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Sean O’Malley says he’s ‘been playing chess for a long time’ with Chito Vera: ‘I lost that fight on purpose’

UFC 252 Miocic v Cormier 3: Weigh-Ins Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Sean O’Malley is already itching to make his first title defense.

The new UFC bantamweight champion revealed Wednesday on The MMA Hour that he still hasn’t tried to grapple since suffering a rib injury six weeks prior to his title-winning knockout of Aljamain Sterling at UFC 292, however he plans to test out his luck on the mats soon, and as long as he gets a clean bill of health on his sore hand, he fully intends to put his belt on the line before the end of the year.

“We’ll see. The sooner, the better for me,” O’Malley said on The MMA Hour. “I know there’s nothing official right now. I did talk to Dana [White] and he said he’s going to announce something massive in a few weeks. I know there’s a couple options to what that might be, but he didn’t really specifically tell me necessarily because there’s still moving pieces.

“If it was up to me? I’m going to go get an MRI on the left side of my hand from bouncing it off Aljo’s head 600 times, so that’s a little sore. I do think it’s just going to take a little time just to heal. I still haven’t grappled, so I’m going to try to grapple here soon and see how this feels. But yeah, if I’m healthy, ready to go ... I would love to fight in December.”

O’Malley, 28, hasn’t wavered on his ideal choice of opponent as well.

Following his stunning victory over Sterling, “Suga” called out Marlon Vera, who remains the only man to defeat the new champ in his pro MMA career.

Vera earned a decision win over Pedro Munhoz on the same UFC 292 card to rebound from a loss to Cory Sandhagen and push his own record to 5-1 over his past six bouts.

“If I got to pick, if I was running the show, I would say yes [that’s the name], simply because ‘Chito’ is the biggest fight next,” O’Malley said, “not because he had a beautiful performance over Pedro. That’s not the case. If I fight ‘Chito’ next, it’s because that’s what I want and that’s the biggest fight. I’m in the fight business and I want big fights.”

O’Malley and Vera memorably collided in August 2020 at UFC 252, with Vera defeating “Suga” via first-round TKO. In the years since, O’Malley has repeatedly and jokingly claimed to have won the bout, often referring to himself as undefeated. When asked on Wednesday if the chance to avenge that loss is personal to him, O’Malley merely shrugged.

“Not at all. I never lost sleep over this fight,” O’Malley said. “I’ve actually been playing chess for a long time. I lost that fight on purpose, just so I could go out there and knock out ‘Aljo’ and have that [Vera rematch] be my biggest fight. Rematch.”

For his part, Vera said Wednesday on The MMA Hour that a December rematch sounded just fine to him. The Ecuadorian talent remained confident in his ability to beat O’Malley again.

The champ, however, wasn’t surprised to hear Vera be so agreeable.

“Well of course he is, he ain’t going to get no f****** title shot any other way,” O’Malley said. “He’s got to try to get it while he can. He definitely didn’t earn it, you know?”

Between Jiri Prochazka vs. Alex Pereira for the vacant UFC light heavyweight title and Leon Edwards’ expected welterweight title defense against Colby Covington, several important dominoes have yet to find a date on the UFC’s year-end slate. O’Malley noted that he’d have no problem being the co-headliner to any event he’s on, however he’d be surprised if anyone other than the promotion’s very top stars ended up headlining over him.

“I’m not too worried about not being main event. It wouldn’t hurt ego-wise,” O’Malley said. “I don’t see who would main event over me right now at this point. I think the only people that really would right now are probably Izzy [Israel Adesanya] and Conor [McGregor].

“Obviously Charles [Oliveira] and Islam [Makhachev] is a massive fight, I could see that being a main over me, but even then, I don’t know. I feel like I carry my own cards, so I would be very surprised if I was the co-main event of my next fight.”

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