Forget Sterling, this is the fight for Sean O’Malley

The world is in the palm of of the hands of Sean O’Malley. Looking for a quick turnaround, Chito Vera could be the first to challenge the new champion.

By: Blaine Henry | 1 month ago
Forget Sterling, this is the fight for Sean O’Malley
Former Sean O'Malley opponent Marlon Vera. - Louis Grasse IMAGO/ Sports Press Photo

Hands on his head with the belt strapped around his waist, Sean O’Malley was seemingly in disbelief upon being crowned champion at UFC 292. His knockout of Aljamain Sterling was nothing short of spectacular, even if the first round of the fight was lackluster. In the wings, also coming off a win, at UFC 292, is Chito Vera, the lone loss for the newly minted bantamweight king. With the MMA Lab talent hoping to return in December, it may be time to strike while the iron is hot and make Sean O’Malley vs. Chito Vera 2.

While Google Search Trends are not quite finished tallying up Sean O’Malley’s traffic numbers from UFC 292, there is more buzz about him now than ever before. People that normally don’t speak about fighting are talking up the UFC’s newest star. It’s mania.

While ‘Sugar’ Sean hasn’t reached Conor McGregor levels of fame, and likely will not—McGregor was meteoric—the UFC should be primed to jump on his success while they can, and get O’Malley back in the cage while he is fresh on everyone’s mind.

The promotion should even find a willing partner in that plan with the 28-year-old seemingly primed for a quick return to the Octagon. Instead of waiting six or seven months, O’Malley says he wants to get back to action before the end of the year; as the saying goes, to ‘get while the gettin’s good.

The sooner that Sean O’Malley can get a fight booked and get his name back in the news cycle, the better for his fame and his money. He knows this, Dana White knows this, the UFC knows this. Fans would be wise to expect a quick turnaround.

Chito Vera? Why not Sandhagen, Merab or Cejudo?

There are a couple reasons why the UFC and O’Malley will likely look to book Vera and not one of the other, more suitable contenders. With the pressure to get the Phoenix-based fighter back to action by December, that rules out Cory Sandhagen and Merab Dvalishvili, the two top contenders, both of whom have been dealing with long-term injuries.

While Dvalishvili had a hand injury back in May (from which he should have had ample time to recover), the Serra-Longo product seems like the highest-risk, lowest-reward option on the table. O’Malley very well could use any potential talk of a delay as a way to skip that fight, or potentially even just flex his new found authority as a champion and who doesn’t want a ‘boring’ opponent. Sandhagen, as we know, tore his Tricep in his last fight with Rob Font.

Then there is Henry Cejudo, a great resume builder for O’Malley and leverage over Vera. A double champ who gave Sterling all he could handle, a win over ‘Triple C’ would be huge. The problem: Cejudo is coming off of a loss and that’s his only fight in the last three years. Compounding on that, Cejudo was supposed to fight Vera last weekend before hurting his shoulder doing a, I kid you not, fight analysis breakdown on YouTube. That in itself could exclude Cejudo.

Aljamain Sterling may deserve a rematch for being such a great champion. But with a knockout like he suffered, he will likely be medically sidelined, at least for the short term.

What O’Malley may very well be looking for is one of those ‘tune up’ fights fans hear about and loathe in boxing. But this is the MMA, we don’t do that kind of thing here! Instead the UFC needs to find a happy medium; a rightful challenger and friendly matchup with a fascinating story-line behind him. Enter: Chito Vera.

Before anyone jumps to note that Vera is ranked sixth and shouldn’t be fighting for a title, let’s not forget that fifth ranked Sean Strickland is challenging for the title in a couple weeks. Cody Garbrandt was ranked fifth when he challenged Dominick Cruz for gold. While Vera’s resume isn’t as justifiable, it can still be justified from the storytelling perspective.

Making Sense

Sean O’Malley vs. Chito Vera 2 couldn’t be called a tune up fight, despite the American likely seeing it as such. Vera, as previously mentioned, has a win over O’Malley; a first round knockout at that. The fight could only be billed as a thrilling grudge match with O’Malley getting a chance at revenge.

It’s clear that O’Malley and Vera do not like each other as is apparent by their recent Twitter interactions. And as Conor Ruebusch reminded us on the Bloody Elbow Substack, they’ve not liked each other in a long time.

Vera told the heartbreaking tale of his daughter, born with a rare neurological condition which paralyzed her facial muscles. Photos flash across the screen. Here was this beautiful little girl, whom Vera clearly loves with all his heart, full of all the bright emotions of childhood and incapable of expressing them. Vera moved from his home country of Ecuador to the US in order to get his daughter the medical treatment she deserved. And this was—aside from the obvious pleasure of beating people up for a living—his reason for fighting. He fought for his daughter’s smile.

Who wouldn’t root for that man?

Cut to Sean O’Malley, a 25 year-old kid with a head of curls dyed in ludicrous shades of yellow, blue, and red, sitting in a corny, gold-painted throne, wearing a faux-luxury bathrobe without a shirt. He looks into the camera, mouth smirking through the sparse foliage of a frat boy’s first goatee, and answers the same question. Why does Sean O’Malley fight? 

“When I was a young kid,” he says, “I knew I was gonna be famous.” 

Conor Ruebusch via the Bloody Elbow Substack

The built-in story is there: O’Malley not only defending his belt, but also correcting a black mark on his record. It’s also a story of Chito Vera, going fight the bully that makes light of his personal struggles. If played right, this fight could literally print money.

The bout with Vera checks several important boxes for both the UFC, Sean O’Malley and Vera himself. For the Ecuadorian, the motivation is simple: Getting his chance at gold despite not having a resume like Sandhagen or Merab Dvalishvili.

For the UFC, getting Sean O’Malley back in the ring in December capitalizes on the moment he made at UFC 292. He is a hot commodity and fans would love to see him back in the cage. Sean O’Malley gets revenge on Vera for the knockout loss that he refuses to acknowledge as legitimate. He also gets another payday, a champion’s purse this time. He will have an easier fight than one against Sandhagen and Dvalishvili. And he gets to get back to action and call the shots.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we get an announcement in the next month. Everything is lining up. While there are some variables on who could be the next to challenge the title, my money is on Vera.

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Blaine Henry
Blaine Henry

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