O’Malley puts on show, routs Vera to stay champ

MIAMI — Sean O’Malley‘s only career loss came against Marlon “Chito” Vera. And now he has avenged it, cementing himself as the UFC’s next big star in the process.

In a stylish striking performance befitting someone who wore blue and pink cornrows and custom pink fight shorts, O’Malley defeated Vera via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-44) in the main event of UFC 299 on Saturday night. With the victory, O’Malley picked up his first successful defense of the UFC bantamweight title.

O’Malley’s combinations and footwork shined for most of the fight. He landed sniper-like left hands and hard right crosses. A right knee up the middle from O’Malley hurt Vera badly in the second round, opening up a cut below Vera’s right eye. In the third, O’Malley sent Vera to a knee with a right hand.

“I felt something in his face break,” O’Malley said of the knee. “I don’t know if it was his nose or cheek. I felt something snap.”

Vera was transported to the hospital after Saturday’s fight for precautionary reasons due to possible head and facial injuries, according to the UFC.

O’Malley landed 230 significant strikes, the third most in a UFC title fight and the most in a UFC bantamweight title fight, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Vera landed 89 significant strikes.

The rugged Vera, who is tied with heavyweight champion Jon Jones for most fights (23) in UFC history without being finished, had moments in the fourth and fifth rounds, showing his cardio and durability. But O’Malley still won every round on the scorecards.

“He put on a clinic, and I don’t know if anybody can finish Chito Vera,” UFC CEO Dana White said in the postfight news conference. “The guy has a chin like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

O’Malley was unhappy about not knocking Vera out.

“Something about not getting the finish just doesn’t sit right with me,” he said.

The crowd at Kaseya Center was largely split. A massive contingent from Vera’s native Ecuador descended upon Miami this week, with many singing and chanting in the streets Saturday afternoon before doors opened. The UFC had more than 40 media members from Ecuador alone at the event, plus more than a dozen additional Spanish-language reporters. The fans in the arena were chanting “Chito” at the beginning of the fight. O’Malley, though, is one of the biggest stars in the UFC and, by the end, the spectators were chanting for him.

“He’s on his way,” White said of O’Malley, citing a $14.14 million gate for UFC 299, the fourth highest in promotion history. “He’s the biggest star ever in bantamweight history. We can say that right now.”

Vera beat O’Malley in 2020 after O’Malley injured his leg on a Vera kick. O’Malley has denied that he lost that fight, even though the defeat is on his record. He has repeatedly claimed he is still undefeated.

“I think we can all agree that I’m undefeated still,” O’Malley said.

Afterward, O’Malley said that White should fire up a private jet for him to travel to Spain to fight new UFC featherweight champion Ilia Topuria in a superfight. O’Malley said he was also willing to fight top bantamweight contender Merab Dvalishvili.

“If you guys want me to knock out Merab, I’ll do that, too,” O’Malley said.

Coming in, ESPN had O’Malley, 29, ranked No. 10 on its pound-for-pound MMA list. At bantamweight, O’Malley was No. 1 and Vera was No. 8.

O’Malley (18-1, 1 NC) is unbeaten in seven straight fights, going back to the loss to Vera. The Montana native, who lives and trains in Arizona, won the title by knocking out Aljamain Sterling at UFC 292 in August.

Vera (23-9-1) had won five of his past six fights entering the contest. The Ecuadorian, who lives and trains in Southern California, was coming off a unanimous decision over Pedro Munhoz at UFC 292. Vera, 31, has the most finishes (10) in UFC bantamweight history.

“I’ll be back,” Vera said after Saturday’s fight. “I’ll be champion one day.”

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