With UFC 292 firmly in the rear view mirror, the bantamweight division has just acquired a surprising new flavor. Sean O’Malley shocked the world with a spectacular knockout over former champion Aljamain Sterling. Fans and experts alike have already drawn parallels between him and Conor McGregor. It is difficult to imagine a better scenario for O’Malley.
This title-winning effort against Sterling was O’Malley’s best performance to date. After his split-decision victory over Petr Yan, the community acknowledged that he could compete with the best. However, to finish Sterling without giving up a single takedown sends a powerful message to the entire division.
O’Malley v Sterling – image, MMA Junkie
That said, a fighter’s work in the UFC is never truly finished. Now that Sean has reached the top, he has an endless line of contenders vying for their chance. Sean has called for a rematch against Marlon “Chito” Vera. The fight certainly makes sense from his perspective. It has the potential to sell due to their controversial first fight. Moreover, Vera will likely engage in a stand up battle, where Sean is most comfortable. Given O’Malley’s recent form, he would seem to be the favorite in that matchup. However, Vera has proven exceptionally durable throughout his career, and himself possesses dangerous knockout power. Crucially, we still have not seen O’Malley fight a full five rounds. Thus, this matchup may not be as simple as it looks on paper.
O’Malley v Vera – image, MMA Junkie
In terms of merit, both Merab Dvalishvili and Cory Sandhagen have stronger claims to a title shot. Merab’s dominant win over Petr Yan stands out. O’Malley himself squeaked by on a razor-close decision against Yan. Although Sean defended takedowns well against Sterling, Dvalishvili brings an unprecedented pace to his attack, which could certainly pose problems for Sean. Meanwhile, Cory Sandhagen is coming off a dominant win over Rob Font, where he showed off his own grappling skills. Sandhagen has proven to be a tremendous striker himself, and his ever-improving wrestling could prove disastrous for O’Malley.
The bantamweight division is strong enough that O’Malley’s future will likely be full of tough fights. It is entirely possible that he fails to defend the title even once. Even if that happened, it would not erase his legendary run to capture the belt. However, Sean has the ability to out strike and finish anyone in the division. With his star power and skills, there are no limits to what he can achieve going forward. Whether you are a fan of his or not, no one can deny the significance of his place in the division’s history.
Sean O’Malley – image, UFC.com