The biggest threat to Sean O’Malley’s title reign isn’t Chito Vera

The biggest threat to UFC champion Sean O'Malley isn't his next intended opponent, at least according to the odds.

By: Milan Ordoñez | 1 month ago
The biggest threat to Sean O’Malley’s title reign isn’t Chito Vera
Imago | Bob DeChiara / USA Today

Newly crowned UFC bantamweight champion Sean O’Malley has already planned his first title defense. As he told Joe Rogan during the Octagon interview after his second-round TKO win over Aljamain Sterling at UFC 292, he wants a rematch with Marlon Vera in December. 

“Chito” won the first fight in 2020, which makes him a viable contender and even a threat to “Sugar” Sean’s reign. But oddsmakers favor another name. 

Odds reveal the bigger threat to Sean O’Malley’s title reign

Early odds for the yet-to-be-finalized Vera fight show O’Malley as the -150 favorite. The Ecuadorian defeated Pedro Munhoz the same night and is currently the +130 underdog. 

However, O’Malley was a +170 underdog against Sterling’s close teammate, Merab Dvalishvili, who was the -200 favorite.

Merab is known for his wrestling-heavy style, something that fans haven’t seen Sean O’Malley deal with as extensively in his relatively short path to UFC superstardom. 

He even admitted to being on the possible brink of defeat at UFC 292 had he been forced to grapple with Sterling. O’Malley revealed entering the bout compromised due to a rib injury.

“I was the main event in Boston. There was no shot I was pulling out, but we haven’t grappled. Six weeks from today, I got a muscle strain right under my rib. 

“Coming into this fight against Aljo, every interview I was saying ‘it was life or death — I cannot get taken down.’ It was because I didn’t know if this would hold up,” he told reporters during his post-fight scrum.

Merab’s current career status

The number two-ranked Merab is on a nine-fight win streak, with his most recent victory in March against former champion Petr Yan. He is currently sidelined for at least three months due to a hand injury, which he had surgery on in May. 

The 32-year-old Georgian has yet to finalize his return, but he says he will be ready by December

“One thousand percent, I will be ready. I will be ready, yes,” he told TSN. “My hand is still – the doctor just told me I can start training. 

May 20, 2023, LAS VEGAS, LAS VEGAS, NV, United States: LAS VEGAS, NV - May 20: Merab Dvalishvili wearing the Sean Oâ€⠢Malley leather jacket at UFC Apex for UFC Vegas 73 - Dern vs Hill - Event on May 20, 2023 in LAS VEGAS, United States. LAS VEGAS United States - ZUMAp175 20230520_zsa_p175_351 Copyright: xLouisxGrassex
Imago | Louis Grasse / Zuma

“I can start slowly punching and grappling, but even fight, if it is next month, I would be ready because I don’t care. I’m just going to ignore the pain, and I’m just going to fight. Definitely December, I will be ready. 

“If this fight will happen, I would love to fight him.” 

Sean O’Malley isn’t chasing a second belt

Thanks to the small handful of previous “champ-champs,” many fighters aspire to hold two belts simultaneously. Sean O’Malley isn’t looking that far ahead yet

“Like, dude, chill, let’s be realistic here. I ain’t f—ing calling for Volk,” he said recently on his podcast with his coach Tim Welch. 

He does, however, see a future for himself at 145 pounds. And he already crafted a path to the belt for himself. 

“If Ilia [Topuria] goes up there and beats Volk, I’d go up to 45 and fight Ilia. I just don’t think Ilia would beat Volk.”

The undefeated Topuria is coming off a win over Josh Emmett in June, where he also won a $50K bonus for Fight of the Night. The UFC has yet to make any announcements about a possible fight against Alexander Volkanovski. 

As for O’Malley, he extended his win streak to two after UFC 292 and improved to a record of 17-1 (with 1 NC). He also received a $50K bonus for Performance of the Night. 

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About the author
Milan Ordoñez
Milan Ordoñez

Milan Ordoñez has been covering combat sports since 2012 and has been part of the Bloody Elbow staff since 2016. He’s also competed in amateur mixed martial arts and submission grappling tournaments.

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