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Morning Report: Sean O’Malley suggests interim title fight with ‘Chito’ Vera if Aljamain Sterling wants to sit out until June

Sean O’Malley
Sean O’Malley
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Sean O’Malley doesn’t want to wait until next summer to fight.

In October, O’Malley picked up the biggest win of his career, taking a split decision victory over Petr Yan at UFC 280. The win vaulted O’Malley up to the No. 1 spot in the UFC’s bantamweight rankings and makes him the presumptive next title challenger for Aljamain Sterling’s title, but there’s one problem: Sterling doesn’t want to fight anytime soon.

Sterling — who also fought at UFC 280, beating T.J. Dillashaw in dominant fashion — recently said that after fighting twice in 2022, he’d like to take some time off, saying June would be his preferred timeline to return. And for O’Malley, that wait might simply be too long.

“It’s so hard to say, everyone’s different. I get it, Aljo cuts a lot of weight,” O’Malley said on his YouTube channel. “He’s probably already back up to 165-170, he’s probably like, ‘I don’t want to cut weight again in the next couple of months, I want to enjoy it.’ But if you do think... he wants to wait eight months. I get it, I do, but say the No. 1 contender, ‘Suga’ Sean O’Malley is ready to go in March, and the next guy in line, in my opinion, should be [Marlon] ‘Chito’ Vera. He just beat Dominick Cruz, beat Frankie Edgar, beat some good guys. Why not have a little interim belt and then the winner of the interim belt fight Aljo when he’s ready?

“I went through a war and I’m ready to go in March. I didn’t have a five-round training camp, but I wouldn’t have trained much different... It’s hard to say. I can’t say anything until I talk to the UFC first, because ultimately, it’s not necessarily what I want, what Aljo wants — they have a plan. They know what they want to do.”

O’Malley and Marlon Vera are arguably the two biggest stars in the bantamweight division, and they have a backstory as well, with Vera stopping O’Malley at UFC 252, a loss O’Malley still disputes. Given their history and their names, O’Malley is confident a rematch between the two would do big business for the UFC, but the terms would have to be right.

“Who is a bigger fight than me vs. Chito right now?” O’Malley asked. “That’s not booked, that you could make right now?... Me vs. ‘Chito’ for an interim belt, people would take that. But also, me vs. ‘Chito’, interim title, main event, PPV, does however many buys, and me and ‘Chito’ technically don’t get PPV buys, I’d rather not do that. I’d rather say, ‘No, I’ll just wait.’ Again, I’ve got to talk to the UFC. We’ll see.”

The other name in the bantamweight title mix right now is former two-division champion and Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo. Cejudo retired from MMA in 2020 but announced his return this year and has made overtures at challenging for the bantamweight title. Following UFC 280, Dana White suggested Cejudo could be next in line for Sterling, but O’Malley isn’t so sure.

“Me vs. ‘Chito’ is a possibility,” O’Malley said. “I just don’t think anyone takes Henry Cejudo serious. I don’t think anyone really cares if he comes back. Henry vs. Aljo, it would be a sweet fight, I’d watch it, but it’s not a money fight. Me vs. ‘Chito’ is a way bigger fight, me vs. Aljo is a way bigger fight.”

O’Malley notes that he has yet to speak with the UFC since his win over Yan, but said he plans on doing so soon. Regardless, the one thing that seems most clear is that O’Malley is not looking to sit on the sidelines for eight months unless there’s a very good reason.

“It’s hard to say but I just think March is a good time frame for me,” O’Malley said. “I like fighting in March. If they have a big card in March, in Vegas, you can probably see me on there.”


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