UFC Hall of Famer Daniel Cormier sees Merab Dvalishvili as the rightful contender to Sean O’Malley’s bantamweight world championship, but he can’t deny that the champ’s history with Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera makes for an intriguing story.
On August 19, Sean O’Malley scored the biggest win of his mixed martial arts career with a vicious second-round knockout of Aljamain Sterling to claim the bantamweight title six years removed from his first appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series.
Determined to defend his title for the first time in December at UFC 296, fight fans are in a continuous debate over who should receive the first chance to dethrone the new 135-pound king. Speaking on his YouTube channel, Daniel Cormier believes the answer is relatively clear as to who is the most deserving contender.
“The guy that deserves the title fight more than anyone is Merab Dvalishvili,” Cormier said. “Merab Dvalishvili is a number one contender. He’s won multiple fights in a row. He just beat the former champion [Petr Yan] and he beat him five rounds to zero. Remember, the new champion, ‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley went tooth-and-nail in a fight that many thought he lost.
“Now, MMA doesn’t work. That’s one thing that we have learned time and time again over the course of the time that we have watched the sport. But when you do it, it’s still a pretty cool thought. ‘Well, this guy beat this guy and this guy beat this guy.’ It’s crazy because that works in other sports, right? If you watch a football team beat another football team, you think to yourself, ‘Well, they match up with this team that the other team lost to.’ Doesn’t work like that in MMA.”
One of the biggest stories surrounding a potential clash between Sean O’Malley and Merab Dvalishvili is the infamous red jacket. As ‘Sugar’ entered the Octagon to face off with Aljamain Sterling at UFC 288, ‘The Machine’ got ahold of O’Malley’s Michael Jackson-esque jacket and proceeded to parade around the cage with it. Dvalishvili even showed up to TD Garden for UFC 292 sporting the same red jacket.
As fun as it sounds to have them fight it out for control of the coveted jacket, Daniel Cormier believes that it is inconsequential.
“People want to talk about Sean O’Malley and Merab for the red jacket,” Cormier said. “Guys, f*ck the red jacket. Seriously, the red jacket thing was Merab watching his friend [Aljamain Sterling] get challenged by a guy he knew he was going to fight. He doesn’t deserve it based on that. He deserves it based on the fact that he’s won all those fights.”
Merab with O'Malley's jacket 🤣
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) May 7, 2023
Daniel Cormier Addresses the Story Surrounding Sean O’Malley’s Potential Rematch with Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera
While Merab Dvalishvili may be the most logical man to fight Sean O’Malley in December, all signs point toward ‘Sugar’ signing on for a rematch with the only man to defeat him inside the Octagon, Marlon Vera.
“Does Marlon Vera not deserve it? Well, he just got beat by Cory Sandhagen in Austin, but when you step up on short notice and you beat Pedro Munhoz on the same night as a guy becomes a champion that you own a win over… Now you start to become a viable contender. It happens that fast,” Cormier said.
Squaring off at UFC 252, ‘Chito’ scored a first-round TKO after O’Malley suffered a leg injury early in the opening round. To this day, it remains the only blemish on O’Malley’s UFC record, but ‘Sugar’ has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the loss given the injury he sustained in the bout.
“‘Chito’ goes to the back. He beats O’Malley,” Cormier continued. “Look, I love that Sean O’Malley completely no sells the fight. They fought on the same night that Stipe and I completed our trilogy. I remember watching it not really understanding what happened. Sean was hurt. Fight was stopped. That’s enough. It’s a story.”
Marlon Vera has won six of his last eight since his win over Sean O’Malley three years ago. In that time, he has defeated notables including Davey Grant, Rob Font, Frankie Edgar, Dominick Cruz, and most recently, Pedro Munhoz. Even with the impressive hit list, his history with O’Malley is likely the biggest factor tipping the scales in his favor.
“He’s got a history with the new champion. You fought on the same night as the new champion and guess what? In a striking-based fight, ‘Chito’ Vera is a very real challenger. We saw it in the first fight. He presents problems for O’Malley, but that was O’Malley in 2020. So much can change in three years.”