Aljamain Sterling would love the chance to run it back with Sean O’Malley, but if he’s not going to get that opportunity, then the former UFC bantamweight champion wants the next title shot to go to his friend and teammate Merab Dvalishvili.
After suffering a knockout loss to O’Malley at UFC 292, Sterling wasted no time calling for an immediate rematch, although there’s been a lukewarm reception to that possibility. Even Sterling admits a second fight with O’Malley would ultimately come down to timing, which is why he believes Dvalishvili should be the clear-cut No. 1 contender in the division.
“I think there’s only one name that comes to mind, and that’s Aljamain Sterling in the rematch,” Sterling said about O’Malley’s next opponent on his Weekly Skraps podcast. “All jokes aside, I think if I don’t get the immediate rematch — if they were to offer me that immediate rematch for December, I’m just going to have to respectfully decline; but if they were to do it early next year like January or February, I would accept it in a heartbeat.
“But if I’m not going to get the rematch, the next guy in line has to be Merab Dvalishvili. Has to be. No. 1 contender. I don’t think any other matchup makes more sense than him.”
Dvalishvili is currently riding a nine-fight win streak in the division, including a lopsided victory over ex-UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan in his most recent outing.
By all accounts, Dvalishvili could have already pushed for a title shot long before now, but he’s made it clear that he will never fight Sterling. The former champ has said the same.
But now that hurdle no longer exists, and Sterling is rooting for Dvalishvili to get the next opportunity — even if the former champ ends up as the odd man out.
“Of course, that would put me in limbo,” Sterling said. “I know people are going to be like ‘Where does that leave you Aljo?’ I don’t know.”
“Maybe I stick around at [135 pounds] and take like a fight or two and then maybe I explore [145 pounds], or maybe I just go right to 145. It just really depends. Let’s just see how things shape up before we just start jumping to conclusions and getting all crazy with all this other stuff.”
The UFC hasn’t made any call yet regarding O’Malley’s next opponent, although the new bantamweight champion has voiced his desire for a rematch of his own against Marlon Vera, who serves as the only loss on his otherwise perfect record.
That fight provides an intense rivalry and the potential for an explosive fight, but Sterling still believes that based on merit alone, no one fits the bill better than Dvalishvili.
“I think that is the most logical matchup,” Sterling said about O’Malley vs. Dvalishvili. “Whether or not that’s a fun fight for the fans, I don’t know. I think it’s another interesting matchup with a guy who can get takedowns over and over and over again and exhaust his opponents. I mean, look what he did to [Petr] Yan. Look at how the fight with Yan and O’Malley went. It just makes things interesting, and then my fight with Sean until it was over, it leaves a lot of interesting questions to be answered.
“I think it would be a great opportunity for Merab to get a title shot and to become the first Georgian champion. I think that would be huge for him and his country. It would be huge for us and our team.”