Cory Sandhagen rooting for Sean O’Malley to beat Merab Dvalishvili, breaks down matchup

Cory Sandhagen foresees a long night for both Sean O’Malley and Merab Dvalishvili.

The two top bantamweights are expected to collide sometime in 2024 with O’Malley’s UFC title on the line. O’Malley is unbeaten over his past seven bouts and recently punctuated a title-winning knockout of Aljamain Sterling with his first belt defense against Marlon Vera. Dvalishvili, on the other hand, has won a division-best 10 straight UFC bouts and is already installed as the betting favorite in the potential matchup despite being the challenger.

Sandhagen is also a top contender in UFC’s bantamweight division and will be keeping a close eye on the title to see who emerges with it wrapped around their waist.

He broke down the matchup on a recent episode of The MMA Hour.

“It’s going to be a hell of a fight for the both of them, to be honest,” Sandhagen said. “I definitely know that Merab’s biggest issue in fighting is clearing that gap. He isn’t the fastest guy in the world. He doesn’t have a build that clears the gap really well. He kind of gets people tired and then that gap becomes a lot easier to close. But O’Malley is one of the best at hitting people in that void and in that space in between me and you.

“It’s going to be a really challenging fight for the both of them, because usually you say in a fight it’s either going to go one guy’s way or the other guy’s way. But I think in this one, it’s going to be a battle, back and forth, and both of these guys [will be] getting what they want. I think that Sean will definitely be able to crack him when he clears that void.

“If Merab can eat it or recover or whatever, I think that he can run his game plan,” Sandhagen continued, “And then that might happen again, and then Merab will run his game plan, and then that might happen again. I think that they both have very specific ways to win this fight, and I think it’s going to be a hell of a fight for the both of them. But Merab also has shown to be a little bit chinny in those spots, and Sean definitely hits hard as shit.”

Sandhagen, 32, has his own business to attend to as well.

Currently ranked No. 4 in MMA Fighting’s global bantamweight rankings, Sandhagen is likely one win away from challenging for UFC gold. He looks to take that next step on Aug. 3 when he faces Umar Nurmagomedov in the main event of UFC Abu Dhabi. Sandhagen told MMA Fighting that UFC officials already informed him that he’s likely to earn a title shot with a win.

Because of that, Sandhagen has a vested interest in O’Malley vs. Dvalishvili — and there’s one outcome he clearly prefers over the other.

“We’re rooting for Sean O’Malley. We want O’Malley to win,” Sandhagen said. “As long as he’s not going to go off and do some stupid boxing fight with that guy, or as long as he’s not going to try to go up to 145. Don’t do that, Sean. Just stay in the division, try to clear us all out if you can. But don’t start doing all that stuff, man. To me, again, I’ll be real candid, I think that there’s a tactic with some people that they take where they go high-risk, high-reward fights. No one wants to take high-risk, low-reward fights. And you can make the argument that if you go up a weight class and fight Ilia [Topuria], that’s a very tough fight, of course. It’s equally as tough if not tougher than anyone in this division as well, to be honest.

“But what do you lose? You don’t really lose anything except for getting your ass whooped, which, we’re all fighters and we’re very used to getting our asses whooped all of the time. So you make a big paycheck, you get to come back to your weight class, and then you get to be like, ‘Thumbs up, I’m still the champ at this at least.’ Then same thing in boxing. If you go to boxing and you lose a fight in a sport that you don’t even participate in, there’s no loss in any of that other than getting your ass whooped, which again, none of us are afraid of. So I disagree with it because it would favor me more if he stuck around and I got to fight him.”

O’Malley’s wandering eye for other pursuits outside of the bantamweight division may not be the only hurdle that could stand in Sandhagen’s way.

UFC Hall of Famer and former champ Jose Aldo suddenly thrust himself into the 135-pound mix with a vintage win at UFC 301 following a two-year retirement. Aldo is currently a free agent and undecided on his UFC future, however he expressed interest in short-cutting to the front of the line to challenge for the UFC bantamweight title.

“No way, man,” Sandhagen said regarding the idea. “I love Aldo. Aldo’s the absolute man. But you don’t get to come back from retirement and then beat a guy way down in the rankings and then just fight for the belt. Like, I love Aldo, but definitely not. There’s too many good guys in the division for that to be the case.”

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