn’t first time. First time, he said that — it was after I beat José Aldo,” he told Ariel Helwani in his Monday appearance on The MMA Hour.
“We met Dana White after, and he was talking (to) my coach, like I should not mention that.”
Merab then spoke with UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby, whom he says essentially denied him a top contender fight.
“And after that, matchmaker Sean Shelby was saying he cannot give me O’Mallley fight, he cannot give me Chito Vera, he cannot give me Cory Sandhagen, or even Petr Yan. Because if I beat them, and then I’m not fighting my friend (for the) title, and I understand business. And I was so sad that (there) was no fight for me.
“Luckily, Petr pushed the fight, and they give me this Petr fight. And I’m happy, and I appreciate it.”
According to Merab, he was offered an opponent, but not of the caliber he was expecting.
“They told me to fight Ricky Simón, but then I have eight-fight win streak, I’m the number two or three at the time, and I already beat Ricky Simón. Everybody know, whoever want to watch this fight, just go UFC Fight Pass. I beat this guy.
“I know in my head I beat this guy. He’s a good fighter, but why I have to fight him?”
Ultimately, Merab isn’t changing his stance against fighting Sterling.
“Yeah, I understand business, everything, but Aljamain Sterling is my friend and my brother. It’s all good, man. Aljo has a fight now, he’s fighting Henry Cejudo. I’m gonna be back to the gym in about a week, and I’m gonna help him to preparation with Henry Cejudo.
“And I think after that, he will beat up O’Malley and he say he planning to move up. If he wants to do it, (then) I will fight (for the) title.”
Merab extended his win streak to nine with the win over Yan. He improved to a record of 16-4.
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