Sean O’Malley believes he will be facing a top-five opponent in the bantamweight division sooner rather than later.
O’Malley will continue to remain active in 2020 when he meets Marlon “Chito” Vera in the co-main event of UFC 252 this weekend.
Vera is undoubtedly the toughest opponent O’Malley will have faced with five wins in his last six, all of which have come via finish. And although the Ecuadorian is not ranked, O’Malley certainly rates him very highly.
That said, he doesn’t see a real path to victory for Vera.
“Chito is a black belt in jiu-jitsu. He’s super tough, never been finished,” O’Malley told ESPN. “I think I saw a stat where he has over 10 wins in the UFC? [Vera has nine.] Rankings don’t mean nothing. They just don’t. Realistically, it doesn’t matter. I feel like I could be No. 1, I could be champ — and I’m ranked No. 15 or something [No. 14 by the UFC]. They don’t mean much from my perspective. I give [unranked] Chito a lot of respect. He’s definitely top 15 in the world in my eyes.
“If you’re not a good wrestler, I don’t think you’re going to be able to take me down. I have really good footwork, really good wrestling defense. I have a really good guillotine and good chokes. I feel like it will be hard to take me down unless you’ve had that high school wrestling, college wrestling. Chito has a weird clinch he likes to do. He’s going to try and push me up against the fence and he has some nice trips along the fence. His game plan can not be to strike with me. That just doesn’t make sense. We’re in a smaller Octagon, he’s going to try his little trip that he has and win the fight like that.”
Garbrandt A Future Opponent For O’Malley?
O’Malley sees Vera as the next step up from his most recent opponents in Jose Quinonez and Eddie Wineland.
That is why he believes there will be no choice but to give him a top-five opponent after he knocks Vera out this weekend.
“What are we, five fights in my UFC career? I think it’s going to be hard not to give me someone in the top 5 after I knock out Chito,” O’Malley said. “They’re going to see my skills are legitimate and fans are going to demand to see me fight one of the top guys.
“After this fight, you’ve got to give the fans what they want and I think everyone knows exactly what I’m talking about.”
That fight could be against former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt who “Sugar” has been going back-and-forth with in recent months.
Although Garbrandt is set for a flyweight title shot next, there is an interest from both sides as well as the fans in making that fight happen.
O’Malley doesn’t even see Garbrandt as a major step up given his most recent setbacks.
“In my eyes, he’s just a little dude that has decent boxing,” O’Malley told Brett Okamoto. ” … I don’t think, ‘oh, they’re fast-tracking me’ as far as skill-wise. Maybe popularity and ranking, it’s a fast-track. As far as skill-wise, I don’t think he’s that much better than Chito.”
First, O’Malley has to get through Vera.