Hot Tweets: Sean O’Malley’s takeover, what’s next for Aljamain Sterling, more

UFC 292 is in the books! What on paper looked like one of the year’s best cards ended up being simply a solid pay-per-view, boosted by the massive main event result. Sean O’Malley is the new UFC bantamweight champion, and the UFC has a new certified star on its hands, so let’s talk about the fallout from UFC’s return to Boston.

Sean O’Malley and Ian Machado Garry

Everyone, other than UFC President Dana White, loves matchmaking immediately after an event, so let’s start with that, because it’s pretty easy.

Sean O’Malley is going to defend his newly won bantamweight title against Chito Vera in a rematch, possibly in December. Does Chito really deserve it? No, but in the words of William Munny, deserve’s got nothing to do with it. This is business, and O’Malley vs. Vera 2 is the biggest fight in the history of the bantamweight division, at least from a money standpoint. It’s happening, and honestly, I’m fine with it. It’s a good fight, and Chito does have a win over O’Malley, so in that regard it’s more reasonable.

As for who is going to beat O’Malley, it’s a hard question to answer, because we still don’t really know how good he is. He is obviously talented, but we’ve known that for years. We’ve also known that he’s a hard-hitting counterpuncher with brilliant timing. We learned almost nothing new from the Aljamain Sterling fight, because Aljo didn’t really commit much to wrestling (credit to O’Malley for staying in motion to make that harder), and then he dove headfirst into a counter. Not a lot of new information to assess there.

That being said, bantamweight is so full of killers that it’s ambitious to think O’Malley is in for a long title reign. Merab Dvalishvili, Henry Cejudo, Cory Sandhagen, and Umar Nurmagomedov all have a terrific chance of beating the new champ, not to mention Petr Yan, who arguably already did. Heck, even Chito has a decent shot (more on that later). I’m going to say Cejudo is the one to do it, mainly because I think he’s the most likely to get the opportunity. But Umar is the future of this weight class. It’s just a matter of how long it takes to get him to the top.

Now for Garry, I think he is going to end up fighting Stephen Thompson. In the post-fight presser White said “Wonderboy” turned Garry down (always take that with a large portion of salt). If true (big if) that feels like Wonderboy is confused about his standing with the UFC. Thompson clearly wants the Kamaru Usman fight, and under normal circumstances, he might get that. But the UFC can be vindictive, and Thompson turning down Michel Pereira didn’t exactly sit well with them, so that’s probably off the table. Push comes to shove, I think we’re going to see Wonderboy vs. Garry at Madison Square Garden.

New champ

While O’Malley winning the belt was definitely the best thing for the UFC (and in some respects, the sport), Isaac Newton would have you believe that the positive reaction from that is going to trigger an equal negative reaction. And we started to see it almost immediately.

O’Malley is now one of the biggest stars in MMA, and while he and Conor McGregor are different people, O’Malley pretty clearly learned a lot from watching Conor. You can get rich in MMA, but you can’t build generational wealth in it, and O’Malley seems to be interested in the latter. That’s why immediately after winning the belt, he sort of called out Chito Vera but then mostly just focused on boxing Gervonta Davis. This is the Conor playbook to a tee.

What Conor realized that other people haven’t exactly caught onto yet is that once you’re a star, defending titles is for suckers. When you’re at the top, the only place to go is down, so why bother? Instead you can “challenge yourself” in other areas, because when you fail, it’s explicable. If you succeed, it’s legendary.

O’Malley certainly seems to be of a similar mind, which I don’t blame him for, but it’s going to muck up the bantamweight division. It took lightweight years to untangle the mess that was McGregor’s “title reign,” and it seems increasingly likely that 135 is in for a similar fate. For those fans who are into meritocracy and actually finding out who the best bantamweight in the world is, it’s gonna be a tough stretch.

O’Malley vs. Chito II

Here’s why you shouldn’t be upset by this fight happening next: It’s going to be fun as all get out.

Whatever your thoughts on O’Malley as a person, personality, or champion, the dude is a dynamic and fun fighter. Same for Vera. The build for the fight will be the stuff dreams are made of for UFC executives and most fans. And then the fight itself should be spectacular, because both guys are great, and their styles match up extremely well.

O’Malley is a rangy puncher who likes to counter and uses his natural talents. Vera starts a little slow, but he builds extremely well, can jab like no one’s business, and can pull finishes out of nowhere. Also, you couldn’t hurt Vera with a Louisville Slugger, and that could end up being the difference. O’Malley might have slightly more tools, but a lot of fighting boils down to can you hurt the other guy more than he hurts you? And when you’re fighting a dude that can’t be hurt, that’s a tough proposition, particularly for the way O’Malley wins.


It certainly worked out, didn’t it?

As someone who bags on the UFC often (and rightfully so), 292 is a great example of why I do it: Because look what the promotion is capable of when it tries! Sean O’Malley is a bigger star today than he was this past Friday largely because he won a world title, but also because the UFC did everything it could to maximize that outcome. O’Malley got a full-court press with ads during the event, making him seem like a star, and then afterward, the UFC actually put the finish up on its YouTube channel and social media feeds. The UFC never does that out of some ridiculous notion that doing so costs them pay-per-view buys. But they were willing to sacrifice the seven lost pay-per-view purchases this time so that instead the world could see their shiny new champion. That is what’s called promotion, and it would be great if the UFC started doing this for all its champions.

Aljamain Sterling

Poor Aljo. Losing to O’Malley probably solidifies Sterling as having the weirdest title run in UFC history. Just a string of oddities capped off by losing the one fight everyone thought he would win. Ouch. And it’s made all the worse because Sterling is in a terrible spot right now.

Had Aljo won, he could have gone up to 145 and immediately challenged for the title. He probably would have lost, but it’s like I mentioned up top: low risk, high reward. Now, though? That’s never happening. Nor is the immediate rematch with O’Malley — and credit to Aljo, even though he did call for it, it seems like he knows that’s not going to happen. O’Malley is never going to fight him again. Why would he?

So Aljo is stuck between a crappy rock and a crappy hard place. Either he can stay at 135 and run interference for Merab, or he can move up to 145 and throw himself into the mix of contenders up there and hope to make something happen. The latter seems like the best idea, if only because there are fewer guys involved in the title conversation, but still, it’s a tough row to hoe for Aljo. On its merits, a fight between Aljo and Brian Ortega would be really fun, and if Aljo wins, he’s immediately a top-five guy. The problem is that Volkanovski has made it pretty clear that he’s not going to fight anyone unless they are an unassailable contender, so Aljo is going to need more than just an Ortega win.

If I’m Aljo and I’m going for the biggest reward play, I’d try to fight Max Holloway after he stomps Korean Zombie this weekend. The timelines match up well, and if he wins (he won’t), then Sterling could reasonably get a title shot off it.

Ian Machado Garry vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov

Yes. Frankly, I wouldn’t hate if the UFC went ahead and did this now. It would be as meaningful a fight for Shavkat as the Kelvin Gastelum one, so why not? But I think the more likely scenario here is that these two men do end up facing each other in a few years, with the welterweight title on the line.

I love Leon Edwards, but I’m a pretty big believer that Shavkat is the next dude at this weight class (since Khamzat Chimaev couldn’t get his weight under control), and I’m equally high on Garry, especially given his youth. I think Shavkat wins the belt next year, and then Garry can work himself to a title shot by 2025.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your Hot Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer my favorite ones! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane, just so long as they are good. Thanks again and see y’all next week.

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