Sean O’Malley on Chito Vera rematch: ‘I’m going to smoke this dude’

Sean O’Malley is happy to finally have the Marlon Vera rematch on the books.

“I don’t get much more excited about a fight than that,” O’Malley said Monday on The MMA Hour shortly after UFC CEO Dana White announced the bout for UFC 299.

“I want that fight. It’s just perfect. I feel like it’s perfect timing. After that first fight, everyone was like, ‘You gotta get that rematch, you gotta get that rematch.’ And I said, ‘I’ll get that rematch when I want that, when it’s time. When it’s time for that rematch, I’m going to call for it and I’ll get it.’ I could’ve gotten that rematch whenever I wanted. I was like, it’s not the right time yet. Now is the right time, so I’m just very excited about that fight.”

“I don’t want to talk him down too much, because I’ve got to build a fight,” the UFC bantamweight champion added. “But I’m going to smoke this dude.”

After long being rumored, the rematch between O’Malley, 29, and Vera, 30, was finally made official on Monday as part of a trio of announcements by White. The two are scheduled to lock horns sometime in March as the likely main event of UFC 299.

O’Malley and Vera first faced off in August 2020 at UFC 252, with Vera winning via first-round knockout to hand O’Malley the only loss of his professional MMA career.

The pair’s relationship has been an unusual one since, in part because of O’Malley’s tongue-in-cheek insistence that he didn’t actually lose at all. Vera memorably damaged a nerve in O’Malley’s leg with a high calf kick early in the bout, which caused “Sugar” to lose his balance and mobility en route to Vera’s ground-and-pound stoppage. O’Malley said Monday that the odd nature of the finish is why he’s never taken the result personally — and also why he’s confident “Chito” won’t be able to replicate the feat a second time.

“It’s just, why isn’t that happening [more]?” O’Malley said of the nerve damage. “I mean, I guess it happens every once a while — that nerve, right? But how many times?

“Like, it doesn’t happen that much. And if it happens again, then I’ll never — I’ll say, ‘Alright, I lost twice.’ If he kicks me in the nerve again, if it happens again, I’ll say, ‘Alright, he’s doing some s***. He knows what he’s doing.’ But I feel like it was so lucky, and he knows it. He truly, deep down knows it. That was so lucky. He’s genuinely scared of me. I know you’re watching ‘Chito,’ you know I’m way too fast for you and you ain’t going to be able to do s*** to me, bud. He knows it. … I think he’s very nervous for this fight, 100 percent. He’s too slow. What are you going to do? I’m going to piece him up.”

O’Malley made it a priority to call for the Vera rematch as his first title defense after capturing the belt in stunning fashion with a knockout of Aljamain Sterling this past August. With UFC 299 currently lacking an official location, “Sugar” said Monday that he’d even be open to traveling to Vera’s native home of Ecuador to get his long-awaited revenge.

“Oh yeah, I would love that,” O’Malley said. “Ecuador, I don’t even know where that is. Somewhere over there. Why wouldn’t I [accept those terms]?”

“Knocking him out in Ecuador would be even better. … I want to knock him out, so it doesn’t really matter where we fight. I would be loved there.”

As much as the two rivals may dislike one another, Vera largely has O’Malley to thank for his selection as the next challenger for the UFC title. Vera’s two performances in 2023 have not been among his best — he lost a lopsided bout to Cory Sandhagen in March, then edged out Pedro Munhoz in a hard-fought but ultimately unmemorable battle in August.

Even O’Malley was surprised by how Vera looked against Sandhagen.

“I hope that ‘Chito’ shows up. That’ll be funny,” O’Malley said. “It was super weird, because I know ‘Chito’ is good. He’s a black belt, he’s good off his back. I thought he was. I thought he was a good, decent wrestler. It was just, yeah, that was a super, super off night. It was crazy. It was embarrassing. Like, I’m sure he hates to even think about that fight, because that was so embarrassing. He just got taken down, couldn’t get up. Cory is not a wrestler.

“He has good wrestling, he’s definitely improved, but [Vera] couldn’t even get up at all, and I don’t even think he tried. It was an embarrassing performance, and I don’t think he would disagree with that. I think would sit right here and say, ‘Yeah, it was embarrassing.’”

O’Malley and Vera’s curious relationship was on full display throughout the interview. At one point, Vera even FaceTimed in with The MMA Hour host, MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani, to speak to O’Malley directly. During that call, Vera could be seen alongside rapper Action Bronson watching O’Malley’s interview live on a big-screen television.

When later asked to explain the dangers Vera presents him, O’Malley offered a backhanded compliment by comparing “Chito” to another past opponent, Kris Moutinho, who O’Malley landed a whopping 230 significant strikes against in a brutally lopsided decision. O’Malley said that Vera’s toughness and durability remain Vera’s best assets, but also acknowledged that despite his trash talk, he’s well aware of what he’s going up against at UFC 299.

“I talk s*** [but] I know how good he is,” O’Malley said. “I’m not going to go out there, I’m not going to have a lazy training camp. I’m not going to act like this is an easy fight. Every fight in the UFC, even the guys that aren’t in the top 15, they could be tough fights. So I’m definitely not underestimating him. I’m going to talk my s*** and I’m going to say how I feel. He’s too slow, I’m going to beat his ass. But I’m going to take him as serious as I’ve taken every guy.”

“‘Chito’ is very tough. He will be hard to knock out,” O’Malley added. “I know that. I don’t think he’s going to go out there, [fall after] a couple shots. But Aljo is hard to knock out too. I found his chin. So I know what I’m capable of. I’m very excited, very excited about that fight.”

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