Can Sean O’Malley Avenge His Only Loss?

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Sean O’Malley, the UFC’s potential next megastar returns this weekend to make not only the first defence of his bantamweight championship but also attempts to avenge his only professional loss. This fight is arguably only happening due to that prior loss as there are more deserving contenders than Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera, however, their history is what makes this one so interesting.

The two met in the UFC 252 co-main event and despite being on top in the fight, O’Malley was handed an L on his record. Suga doesn’t accept the loss, however. We’ve heard him describe himself as ‘mentally undefeated’, keep the 0 in his social media bios and claim that he never lost the fight. It’s a gimmick, but the fact remains, Vera is 1-0 in the rivalry.

At UFC 299 on top of a stacked card, O’Malley has the opportunity to make the score 1-1, make the first defence of his title and cement himself as a true bantamweight star. And as you can imagine, he fully believes in his ability.

Sean O’Malley – Keys to Victory

Sean O’Malley’s keys to victory should be fairly straightforward. He needs to stay in the boxing range, rather than the kicking range. Last time out, Vera came out very kick-heavy and punished the body and vitally, the legs of O’Malley. To take that kicking game away from the Ecuadorian, O’Malley needs to close the distance and stay in his boxing range. Interestingly, O’Malley has the longer reach as well as being the taller guy. This means he can stay in his boxing range and, in theory, not get landed on too much at the hands of Chito.

Further, he needs to utilise the footwork that has made him such a dangerous stand-up fighter. He uses lateral movement extremely well, especially against Aljamain Sterling last time out. He was able to move laterally in order to avoid the grappling game of the former champion. We can’t expect Vera to look to grapple, however, he works best when he gets into range and can force out combos. The champion’s length is something that makes this lateral movement so effective because not only is he a moving target but also he’s a long, rangy guy to land on. He should be aware of the leg-kicking ability of the challenger, which could easily limit that lateral movement, however, he’s dealt with the leg kicks of opponents much more effectively in recent fights.

His biggest key to victory, however, would be to mix the martial arts, despite being a striker at heart. He’s got legitimate one-punch knockout power, however, it’s unlikely that this is going to come to his aid in this one. Vera has never been stopped in 32 fights and has become well-renowned for his chin. He has, however, been outpointed eight times. His most recent two losses have come at the hands of Jose Aldo and Cory Sandhagen.

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 19: (R-L) Sean O’Malley knocks out Aljamain Sterling in the UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

On both of these occasions, he was controlled on the ground and seemingly showed a huge hole in his game. Although Aldo wasn’t recorded to have taken Vera down, when the fight met the mat, the former featherweight king dominated. the final round saw Aldo clock up 4:53 control time, which ultimately won him the fight. Against Sandhagen, it was a similar story, however, it was front-loaded this time. Sandhagen took Vera down twice in the first two rounds and on each occasion controlled Vera on the ground for more than half the round. This planted the seed in Vera’s mind and arguably caused him to be hesitant to open up too much in fear of being taken down.

O’Malley isn’t a wrestler. He averages just 0.43 takedowns per 15 minutes at an accuracy of 42%. He’s more than proficient on the ground, however. He’s competed on multiple grappling shows including Quintet and Grappling Industries. He’s yet to record a submission in the UFC and only has a single submission on his record, back in 2015.

If O’Malley can utilise these aspects, he should be successful in making his first title defence, however, it won’t be straightforward. Across five-rounds, we still don’t know if he has cardio issues but what we do know is that Chito Vera won’t slow down for the full 25 minutes and will walk forwards the entire time.

UFC 299 takes place this Saturday from Miami, Florida.

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Frazer Krohn has been with MMASucka for nearly 5 years. He is the host of the MMASucka podcast, which is released every Monday. He's the author of a series of six books about MMA, which were published in 2023.

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