Sean O’Malley’s Next Opponent Will Test UFC’s Credibility

Written by John O'Connor

Published on

The UFC’s parent company, Endeavor, acquired the WWE this year. Whether the “Ultimate Fighting Championship” remains a “real sport” is yet to be determined, but Sean O’Malley’s next opponent will provide a clue.

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Table of Contents
  1. Does O’Malley want an easier fight?
  2. Dvalishvili & Sandhagen are ahead of Vera

The UFC is powered by a handful of stars that MMA fans will pay to watch fight. These dynamic personalities make the bulk of the money, and on rare occasions, earn PPV points in addition to their relatively meager UFC salaries.

While most UFC fighters are almost criminally underpaid, Dana White and the UFC brass take care of the “cash cows” that sell PPV buys. The strategy makes sense. After all, the UFC is a business, and it’s only natural that the fighters who draw eyeballs get paid.

But at what cost? Does a fighter’s earning potential trump his or her record in the Octagon?

Does O’Malley want an easier fight?

We will soon find out when Sean O’Malley, the new bantamweight champ, announces his next opponent. O’Malley is a skilled fighter, but also a tech savvy entrepreneur, and already had a massive following prior to his KO of Sterling, who was widely considered to be the best bantamweight of all time. The win catapulted the Montana native to super stardom, so much so, that he seems to believe he can call his shot for his next fight, irrespective of the bantamweight rankings.

After beating Sterling, O’Malley called out Chito Vera, a striker from Ecaudor who previously defeated O’Malley in controversial fashion after “the Suga Show” sustained a freak injury in the Octagon that prevented him from fighting effectively. While it’s natural that O’Malley would want to avenge his lone loss, the UFC has a major problem: Vera isn’t the number one, or even the number two, contender. He recently lost a lopsided UFC Fight Night to Cory Sandhagen, and sits below Merab Dvalishvili, Sterling’s teammate, in the rankings.

Despite a recent hand injury that required surgery, Dvalishvili has expressed willingness to face O’Malley next, a request that has been corroborated by Merab’s coach, Ray Longo, on the Anik & Florian podcast.

To be clear, I would rather watch O’Malley vs. Vera than I would O’Malley vs. Dvalishvili. I am a Suga Sean fan, and a fan of Dvalishvili outside the Octagon, but don’t love his fighting style. Nonetheless, as a UFC fan, I would rather watch a league that is rooted in merit rather than sheer promotion.

Dvalishvili & Sandhagen are ahead of Vera

If the UFC is a real sport, Merab or Sandhagen would fight for the belt before Vera. Unfortunately, Sandhagen is injured, and Dvalishvili may be passed over for O’Malley’s next fight in December in favor of the striker Vera who would provide a more entertaining matchup and pose less of a threat to O’Malley who is talented on his feet.

As a UFC fan, I can’t help but wonder out loud whether the UFC wants to shield O’Malley from grapplers who could knock their new star off his throne, in their view prematurely. Everyone in the UFC boardroom wants O’Malley as champ, no one wants Dvalishvili.

In the NFL, TV executives want the team’s with the biggest draws (like the Cowboys or Packers) to reach the playoffs and the Super Bowl because it means bigger ratings. However, if the Jaguars or Vikings run the gauntlet and make the big game, no one stands in their way.

I’m not sure that things work that way any longer in the UFC.

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