Who is next for Sean O’Malley?
Sean O’Malley has achieved what many naysayers and doubters believed would never be possible, in the main event of UFC 292. O’Malley would land a right hand on Aljamain Sterling that would ultimately lead to him TKOing one of the most dominant champions in the history of the weight class.
Much talk has been made of the next move for O’Malley who has thrown out several ideas himself including facing flyweight champ Alexandre Pantoja. Facing a champ in a different weight class wouldn’t be unprecedented, however, and there are a multitude of competitors at bantamweight who will be looking for the title. This article will go through the main men who will likely get a crack at O’Malley’s strap sooner rather than later.
Merab Dvalishvili has been considered the number-one contender of the division for some time now. Ever since beating former champion Petr Yan back in March of this year, there have been calls from fans for him to challenge for the belt.
Yet Dvalishvili would ultimately refuse to accept the title shot as it would mean fighting his close friend Aljamain Sterling, much to the chagrin of the UFC. Now that Sterling is no longer champion and has talked about moving up a weight class, Dvalishvili no longer is shackled by his friend being champion and is now free to take a run at the title himself.
Currently on a nine-fight win streak with the likes of Yan and Jose Aldo having no answer for the Georgian’s offensive grappling, one has to think that Dvalishvili would be a nightmare matchup for O’Malley considering his prowess on the ground. Considering the fact that Dvalishvili likely could have fought for a title already if not for his friendship with Sterling, as well as the story that could be created with him avenging the loss of his friend, a match with O’Malley has the potential to be a very big fight for the bantamweight division.
Cory Sandhagen has been a mainstay in the bantamweight division for several years now, consistently delivering highlight reel moments, Sandhagen’s finest moments in the octagon include a spinning wheel and flying knee knockouts of Marlon Moraes and Frankie Edgar respectively. Sandhagen has long been considered among the elite at bantamweight yet just hasn’t managed to pull himself over the line to reach the top.
The first of his three losses came to Aljamain Sterling, where he was submitted in the first round in a title eliminator. His second loss would come as a split decision to TJ Dillashaw. Dillashaw would go on to fight Sterling for the title in his next fight. His most recent loss came two years ago and was a split decision defeat to Petr Yan with the interim title on the line.
Since then Sandhagen has had to rebuild himself and has managed to create an impressive three-fight winning streak over some of the biggest names inside the top 10. Song Yadon, Marlon Vera and Rob Font have all been defeated by Sandhagen in recent years and make up his case to fight for the title. Currently out for an extended period of time due to a tricep injury, it is unlikely that Cory will be the next challenger for the belt but on his return could easily be fast-tracked into a title or number-one contender fight.
Marlon “Chito” Vera
The only man to ever defeat O’Malley, Marlon “Chito” Vera fought on the undercard of his former opponent at UFC 292 and has not been shy about calling out the champion on social media since the event.
— C H🖕🏽T O🇪🇨V E R A (@chitoveraUFC) September 1, 2023
In their fight at UFC 252, Chito would pick up the first-round finish over O’Malley after damaging O’Malley’s fibular nerve with a leg kick, causing him to be unable to effectively stand or place weight on the limb. Chito was then easily able to get O’Malley to the mat where he would land a series of elbows and punches to score the TKO.
Since then Vera has gone 5-2 with his only losses coming to Cory Sandhagen and Jose Aldo. His most recent loss occurred in the fight before last and was recently avenged by his UFC 292 performance against Pedro Munhoz. While probably not the most deserving of a title shot, the fact that he is the only man to beat O’Malley and that it is clear that the champion is interested in avenging this loss means that it is quite possible that we see Marlon “Chito” Vera fight for the bantamweight strap sooner rather than later.