In one of the most competitive divisions UFC has today, Sean O’Malley did what many failed to do. He defeated the champion and arguably the greatest bantamweight of all-time, Aljamain Sterling…
Sterling has defeated some notable opponents, including Cory Sandhagen, Henry Cejudo, TJ Dillashaw, and Petr Yan. Despite being considered the favorite in the matchup against O’Malley, who was seen as a stylistic mismatch, O’Malley defied the odds and delivered a spectacular knockout in the second round of the fight, solidifying his championship status and proving his place in the division.
UFC President Dana White confirmed that UFC 292 set an all-time gate record at the Boston Garden and became the highest-grossing pay-per-view bantamweight title fight in UFC history, largely attributed to O’Malley’s stardom.
What does this mean for the Bantamweight Division?
Now, with O’Malley as the champion in one of the most dangerous divisions in the sport, questions arise about the future of the bantamweight division. In the same month as UFC 292, two top bantamweight contenders, Cory Sandhagen and Rob Font (originally scheduled to be Umar Nurmagomedov, who withdrew due to a shoulder injury), faced off, with Sandhagen winning in what many described as an underwhelming performance. Sandhagen revealed he had an elbow injury during the first round, which affected his performance that night.
Chito Vera, who had previously lost to Sandhagen in March, also fought at UFC 292 against bantamweight veteran Pedro Munhoz and secured a victory by decision. With a previous win over O’Malley in 2020, Vera now sets his sights on a title shot.
Currently the #2 contender, Merab Dvalishvili is riding a nine-fight win streak and achieved a dominant victory over accomplished striker Petr Yan. During Sterling’s championship reign, Dvalishvili declined to fight for the title due to his friendship and teammate relationship with Sterling. This led to criticism for potentially holding up the division. Dvalishvili is also currently recovering from a wrist injury.
So, Who’s Next?
With O’Malley targeting December for his next fight, the options appear to narrow down to just two potential opponents: Merab Dvalishvili or Marlon Vera. Personally, I believe Dvalishvili deserves the title shot. He is on a 9-fight win streak and was the #1 contender prior to UFC 292. However, if O’Malley decides to wait, then Cory Sandhagen seems to be the logical choice.
Sandhagen not only defeated Marlon Vera, he also displayed his willingness to face a challenging stylistic opponent in Umar Nurmagomedov. Moreover, he was open to taking on opponents ranked lower than him. Although Nurmagomedov eventually withdrew, Sandhagen’s commitment was evident as he went on to deliver a dominant performance against Rob Font.
Ultimately the decision is up to O’Malley, and Vera is the likely frontrunner for the bantamweight title shot. After all, he did defeat O’Malley in their last bout and he’s coming off a win on the same card. The fight just makes sense, and the rivalry will undoubtedly sell pay-per-views.
What do you think should be next for UFC bantamweight champion Sean O’Malley?