Coach: Ilia Topuria’s style is ‘a good fight’ for Sean O’Malley — and Topuria knows it

Sean O’Malley’s longtime head coach Tim Welch agrees with the UFC bantamweight champion that a superfight against Ilia Topuria should be the next matchup if both fighters win their respective title bouts against Marlon Vera and Alexander Volkanovski.

“Who wouldn’t want to see that fight?” Welch said on The MMA Hour. “That would be a sweet fight. Ilia’s one of our favorite fighters to watch. He’s one of the most technical, sound guys out there, just watching his boxing. But I have seen them in the same room, I’ve seen them — Ilia’s not way bigger [than O’Malley]. And Ilia’s an orthodox guy, he’s got a really wide stance, he’s got a super linear stance — and we’ve been fighting orthodox boxers [O’Malley’s] whole career. Orthodox boxers like that who are good, they really want to get their jab started. It’s just a good fight for Sean. He’s good at knocking them out.

“And I think you can kind of hear it in Ilia’s voice when you even bring up Sean. It doesn’t seem like he’s that interested in that. It’s like, why wouldn’t you be that interested in that? That’s a huge fight, especially for Ilia. But Ilia brings up Conor McGregor. It’s like, OK, so you’re going fight Conor McGregor at 185 pounds? That just doesn’t even seem realistic at all. But [Topuria vs. O’Malley is] definitely a fight that is interesting. And people who say, ‘Oh my God, [O’Malley is] so stupid, Ilia would kill him,’ it’s like, yeah, that’s what everyone said about Petr Yan, that’s what everyone said about [Aljamain Sterling].”

O’Malley, 29, makes the first defense of his UFC bantamweight title in a rematch against the only man to defeat him in MMA, “Chito” Vera, on March 9 at UFC 299.

Topuria, 27, challenges Volkanovski for the UFC featherweight strap this Saturday in the main event of UFC 298. The undefeated Spaniard is a perfect 5-0 in his UFC career with a quartet of stoppage wins over Bryce Mitchell, Ryan Hall, Damon Jackson, and Jai Herbert. Topuria handily defeated Josh Emmett in his most recent bout and has exuded confidence ahead of his title challenge against Volkanovski, however Welch isn’t as sold.

“I wish I could see the type of people that Ilia is sparring,” Welch said, “because you saw how good Volkanovski is kicking the legs against Max Holloway. He’s just whacking his legs the whole time, and Ilia’s stance is so sideways, it’s such a long boxing stance. Ilia’s such a strong counter-puncher though, he’s got the opportunity to clip Volk.

“But I think if I had to pick, I think Volk might beat him up.”

O’Malley has campaigned heavily for a shot at the 145-pound strap if Topuria manages to end the five-year reign of Volkanovski this weekend in Anaheim, Calif.

Those calls to already move up in weight and challenge for champ-champ status have rubbed several bantamweight contenders the wrong way, especially with Cory Sandhagen and, in particular, Merab Dvalishvili existing as worthy challengers for O’Malley’s belt. Dvalishvili faces former two-division champion Henry Cejudo in a marquee bout at UFC 299 and will tie the record for consecutive UFC bantamweight wins with nine if successful.

According to Welch, O’Malley’s aspirations of two-division gold won’t preclude the champ from handling whatever business needs to be handled at 135 pounds.

“For sure, it’s bound to happen — the Cory Sandhagen fight is bound to happen, 100 percent. Merab, it’s bound to happen,” Welch said. “If Merab whoops Henry’s ass, then that fight’s bound to happen. If Henry whoops Merab’s ass, that’s bound to happen too. I don’t really deal with that too much, but I know Sean wants the biggest fights, which, you can’t blame him. And whatever is going to be the biggest fight is what he’s going to want to do.”

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